Time to take over?

Taking over your local council this May to get better representation and climate action.

This May, there are over 800 elections around the UK.  These are at many levels including for local council. Elections a rare chance to improve democracy and participation in your local area. And it’s a chance that people rarely use: every year, nobody even stands in hundreds of local council elections. And where there are elections, only a few hundred votes are cast for each seat at most! This makes it relatively easy to reclaim your local council as independent councillors and make real changes for and with your community.

Why is this important? Town, Parish and Community councils are often not as effective as they might be. Most don’t have elections as no one wants the job; many are stuck in the dark ages in terms of how they operate; most councils could do far far more in relation to the climate emergency and developing a new politics ‘of the people’ not ‘for the people’. We know this because a handful of pioneering councils around the country – like Frome, Buckfastleigh, Newham, Portishead, and Torridge – are now run by local people, or have significant ways to engage, and have made real transformations to their local area.

They are meeting austerity, climate change and social inequality head on. Many use participatory democracy to engage the local communities in council decisions and activities. A stark contrast to most councillors who take the power from individuals and then operate on their behalf!

There is a strong case to be made that this is the best level of politics to get things done, creating a movement of local people who want to reclaim decisions that affect their lives and their towns. And it’s often not difficult, due to the lack of votes in council elections. Successful campaigns have begun months and even weeks before elections.

So… could your council be next? It depends! Here are some important questions to ask:

What sort of council do you have?

If you don’t know, ask about, check your council tax bill, or internet search. What political parties do your councilors belong to (if any)? Do they use any processes to invite local participation and engagement? Have they declared a climate and ecological emergency, and if so, are they taking sensible action?

Is there an election or by-election coming up?

The District or Unitary will run elections for their own councillors as well as the towns, parishes and community councils. Search their website for ‘electoral services’, or ring and ask. Or simply search for your town/parish and ‘elections’. If there is an election in 2020, or a by-election, you need to answer question 4 below sooner rather than later!

What’s going on in the council at the moment?

There will be a public notice board somewhere with minutes and agendas on it! But you can also search online. Search for the last council election and see what happened. Go to a meeting and see what’s up. There will be a slot for public engagement at which you can ask about what they do in terms of significantly involving the public in decisions. You can also ask about action or plans related to the climate emergency.  (To ask questions you may need to have booked in – which is one of the rules a new style council can immediately dispense with!).
Have a look at Buckfastleigh or Frome for inspiration.

Is there an appetite for stirring things up or taking over?

You need to decide whether you want to take action. It’s worth talking to people in your local community, at clubs and local groups, as well as your friends, family and colleagues about this. Discuss and decide if you can get what you want by lobbying the existing councillors.

If you cannot, and there is an election in May 2020 you need to move fast.  (Elections are in May, last moments to register as candidates will be early April.)  The first step is to bring together a group who are up for action.  You can email  [email protected] to seek guidance on timing and ‘what next’ or join the Flatpack Democracy UK Group on facebook for discussion and links to others who can provide mentoring and experience.

You can register to stand as individual councillor as late as early April. A group of you may do this together, and use the text on the election ballot to name your local independents group, e.g. “Independents for Yourtown”.  The government advice is here.

If there is not an election for a while, you may want to go for a longer approach, as Portishead did (described in this training event Future democracy hub).


Flatpack Democracy: a how-to guide on reclaiming local politics provides useful guidance providing more information on how to take over the council.  (With Flatpack 2.0 looking at how a range of councils have used their new powers and what they have achieved)  Both are available from Eco-logic Books, as are revolutionary packs at a discount rate. https://www.eco-logicbooks.com/



About the author

Peter Macfadyen

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

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