Flatpack Democracy has certainly introduced me to some unexpected, often slightly surreal, situations in the last few years – who’d have predicted the book would lead to interviews yesterday with the South Korean documentary crew who have been in Frome for a week?

They follow others from Denmark and Belgium.  A significant number of people have come to Frome to live, having read the book (or maybe they liked the cover?).  On Monday I was in London talking to Swedish politicians (in a Hilton hotel basement) and am invited to the Scottish parliament soon to meet ministers. There are at least two PhDs and innumerable other studies drawing heavily on the methodologies Independents for Frome evolved and that the book described…. what started as a short story book with a good title has morphed into a Movement.

While this is personally interesting in terms of the decisions we make in life and where they lead, more importantly for me, it says something about the yearning for a democratic system that works.  Over these last eight years I have seen a real frustration as to how politics has been stolen from the vast majority of us, partly by the Political Parties and systems, but also by the fragmentation of our lives which reduces the opportunity for deep discussion and meaningful debate.

The reason I spend so much time talking to others who seek to reclaim something from the dysfunctional pretence of democracy we have, is because I believe this is imperative if we are to tackle both local and global challenges. Without greater political literacy – which may start with the smallest of engagements – we will continue to see power increasingly siphoned into the hands of a very few men, whose interests are not shared by the vast majority and who choose not to face the environmental catastrophes that loom.

The reclamation can start at the lowest level of representation – parish, community and town councils – ensuring they focus on properly engaging with the community.  And also at the plethora of formal and informal meetings that are springing up all over the place – doing politics, while not calling it that.  A great example of this was the first ‘Frome Beacon’ of the new Campfire Convention platform that Pete Lawrence has created – 30 people in animated discussion last night on all things that matter, with real depth and conviction.

Joining these two together – the community conversations (which may be semi formal like Campfire, or something as simple as a coffee morning), with the systems of government, will be absolutely central to recreating functional democracy.  If these real discussions see that they are politics and the current decision making systems give them their true value, ‘reclaiming politics’ just happens.



About the author

Peter Macfadyen

Social activist, ex Mayor and Leader of Frome Town Council, author, public speaker, undertaker, grandfather.

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  • Hi Peter, Have you read Roslyn Fuller, “Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed its Meaning and Lost its Purpose” – it is an analysis of what has gone wrong with our democracy and how we can put it right. Based on her PhD in Dublin, but very readable and passionate, she argues for using the digital to create participatory democracy.
    I have been an educator for 45 years and since retiring established a business, “Dialogue Exchange” to help schools and communities enquire together in democratic ways to find solutions to problems. I am currently working with University of Swansea on a research project looking at how social care can be revolutionised along the lines Hillary Cottom advocates. I am very encouraged by the passion to do things differently at all levels of the health and social care system.
    I am also working with a social start-up, VocalEyes is a digital platform to bring participatory democracy to schools and communities. We have a contract to bring Pupil Voice to every school in Cardiff in order to consult children and young people on their views on making Cardiff a Child-friendly-City (UNICEF initiative). The young people are so enthusiastic about being consulted and having an influence on what happens in their city and school. This is a model of PD that has lots of potential for communities also and Local Voice is being developed in 8 rural wards in Swansea with some notable success – Pennard for example is working to become a plastic free village.
    I would be keen to talk and share more about our combination of Digital+Dialogue. My colleague Peter Anderson from VocalEyes and I are passionate about using our approaches as tools to help address the global crisis we are facing.

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