TO PARTY OR NOT TO PARTY?

Some of the early feedback from those fine souls who have read all of Flatpack Democracy revolves around whether Independents for Frome (ifF) is, or is not, a POLITICAL PARTY. Marcus Letts (of the United Diversity coop) picks no bones: ‘As you clearly observe, Independents for Frome is a political party’. Simon Carter (an independent councilor for Just Tewkesbury) is equally clear: ”…..come on Peter, you are a party….”. They are not necessarily citing this as a problem, but that my lack of clarity on this issue makes it harder to get over what we have tried to do in Frome as well as potentially confusing both readers and voters.
I thought a lot about this question as I dug my new comfrey bed over the weekend. Back home I followed up some links into the distant past of the Green Party and the Zapatistas (amongst others). It seems the Green Party was preceded by the Ecology Party which was preceded by PEOPLE’. Clearly, their thinking was around environmental issues as well as political structure. Equally clearly they did a hell of a lot more thinking about both than ifF’s founders did a few months before a town election. It would seem they were not looking to create a conventional political party, but a much wider ranging, more inclusive movement. They recognised that expectations of how a ‘party’ should behave are limiting. They had no leader, members could also belong to other parties and were not positioned on the horizontal left-right spectrum. Similarly IfF has no members, no leader, no party whip.
What IiF as a group of individuals is attempting to do is to create a different approach to local politics. One in which public are engaged continually, not just every four years. We came together as a group in order to try and make that happen and we registered as Minor Political Party in order to be able to claim the majority in the council as the largest grouping (rather than be treated as10 individuals).  This approach has significant problems in terms of explaining the model to our electorate. It probably wouldn’t work nationally where policy does need to be clearer. This may make it harder to replicate our model in other places.

So, I’m still thinking about this, but just now I feel the baggage that comes with being a party has more negative aspects than the freedom of being a Group or Movement. Simon is right that ‘…a rejection of party politics is not the same thing at all as a rejection of political parties….’ and I can see it does need to be clearer. A year away from an election there is plenty of time to tease out what we are really trying to do, without confusing that with what some may propose we need to say in order to get elected.

 

 

About the author

Peter Macfadyen

Social activist, ex Mayor and Leader of Frome Town Council, author, public speaker, undertaker, grandfather.

4 Comments

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  • Let’s be absolutely clear. Technically IfF is a minor political party registered with the Electoral Commission. We had to do this in order to have our logo on the ballot papers. However, this is only a technicality (one of many in our over complicated democracy).

    Originally, before we were elected, we had thought that the large diverse group that came together to form IfF would carry on and support the work of those that got elected. This didn’t really happen for lots of very good reasons. Had it done so IfF would have been a political party.

    At the recent Party/Conference we discussed this very issue with an eye on next year’s election. The consensus, following three years of trying it out, was that IfF is a supportive organisation that comes together at times of election in order to find and support good people to stand for local government. This means two things: 1. Anyone, willing to sign up to the IfF ways of working, can put themselves forward as a candidate regardless of political background or ideology. 2. IfF as an entity doesn’t exist most of the time – those who stand decide the issues they stand on and those who get elected decide to what extent and how to work together.

    Why is this important? From my point of view our democratic representation is broken. Political parties are the old solution and therefore part of the problem. New political parties, in the old mode, are recreating the current problem. We need something different.

  • I was elected as an independent Town Councillor in 2010.
    Like you I have been dismayed with the confrontational approach that some councillors seem to believe is the best way to represent the electorate. After a year of petty squabbling that wouldn’t be out of place in the nursery, I almost resigned, but didn’t, because deep down I know that local government will be a vital element in a co-ordinated community response to the increasingly complex challenges of the future.
    There are many people in my town who would make excellent councillors (and not because they share my views) but are put off by the” bear pit” method of debate which discourages alternative thinking.

    I’m really interested in the book as it appears to be addressing the problem I’ve been wrestling with for the last 3 years, i.e. how do you get a sensible level of mature co-operation within a diverse group of of personalities?

    I look forward to reading it..I’ll be in touch.

    Regards
    James Pocklington

    ps in case you’re wondering, I read about the book in Transition free press (http://transitionfreepress.org)

    • Thanks for this – always warming to have positive feedback…… and i look forward to any later comments!

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