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.

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Total power?
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It’s a beautiful day in Frome, Somerset today – the sun is shining.
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If the Egyptians had built pyramids from the point up, they would have fallen over.
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Chickens and Eggs
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Deadline day approaches….
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Vote for chaos.
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Dysfunctional democracy 3.
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The essence of ifF….
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“Where apathy goes to die”
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More on ‘austerity’.

Total power?

iff2

Politics is usually regarded as having winners and losers if we run it with the ‘first past the post system’. I maintain that has been a key reason why there is lack of engagement and a perfectly reasonable cynicism in the foundations of representation – the town and parish councils. Indeed, where party politics has invaded, the thinking that comes with it has been deeply corrosive.
I was therefore deeply moved when the good people of Frome showed their innate political intelligence by rejecting the parties they had supported a few Xs earlier (in national and district elections) and turned to the Independents for Frome in droves.
That pleasure was matched by news that other towns and villages had taken up Flatpack Democracy and used it exactly as I’d hoped – as a DIY guide to taking power in their own communities. This is well described in John Harris’s ‘How Flatpack Democracy beat the old parties in the People’s Republic of Frome’ article today.
The key point John mentions is that a majority of Independents (and in Frome’s case an entire council) can be good for democracy in a way that even a small majority for an ideology led party will not be, because they can represent a full range of views, and they can focus on the issues people at comunity level care about.
Where does this go next? I hope the massive mandate for ifF, and the majorities for other groups, will encourage a steady movement to grow. The egg of real powers leading to real change leading to greater desire to get involved could lead to a whole load of chickens.

It’s a beautiful day in Frome, Somerset today – the sun is shining.

“…..It’s a beautiful day in Frome, Somerset today – the sun is shining. But that’s not the real reason it is a beautiful day. Today the results of the town council elections were announced. There has been so much despondency and trepidation expressed in England since the general election result, a feeling among so many that mainstream politics fails to represent them or their concerns, a genuine fear we are becoming a less caring, less understanding, less tolerant Britain. But in Frome today we achieved something that might sound small but is a momentous resistance to this. Today we found out that, building on their success in the last local election when they took control of the town council, a group of dedicated local people interested in promoting a responsive and responsible culture in our town instead of party political agendas who gather together under the banner of Independents for Frome, won a landslide victory taking ever single town council seat in the election. EVERY. SINGLE. SEAT. No Labour, no Lib-Dems, no Tories, no racist UKIP – not a single seat for a national party. On the same day that our national political system offered so many so little Frome voted for ordinary people giving up their time to make a difference to run our town and not the political class. EVERY. SINGLE. SEAT.

Let it start here and spread everywhere.It’s a beautiful day in Frome, Somerset today – the sun is shining. But that’s not the real reason it is a beautiful day. Today the results of the town council elections were announced. There has been so much despondency and trepidation expressed in England since the general election result, a feeling among so many that mainstream politics fails to represent them or their concerns, a genuine fear we are becoming a less caring, less understanding, less tolerant Britain. But in Frome today we achieved something that might sound small but is a momentous resistance to this. Today we found out that, building on their success in the last local election when they took control of the town council, a group of dedicated local people interested in promoting a responsive and responsible culture in our town instead of party political agendas who gather together under the banner of Independents for Frome, won a landslide victory taking ever single town council seat in the election.

EVERY. SINGLE. SEAT. No Labour, no Lib-Dems, no Tories, no racist UKIP – not a single seat for a national party. On the same day that our national political system offered so many so little Frome voted for ordinary people giving up their time to make a difference to run our town and not the political class. EVERY. SINGLE. SEAT. Let it start here and spread everywhere….”

To be honest, I’ve been in a daze since the count on Saturday, partly finishing off being Mayor, partly thinking about what now!!!???  The words above are from a Facebook Post of Simon Morrisey of Foreground and I don’t even have time to ask if he minds – I trust he will take it as flattery – they are being well shared on Facebook!

If the Egyptians had built pyramids from the point up, they would have fallen over.

pyramid
One: The whole of this election’s media coverage focuses on the main Parties making promise after promise to do things they either won’t because they never intended to, or in a coalition, they’ll negotiate something different. Who gives a toss? No wonder the masses are deserting to protest groups on the fringes or will join the largest group of all: not voting. What a total farce.
Two: Once the bun fight is over real people in real places like Frome get on with making real decision on how we manage with the scraps that come from above and – in the main – with what we do for ourselves. Fourty Nine people are standing for seventeen town council seats in Frome; a huge range of community groups are both thriving and struggling for survival; there is a buzz about the place….. and that will be true all over the country.

We are led by the nose (and other more painful bits) by the media to believe that the top of the pyramid matters more than the foundations. So pernicious is this that even local politicians are fixated on the national issues. This is a key cause of our retaining an increasingly dysfunctional ‘democracy’. Either this changes or the pyramid falls – simple really.
I have no interest whatsoever in today’s empty promises by ‘our leaders’, I’m off to talk to the bloke who wants to develop a ‘pay what you want’ cafe, and the team starting the Library of Things.

