Archive - 2019

Keeping it local
Wishful thinking?
People Power
Rights of Spring
Did it work?

Keeping it local

As the crew of good ship Boris settle into cabinet by waving wads of notes at the rest of us through the portholes, it slowly dawns that a fully blown coup has just occurred while most to the nation was looking for ice creams. Possibly even the crew and captain have not yet realised the ship is owned by Nigel Farage, Jocob Rees-Mogg and Arron Banks, who are firmly in charge of the sat nav.

The trail of obscenity that got us to this place looks like this: Around a quarter of available voters make the decision to leave Europe; even fewer give us a minority government propped up by a Northern Irish minority party who’s views make Rees Mogg look modern; and finally less than half of one percent give us Boris.

Yet we seem totally and utterly powerless to do anything, even to protest! The next acts will surely be to destroy any remaining relationship with Europe, alienate most of parliament, then hold an election in which all the Brexit Party deserters can return home.

My personal response has also been in part to return home: to the local. Now no longer a Town Councillor, I’ve enjoyed even more freedom to champion DIY community politics at places like the STIR to Action Festival and Happiness in a Time of Crisis. The former brought an impressive array of sensible ways to do economics to a field near Frome for three days and the latter focussed around the thinking of Helena Norberg-Hodge, whose new book Local is our Future I’m now enjoying.

In promoting the reclaiming of politics at a local level, I also constantly have in mind the essential benefits this will bring us of a resilient joined up community. Something we will definitely need as the shit-storm of a no-deal Brexit acts as a rehearsal for the much more existential impact of climate change, that (to end where I started), the crew of good ship Boris still think is a jolly good weaze. Enjoy your ice-cream.

Wishful thinking?

As the final feeble pretence of democracy dissolves, with the selection process of a new prime minister exposing the sick joke we are obliged to accept, it has been good to see and hear alternatives. John Harris’s ‘Any new prime minister is doomed if they don’t fix Britain’s democracy’ says much of what I might have, but better.

His article refers to an earlier one which describes some of the revolt at a local level that has built on Frome’s Independent Movement. I hugely enjoyed spending time with the Devon Quintet of towns recently, where unexpected people have chosen to try and radically up the game in their communities (unexpected by themselves as much as anyone). Perhaps I should not have been surprised at the extent to which the old guard have tried to hang on, and the twists and turns (especially at a District level), which have enabled the Party faithful to retain power. Too often we resist change, even when everything possible is screaming out that we need to.

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People Power

Over the last few weeks I have started to write a short blog dozens of times.  Usually there has been too much to say, often someone else says it just as well before I get there. Last month my focus was very much on the groups organising themselves to stand in May 2nd local elections as Independents.

That was swept to one side by the extraordinary activity of Extinction Rebellion (XR) focussed on London.  They had three demands and it was the third that surprised and interested me most from the start: That the ‘Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice’.  My involvement led to speaking in Parliament Square and Marble Arch to introduce this demand, before very large numbers of people engaged in impromptu People’s Assemblies (these underpin XR’s decision making process and will be used to inform future strategy).

Meanwhile, over on Waterloo Bridge hundreds of people from the South West of England formed the core of protesters who turned it into a focus of a positive future for over a week.  Amongst them, Annabelle (my partner in all things) was amongst the many arrested from Frome.  This comes as no surprise and I am now inordinately proud that amongst Frome’s new councillors there were five arrests. Read More

Rights of Spring

As comedians Laurel and Hardy said: “Well , here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into “….. Why so many? Why endless dead ends and unanswerable conundrums? If we’d written fiction to demonstrate that the Party political, system with elected ‘representatives’, is totally unfit for purpose, it could never have been as well put together as the farce we see before us.
Elsewhere that mashup of fact and fiction is becoming reality as 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a president in a popular Ukranian TV series, gained twice the vote of his nearest rival in the first round of Presidential elections. He’s following in the footsteps of M55 Five Star Movement in Italy, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, which gained more votes than any other party in 2018 elections.
Do the people really want to have comedians in charge? Well, if it’s going to happen, why not have a professional comedian rather than those who fall into that role by mistake? A similar idea comes from Greta Thunberg ‘….and since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago’. Let the children and fools step up. Her powerful words remind us constantly that the system and leaders we have somehow chosen are simply not capable of dealing with the complexities of Brexit, let alone climate change.
At the root of all this is the gap we have built between the representatives and the people. (Which is inextricably intertwined with the ever increasing gap we have created between rich and poor.) The latest of John Harris’ Anywhere but Westminster short films comes from Wigan where a significant majority voted to leave the EU. Despite everything we now know, most of the people John talks to would still vote leave. He concludes that ‘the tragedy of Brexit is that places like this have been all but forgotten in the Westminster drama, more than ever they have things to tell us and we ought to listen’.
Listening is the key. The energy of 6m people voting and 1m marching last week is all redirected into anger and frustration when it is met with someone’s fingers in their ears. The tragedy is that this will not change quickly. I don’t see it change with a different government either because they are all so entrenched in the current system. The new Independent Group of MPs ‘Believe that our parliamentary democracy in which our elected representatives deliberate, decide and provide leadership, held accountable by their whole electorate is the best system of representing the views of the British people’. Based on current form, they are simply wrong.
We cannot wait to be ‘consulted’ then ignored. On the largest issue life on earth faces, Extinction Rebellion (XR) has clearly recognised this and head for London on April 15th to demand change. And at a local level, Frome’s Independents (ifF) have taken initial steps in showing what can be done by committed and organised locals outside of Party Politics, looking to change the focus to inclusive participation and ownership of decisions by the community. Placing these together in one paragraph is very deliberate. If we have any chance of facing the climate emergency without extreme chaos, it will be through political engagement at a community level (the sort of work the Alternative UK and her partners are embarked upon in Plymouth).
IfF return to the polls on May 2nd, along with at least 40 other groups of Independents in other towns – committed community activists who have had enough of not being listened to. I believe both these Movements are essential, the high profile approach of XR, alongside a steady tidal wave of people reclaiming politics. Reclaiming it not only from the Political parties, but from the money which funds their dominance.
(The Rights of Spring poster is available from

Did it work?

I’ve been poor at writing in this blog space for the last few months.  This has mainly because all my writing brain has been putting together Flatpack Democracy 2. This will be the story of what happened after the 2015 elections including how Independents for Frome (IfF) made a clean sweep of the Council getting all 17 elected members. While Flaptpack 1 covers how to get elected, the sequel will ask ‘was it worth it’, covering the whole 8 year IfF experiment.

Peter Andrews and I hope to get Flatpack Democracy 2 published within the next three months. However with the upcoming local elections on 2 May, we thought those of you who have bravely chosen to go down the ‘independents together’ route would be interested in my observations on what made the 2015 IfF campaign such a success. So, if you want a sneak preview of Flatpack Democracy 2 we would be delighted to send you, free of charge, what will probably be Chapter 5 – the one that deals with getting elected.  All you need to do is go to the eco-logic books website and send us an email by way of the ‘contact us’ tab.

I’m in touch with people from 15 communities who will be putting forward a group of Independents in those May elections.  If you are another one, or know of others, I’d love to hear.  Please do this either through the Flaptpack Democracy Facebook page, or the contacts tab on the Flatpack site.

There has never been a more important time to reclaim politics!

Copyright © Peter Macfadyen 2014