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.