Chickens and Eggs

chickenegg

“If there are sufficient nominations, there may also be a poll for councillors of the Parish of Frome”… What a sad line with which to head the Official Polling card! But all over the country there won’t be sufficient nominations. There won’t be elections at this level – the foundations of a democratic pyramid are thus missing. The only level at which people in their communities meet regularly to chat, moan, agree, offer ideas (ie politics) is often dysfunctional largely because there are not enough people engaging. Read More

Deadline day approaches….

temp horse 2

As the deadline for standing as a councillor approaches – April 9th here – a fascinating range of options is emerging for would be independents.
As you’d expect Independents for Frome had no problems finding more than 17 candidates to follow on from their achievements in the last four years and took only three days to meet the crowd funding target to run their campaign. Theirs is a model of independent individuals working together under a ‘way of working’ – i.e. cooperating with a sole aim of bettering Frome.
Wells Independents are heading down a model which borrows some aspects from Frome and have a great buzz about their activity and energy in attempting to unseat some long standing party politicians in the City.
Shepton Mallet’s The Local Community (TLC) appears to be being led from the front along the lines of Political Party, but clearly independent and Shepton focussed.

Read More

Vote for chaos.

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(A guest blog from ifF colleague Toby Eliot – with few editorial tweaks…)

In the run up to this year’s general election I’m hearing, with increasing frequency, the message that, at all costs, we must avoid the chaos of coalition. On the face of it that sounds sensible but my growing frustration is the assumption that certain electoral results would lead to chaos. Surely those elected should get on with delivering consensus government?

I watched the Sunday Politics on BBC1 this week (something I normally try not to do) and the ‘avoid chaos’ message came across in two different debates.

In the local section of the programme a parliamentary candidate from a mainstream party responded to a question about more independents being a good thing by saying that unless you had recognised groups, at all levels of government, to pass budgets you’d get chaos. Read More

Dysfunctional democracy 3.

hust

I have spoken quite a bit recently about the root causes of apathy and cynicism around our so called democracy. Perfectly illustrated at the first hustings event in Frome on Sunday.

Faced with our main choice of David, David or David to replace the retiring David (with Green Theo and UKIP Alan as alternatives in policy if not in name), the proceedings quickly hit a massive structural problem: Candidates are selected by their political parties and campaign around the party agreed manifesto (set of plans and promises). BUT, the Tory candidate is clear he will vote for what he feels is best for Frome and defy the party whips…. and the Lib Dem points out that in a coalition you have to compromise, so they can’t promise to deliver on anything! So ultimately the manifesto is worthless, making them effectively able to support whatever policy they feel like in reality, while also wheeling in the party faithful….. The other candidates can make any promises they like as they won’t be elected anyway.

 
Party candidates – at all levels – are entwined with this deep structural flaw. I believe it is part of what confuses potential voters – and turns them off engagement. Only an Independent, clear who they are and what they offer can surmount this.

The essence of ifF….

Biff
One hundred talks in on afternoon was massively stimulating – if the reality was a sniff of something and a taste of something else. Change: How has given me much to think about, a load of scribbled notes to follow up and some fascinating insights as to what others are up to. There is clearly a broad consensus that the current electoral system serves us incredibly poorly. And everywhere from the noisy Greeks of Syriza to the humorous Danes of Alternativet new models are popping up.

Read More

“Where apathy goes to die”

‘”There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I’m so looking forward to Change:How? 2015 “where apathy goes to die” tomorrow!
Stories from Greece, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Bahrain, Scotland and plenty beyond – join us tomorrow to meet a world full of change-makers in just one building, Europe’s oldest alternative night club in Angel, Islington…
Alongside 100 inspirational change makers – from Stella Creasy to Heydon Prowse of the Revolution Will Be Televised, musician Steve Lawson to David Lammy MP, Rev. Giles Fraser to Flatpack Democracy, The Moneyless Man to Amelia Womack….. their personal stories and world-beating ideas…… their performances…. and a pint with them at the bar.

Line Up

Read More

More on ‘austerity’.

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It will be fascinating to see whether Syriza can hold it together in the next few weeks and months in Greece and set out a viable alternative to ‘austerity’. As the current model has been such a total disaster for most Greeks – and increased their debt at the same time – it cannot be a surprise that they wanted a change.
The Change: How? event I have already mentioned will “…bring together an eclectic mix of people from the arts, politics, activism and campaigning, media and everything in between. Alongside poets, musicians, actresses, comediennes, and spoken word artists you’ll meet politicians and political activists including from Syriza, Podemos, the Pirate Party, Scotland’s radical independence campaign, The Alternativet in Denmark, even England’s home-grown flatpack democracy in Frome, and progressive members of our more established political parties. To shake things up some more, there will be activists, campaigners, community builders and organisers – people standing up for equality and justice, for an economy that serves people and planet, for radical democracy, against oppression and racism. And for so much more. Each with their own story…..”
Through fundraising, careful borrowing and spending our meagre precept income in Frome, then working with the community, we’ve gone part of the way to demonstrating that it is not necessary to be cowed down by austerity measures. I accept the Greeks have a bigger challenge, but so often Esinstein’s “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” applies.  I am much looking forward to hearing some real alternatives to our increasinly hopeless staus quo – including from the Greeks – then seeing what might be relevant to Frome.

Copyright © Peter Macfadyen 2014