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Time to take over?
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Doing what seems the right thing to be doing.
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Flatpack Democracy 2.0
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Flatpack Democracy on Radio 5
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Keeping it local
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Wishful thinking?
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People Power
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Rights of Spring
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Did it work?
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‘If at first….’ Robert the Bruce

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

Flatpack Democracy 2.0

After a gestation period of five years and a great deal of help and input from independents all over the country Flatpack Democracy 2.0 is finally published. It should be available from a good local bookshop near you or you can buy it direct from our publisher eco-logic books at the special price of £7.99 which includes free postage and packing.

Advert over – I am proud to have been part of Frome Town Council, one of the most impactful groups to have been elected at this level.  I am also delighted that Flatpack Democracy (written in 2014) has played a role in encouraging and supporting other groups to find ways to achieve real change at a local level.  After not standing as a councillor this May, I finished Flatpack Democracy 2.0 which aims to further support those already elected as local councillors and encourage others down that route.  With Peter Andrews’ interviews of those already on the path adding considerably to its depth, we hope the story will take this idea further towards becoming a movement for real democratic change which, I would suggest, is needed!

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Flatpack Democracy on Radio 5

Thanks to Chris Warburton on BBC 5 Live for his well-researched interview on Independent Politics. First mention of my new book, Flatpack Democracy 2.0! Out in a few weeks to provide Power Tools for Reclaiming Local Democracy.

Listen to my interview with Chris here

The piece starts at 11:00 minutes in.

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, Jacob 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. Read More

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). 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.
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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 2.0. 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 Flatpack 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 2.0 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 Flatpack Democracy Facebook page, or the contacts tab on the Flatpack site.

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

‘If at first….’ Robert the Bruce

I’m delighted to hear that Rachel Jupp has been elected as a Town Councillor in Monmouth.  It is 18 months since she first stood as an Independent for Indy Monmouth, failing narrowly then and repeating that in a first by-election later, before yesterday’s victory.

I have fairly frequent conversations with people who have attempted to enter these ‘lowest’ layers of our political system and initially failed.  Most recently, these have been with Belgians who put a huge amount of energy into creating groups standing with a set of values, in their recent local elections and failed to see anyone elected.  There, although their proportional representation system is much fairer than ours, it is still incredibly hard to get your first person elected.

What they have done, though, is up the game.  They have forced people to take notice and – in some cases – to take ideas from the new groups, especially around a more participative democracy.  It may feel poor consolation to someone who has tried so hard (and failed) to be fobbed off with what sound like platitudes of ‘things will never be the same because you stood’.  But it’s true.   Equally, there are places where one or two councillors are really making a difference despite their lack of obvious power.  The Cynon Valley’s one successful candidate continues to do a great job and the Alternative Party in Denmark may only have nine MPs but they continue to attract a disproportionate amount of interest and coverage for ideas that constantly challenge…..and so on.

Rachel joins a group of Independents in Monmouth who have sometimes struggled to impose in world that can find change tricky.  I’d argue that now is the time when local and global really comes into its own.  Town councils must step up to fill the chasms of need created by austerity at a local level – and also add their voice to the global issues that affect their citizens by, for example, declaring a climate emergency.  What next for Monmouth?

 

Copyright © Peter Macfadyen 2019