Flatpack Democracy

A DIY guide to creating independent politics
by Peter Macfadyen.

(As featured in the Guardian’s AnywhereButWestminster and Social Innovation Exchange ).

Get the revolution started: Buy 8 copies for only £40 and free p & p        The Rights of Spring poster is available here.

Mind the gap
How to Do It
Non Violence?
How Wild To Go?
Vote for Froglet
People Power
Life of Flatpack
Diverging aspirations


guy fawkes

I once bicycled to a room with a projector, computer and screen to show a film that had been quite widely advertised by Sustainable Frome.  One person turned up.  She was really keen to watch it so we did…. she went on to be a key member of the group and I’m really glad I hung on in there.

I have something of the same feeling this week as relatively few ordinary individuals, who have decided enough is enough and are standing as local councillors in tomorrow’s elections, have been in touch.  In Sutton Coldfield – Britain’s newest and largest Parish Council – Independents are contesting every seat; in Winchester City there is a solid core in the City itself.  In Uttlesford and Wivenhoe there are different ways of doing things, but the same basic message that while Localism and Party Politics are patently failing to provide at community level, there are people prepared to give a bit of time to change things.  There are others – and plenty I am not in touch with of course – and as we know “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Meade).

John Harris perfectly captures the essence of what motivates this very British ‘revolution’ in his third Anywhere but Westminster film: it’s a mix of frustration, anger and the recognition that change is possible.  Those that are elected may well find themselves one of a few independents in a council firmly stuck in the dark ages, which can be a depressing place – Independents for Frome have had the luxury of majority rule.  My hope is that enough independents will be able to persuade enough of the old guard to enter the 21st century and that starts to inspire more capable people to join them in engaging with this crucial lowest level of our democracy.


Mind the gap

mind the gap


I spent Friday evening in the company of students from Frome Community College and Mohammed Nasheed.  A surprising mix especially given he is in the UK for only a short while courtesy of the Maldivian government and will return to prison to serve the remains of a 13 year sentence for terrorism.

The students made a series of presentations on human rights; gender equality; democracy and climate change – following research on the Maldives.  With support from Bath University students, they’d put together a mass of information and views which were refreshing in their frank analysis of the poverty of democracy not just in the Maldives but the UK; and in the perversity of Cherie Blaire being funded by an impoverished government to support their case against  Mohammed Nasheed.

The Ex President (winner of innumerable major awards including UN Champion of the Earth (and slighly weirdly one of David Cameron’s top five people for his stag weekend)) took us through some of the human rights abuses he’s been subjected to.  In a gloriously simple way he showed how conviction and sticking to ideals and principles places him in a totally different league from most current politicians.

What struck me most was the powerful clarity of the young college students (mostly women)…. and the poignant gap between their engagement in politics now and the lack of engagement and interest most people retain in later life.  The college’s hope – and mine – is that the simple and very moving principles espoused by Nasheed will stay with at least some of the students and audience, encouraging them to join the dots between the lifestyles we lead and the impact this has on others.

How to Do It


Heading home from ‘How to Do it’ – Creating Bottom up Political Participation, a couple of days that brought together academics, political activists and community organisers to contribute to the working out of a question central to the current political climate: ‘how can we create progressive and effective political participation?’

Like most such events, I find a range from ‘kind of useful’ to ‘totally inspiring’ and the last two sessions (and allied lunchtime conversation) were certainly the latter.  These were on how to organise political parties and urban assemblies, taking inspiration from Podemos and Take Back the City (as well as Frome) and for me raising one fundamental question:  Given that the prevailing political system is so manifestly unfit for purpose, are we brave and strong enough to replace it with one based on how we will work together?  Putting how we will work together to make decision and what our ethics will be above promoting what we will do when in power?  I was deeply struck by how many of the core aspects in these areas that we have found effective in Frome are shared by Podemos in Spain and are the aspirations for Take Back the City.

The lunchtime conversations inspired me because Florin – now heading home to Transylvania to take on the corrupt old-guard in local elections in May and Eleanor, the Women’s Equality Party Lambeth leader – full of the energy of new radical politics (each now armed with their copy of Flatpack) are less than half my age.  Indeed, the majority of those at the weekend will have enough years left to make a difference and on a weekend when a significant number of people hauled themselves off the sofa to protest at the hypocrisy epitomized by Cameron’s dodgy investments.




There can be no bigger sign that conventional ‘democracy’ is defunct than the inexorable movement towards America selecting Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton as their presidential candidates. When either of these two is elected, some of what they say will represent a tiny tiny minority of the views of Americans. (Though Trump is already morphing into a reasonable gentle highly electable person as primary victory approaches.) Even I may well be applauding the fact that the corporations actually pull the strings as many of the Trump/Clinton views are so dangerous….

The real tragedy of this facade is that none of the proposals of Bernie Sanders will be heard of again – although they propose real change especially for poorer Americans. And all this is mirrored in the UK where the Tory 12 seat majority makes them all powerful – essentially a multi headed dictatorship.

Read More

Non Violence?

