The Coronavirus has taught us much about what is really valuable, both as individuals and communities. At a local level, the response to the pandemic has enabled some people, who have never done so before, to come forward and shine. Some will have identified and enjoyed using their new skills and gained recognition within their communities, while others will want to return to “normality” as quickly as possible.
The State is moving fast to ensure that it gives just enough to satisfy those who have recognised their own capacity and the dire limitations of the political system. Eventually, some new bike lanes will emerge, but not enough to dent the power of the car; some grass will not be cut, so we feel better about insects, but where are the initiatives to build on this burgeoning community engagement?
The pandemic has highlighted how some local organisations can play key roles in their society, while others have failed to respond in ways that are fit for purpose. With Mutual Aid and other groups emerging to provide crucial support throughout the UK, the last few months have clearly illustrated the need for a massive change in the way local councils operate. Many councils have proven to be totally inadequate during the pandemic. More than ever, at the town and parish level, it is crucial for a well-functioning council to work in genuine partnership with these community groups.
Now is the time when these newly engaged and empowered people, who have come to know where they live and what is needed, can step forward. Not just to prop up the creaking structures and systems of local government, but to get elected and to fundamentally change them to bring about a truly participative democracy. This means changing the way most local councils and the councilors operate. They can and must be constantly looking for how to truly engage and involve the people they serve – exactly as has happened independently in the past few months.
Change has to come from below. Central government has never really been interested in community – as has been proven over the last months. In any community there will be groups working together for their common good. If these people (and they could be you) insert themselves into the arcane structures that are local councils and rebuild them for this century, not just in one town and parish, but in every town and parish, then we will have a movement, free from the poison of Party Politics that is fit for the needs of 21st century.
Possibly with great naivety, certainly with great optimism, a group of us have just launched Flatpack2021. Its purpose is to encourage and support groups to take over their local councils in the May elections next year. If you can see the potential for this where you live, or know of others for whom this is true, please direct them to the new website. We need to grab the best things that have come out of working together during the pandemic and find real alternatives to the disaster that is the national government.
You can make a start now by, passing on this blog link to friends and colleagues and visiting our website.
(The picture is of a Bufo Bufo, the common toad…. now almost as rare as any semblance of democracy)