I’ve rather neglected this blog to write in other places. This has led to significant articles in STIR, Transition Free Press, Resurgence & Ecologist and (soon) Red Pepper. All fine and good except these are not seriously mainstream and probably share many readers. That’s why I was so excited to be rung by the Telegraph. I missed the first call but when they rang again I was poised to expound upon how Frome is indeed to making (Tory) Localism work and how we’ve supported subsidised charities into viable business….. Then Telegraph Man asked “So, have you ever read the Telegraph?” (I declined the 30% off offer that followed). My sadness was partly relieved by a helpful reference in Saturday’s Guardian ‘The Green party surge – and why it’s coming from Bristol and all points west’…. but I really want to talk to the Daily Mail!
I know, I know, to make a blog work there needs to be a constant stream of inspiring, controversial, insightful postings – and in this I have failed. This is because I am simply overloaded with networking, emails, conversations, meetings…. most of which relate to building a more Active Democracy and more functional voluntary sector in Frome. AND I’m reading my way through From Arrogance to Intimacy which great excitement – and will be back to this place to discuss what’s exciting me as soon as I can. In the meantime, if you want to hear what’s behind my thinking and Independents for Frome, here is a Podcast from the Unicorn Village Camp made this summer….
Many of those who voted YES in Scotland were primarily voting NO.
NO to the distant and remote governance of Westminster;
NO to a dysfunctional voting system of winner takes all;
NO to the disconnection between different layers of government;
and, I suspect, theirs was a vote of disgust at the failure of significant genuine participation in decisions that affect them.
This is felt not just in Scotland but throughout the rest of the UK (and most so called democracies). If Frome had a vote for Independence many people would vote YES with their hearts because they are fed up with a Planning Board at the District with one representative from Frome (who boycotts meetings); fed up with apparently arbitrary road changes arriving from the County; fed up with no apparent way of ever being properly heard. Yes, at a very local level we can make some changes, but the non-delivery of ‘Localism’ means we are hampered at every turn where decisions are greater.
So for us the one good thing that might come out of the Scottish referendum is kick up the arse of Localism….. but don’t hold your breath.
My written words are slightly diverted at the moment by a series of Top Tips on revitalising local democracy on the Transition network blog. The more I engage with the work of Frome’s Town Council – and as Mayor meet sections of the community I have not before – the more I feel this is the crucial focus: enabling people at community level to be properly heard.
Sometime soon I will switch to positive news of a New Dawn for Democracy, but first a brief comment on my encounters with life somewhere else. Last week we brought local councillors from nearby Parishes together to meet each other and to hear of an opportunity to compete for EU money aimed at supporting rural areas. The Powerpoint contained a lot of words but it slowly emerged the money pot contained pretty little money. It also emerged that this is tightly linked to projects aimed at economic growth and that the economy is all about money. Just money. Nothing that might benefit the environment, wellbeing or anything social. This narrow outlook misses key opportunties and frequently results in a nett loss in term sof everything but income.
Repeatedly I see reality at a community level moving in one direction, with real energy and verve and the juggernaut of the past chugging towards the rocks. This month’s Transition Network asks ‘Is Transition political’ and I will unashamedly pinch a quote from Rob Hopkins’ blog which summarises where I want to be and where I want Frome and other local communities to be: Read More
This week’s local elections have seen an almost total collapse of the BNP. Depending on how you do figures, they have also seen a decrease in UKIP, or marginal increase…. The Europeal elections see the same BNP collapse and an surprisingly small increase in people voting UKIP. European elections saw an even lower turnout than last time…so as usual most people voted I DON’T CARE.
But does the hype around UKIP, the Pan European rise in the Far Right, and fear of this amongst the 90% who didn’t vote UKIP, mean more people at community level who do care are likely to get involved? In Flatpack, I make the case that there has never been a better time for this. My fellow ifF councillor Toby Eliot sent me this on the subject:
Over the last few weeks a significant minority of the posts in my Facebook feed have been informing me how bad UKIP are. It’s not just one point being made; I’ve been tutored on the antics of bizarrely behaved candidates (where do they find them?), crazy policies rolling back civil rights and a frightening level of open intolerance. The information has arrived in a variety of formats including bold info graphics, parodies of election leaflets and links to more in-depth articles.
Please note this fine fence. Featured not only on a field in Frome, but also in the Telegraph last week. Some months ago a field on the edges of Frome came up for sale by action. Some of the many people who had used it for years to walk their dogs, pick blackberries, picnic and do country stuff, got together to raise funds to buy the land. However, there wasn’t time to do this before the auction. So they asked the District council to intervene using their fine new powers of Localism to hold up the sale for 6 months while the people tried to raise enough loot. Read More
I’ve been to a couple of meetings recently which perfectly illustrate two areas I cite in the book as going wrong.
The first was billed as a ‘consultation’ on sports provision in the town, put on by the District Council who own land on which sports happen, contract out sports provision, and have a top level strategy. Half a dozen cabinet members at the high table start off by telling us there is no money and there won’t be; they are already well on the way to a new long term contract for the sports centre; and we can talk about anything else we like. A few representatives of under facilitated sports pluck up courage and put over their views. We are promised a report – and some weeks later there is no sign of anything.
Some of the early feedback from those fine souls who have read all of Flatpack Democracy revolves around whether Independents for Frome (ifF) is, or is not, a POLITICAL PARTY. Marcus Letts (of the United Diversity coop) picks no bones: ‘As you clearly observe, Independents for Frome is a political party’. Simon Carter (an independent councilor for Just Tewkesbury) is equally clear: ”…..come on Peter, you are a party….”. They are not necessarily citing this as a problem, but that my lack of clarity on this issue makes it harder to get over what we have tried to do in Frome as well as potentially confusing both readers and voters. Read More
I’m unconvinced it’s an especially British trend to reject change. If you look around the so called ‘democracies’ of the world, the vast majority of them operate in the same way as each other, and in the same way as they have done for many years. As a town councillor I’ve been shocked over the last 3 years by the difference between how we make decisions in the council and in our families and communities. Politics at too many levels starts with confrontation and looks for a winner, while in the rest of life we constantly seek agreement and compromise. Read More