Non violence


After delving into the potential wisdom of a more violent approach to creating alternatives to dysfunctional democracy, in Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Ghandi, I have moved on to a more peaceful approach: Blueprint for Revolution is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read for years. There is much to learn for anyone involved in trying to engage the wider public with a view to regime change. Sroja Popovic’s experience is from his key role in undermining Milosovic’s Serbian dictatorship – and he has gone on to train and support uprisings from Tunisia to Syria. However, many of the basic ideas apply as equally Frome as they do to Egypt.

Central themes include: How to judge what actions are worth doing while staying alive; making oppression backfire; the importance of planning……. and the ‘demons of violence’ – how (he feels) that when the violence is succumbed to, the whole process can be undermined.

Many of the books examples are hugely inspiring – especially those that use ‘Laughterism’ – undermining the pompous Powers That Be in ways where they cannot engage without looking even more stupid. This is as relevant in Frome as in dictator situations* as we work to bring more people into political discussion and engagement and need to show the system up for what it is.
*(It’s increasinlgy unclear to me whether we do live in a non dictator situation).

So far non-violent wit has my vote…… BUT it’s got to be edgy enough to make a difference.

[Along with many great books, Blueprint for Revolution is available from Ecologic Books where you can buy it from a man who pays his taxes (or would do if he ever earned enough)]

How Wild To Go?


I’ve just finished ‘Molotov Cocktails with Ghandi’ by Mark Boyle. A challenging read for someone whose instinct is firmly towards non-violent revolt.
I’m totally in agreement with his analysis that ‘…our political and economic system has brought us to the brink of climate catastrophe, ransacking ecosystems and unravelling communities for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many’….. and I can increasingly see the need to upgrade reduce, reuse, and recycle: Mark’s three Rs are Resist, Revolt, and Rewild…. the last especially interesting given Frome’s recent delve into Rewilding with a packed audience at an evening of talks. That focussed on reintroducing the top species of animals – otters, wolves, and wild cats. Read More

Vote for Froglet


“Party politics has become substantially meaningless because destructive global competition means that voting in a conventional manner, by choosing between political parties, has become a choice that is no choice…….” That’s a quote from a currently unpublished book I have been reading that looks to international cooperation as the key hope for humanity.

A view I share at the local level. But why write a whole book when the same sentiment is expressed in a short film created by Oliver Postgate just waiting to be relaunched: the Clangers “Vote for Froglet”.

People Power

people power

This weekend sees the first of three differing events for me that have sprung out of Flatpack. Their timing could not be worse because I have a load of actual real paid for work over the same period….or better in terms of the surge in people’s democracy that is taking place all over Europe. Both the plight of the refugees and the staggering way in which people have risen up at community level are moving. This reaction – often undermining national government’s crass fumbling – is real democracy.

Locally we have Justine Corrie spearheading an incredibly thoughtful response that she writes about here for Huffington Post.
Can Do Democracy – in Frome this weekend – capture some of that energy and heartfelt desire for better democracy? Surely the 2015 Transition Conference will re-energise the hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who have taken the Transition Town model as a way to take control of the big issues in their own lives (that’s where I am the week after next)….. and then it’s to the beach for Flatpack Democracy Brighton (a fringe event to the Labour Party conference – an annual irrelevance where a new hopeful steps forward in an attempt to one day drive the dysfunctional ship of Westmonster).

Let’s see where it all takes us!

Life of Flatpack


The Guardian article certainly changed the pace of Flatpack life – Eco-logic Books are about to reprint for a third time to keep up with demand….  I’ve just been looking at our ‘data base’ of nearly fifty councils and contacts following up on where Independents have taken power this year, or are looking to soon. We’ve had innumerable requests to speak – fellow ifF councillor Jean Boulton is a Flatcap event with Yorkshire First in Leeds this weekend for example.

It makes sense to share ideas with a range of people and groups coming together, so we jumped at Unlock Democracy’s desire to come to Frome and have helped put together ‘Do Democracy – Take back power and politics in 2015’ on September 13th – hoping to draw in the crowds with top speakers, Flatpack thoughts and plenty of time to hear where others are at.  You can book (its free) through the link above…

This is rapidly followed by Flatpack Brighton’s emergence at the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove’s event from 25-27 Sept with a mass of great stuff possibly including “a…. Fancy Dress Life of Brian inspired Punch & Judy Panto on the beach…. (it is Brighton)….

Then on October 21st I’m making more serious links to climate change and Independent politics with George Ferguson and others at ‘The Uncertain Word – Question Time’….
And in the background 17 Frome Independents are tearing up rule books, dissolving committees and starting all over again with some inspiring new ways of making things really work….maybe the material for Flatpack II – the sequel!


Diverging aspirations


Six weeks after the national and local elections things start to settle. At a national level, the government’s slim majority allows them to start pushing through legislation too extreme for the previous coalition. At a local level we start to devise ‘panels’ to engage better with people towards creating strategy that reflects their real needs and wishes.
And after the Guardian article, I find myself in twenty or so conversations with other groups and individuals seeking to reject the dysfunctional constraints of party politics at a local level. It does however feel like there is an increasing gap between the reality of the town level of government and what goes on nationally.
So what happens when they clash? The rejection of a fracking licence in Lancashire will be interesting – does the government orchestrate trampling on the clear will of local people? In Frome we will continue to test how far Localism can be made to really work for local people….. and hopefully increasingly share this with the growing network of others on a similar same path.

Copyright © Peter Macfadyen 2014