Archive - 2020

1
Trust the People
2
Time to take over?
3
Doing what seems the right thing to be doing.

Trust the People

 

 

 

 

The COVID-19 crisis and the magnificent response of the public has proved yet again that local people know what is best for themselves. They also know the actions that need to be taken to make where they live a better, vibrant and more caring place.  During this strange time it has been obvious in many, many areas that it is the local people who have taken the lead and organised themselves to support their towns, villages and communities.

So as Coronavirus starts to move on do we want to revert to the old ways? The national government has been doing what governments do at times like this: centralise and control.  Their attempts to engage and orchestrate volunteers, make and distribute protective equipment or to fund initiatives have often not only failed but undermined local actions.  Local government at the middle level, which has been trying to care for more people with less money for over a decade, has also struggled: on top of austerity it now faces crippling extra costs which will have a devastating impact on services. Do we want to let Party politicians guided only by their Westminster central office and Party ideology, organise our lives for us? Or can we nurture some of the shoots that have emerged in these past few months?

In 2019 many more people elected new independent councils which had one common aim – to make things better for people where they live. From The Haswells in the north to Buckfastleigh in the west local people are now being properly engaged to make the decisions that affect their everyday lives.  (With Buckfastleigh recently nationally recognised as a Democracy Pioneer by the innovation foundation Nesta for their work to support and network other local rural councils.)

Of course I am not alone in hoping we can grasp this opportunity for change. The world over people are saying ‘No Return to Normal, Normal Wasn’t Working’ backed up with brilliant articles by the likes of Arundhati Roy. They seek to learn so we are better prepared for what comes next. My route into local politics came with a growing realisation that climate change posed a threat greater than all others, and this remains the case.  National governments are in a system that will never allow them to respond to climate change fast enough, but just as people in their communities have responded to Covid 19, so they are making good decisions on how to respond to the climate emergency.

At the core of Flatpack Democracy’s success is the idea that people know best.  I’ve been working with the Future Democracy Hub and their new initiative Trust the People (described here in the Alternative UK’s excellent article). One of their strands is to support local people who have ‘come out’ and now provide leadership and inspiration to their communities.  I believe these can be the people who will reclaim politics from those who are currently failing us, with fatal consequences.

Now that many of the local elections scheduled for 2020 have been cancelled, we have been given longer to prepare for 2021.  And as many vibrant local organisations set up during the pandemic, including the many thousands of Mutual Aid groups, start to move on, this is the time to build on those foundations. We must not return to a ‘normal’ that just wasn’t working.  Now is the time to get together with like-minded people where you live to build a local democracy. There are many roads to independent politics but the Flatpack Democracy route offers a tried, tested and successful way to start that journey.

———-

You can hear more from me about the Flatpack Democracy movement and how it is rebuilding democracy from the ground up, on The Spark on Radio 4 Monday 25 May at 11.00, repeated on 27 May at 16.00 and then on BBC Sounds.

 

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/

 

 

Doing what seems the right thing to be doing.

The end of January is apparently an especially depressing time.  Blimey – it gets worse? Too many things already contribute to the plethora of reason to keep my head under the pillow. Environmentally I now know a lot about what Australia has been facing, but also ask why I’ve only just clocked the worst drought in Zimbabwe for 100 years? (see Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The Smoke That Thunders” failing to thunder, above). While the good people of Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries have done virtually nothing to contribute to these catastrophes, the same cannot be said of Australia’s decision makers, who now surely have reached a pinnacle of ineptitude? These tragedies for life on earth (with an estimated billion dead animals in Australia’s fires so far) come from a lethal mix of far right politics and climate denial.

Read More

Copyright © Peter Macfadyen 2019