I am on my way back from two Flatpack linked events. The first in Richmond – run by Compass – was on Alliance Building. I’d been asked because Frome’s council could be regarded as a Progressive Alliance operating beyond an electoral pact that is just to gain power. Vince Cable and Jonathan Bartley spoke from LibDem and Green perspectives and Barry Langford as a ‘labour man’ – though the Labour Party seems intent on ploughing its own furrow into oblivion. All three spoke of why electoral agreements are the only way to avoid decades or Tory rule and potentially to get us to a working form of proportional representation, which is the only way to drag us back from the joke masquerading as democracy we currently have. Klina Jordan – co-founder of Make Voted Matter then spoke – having the great pleasure of 100,000 signatories to their petition just being reached. (And I told the story of Frome).
My take on all this is that turkey’s don’t vote for Christmas. The Tories will never change a system which keeps them where they are….. and Labour still think the old ways can serve them in the future. The Greens and Lib Dems will expend vast amounts of energy….. and win a few more seats. Without trust and some form of ‘Ways of Working’ their pacts will do little beyond making opposition less lonely. Sadly, I also think the parliamentary debate Make Voted Matter has forced on PR will be held in a corridor and whipped to an early death.
Meanwhile, we went on to four very lively group discussions about real politics happening at more local levels and how real co-operation can be sought and achieved. What sticks with me is a real anger at exclusion by ‘ordinary people’ from the workings of local councils. The ways in which people are forced to try and get their view over and how the petty rules, ego and power prevent this. There is a real hunger for political engagement – not Party political – but for being allowed to make things work in everyday lives.
This was replicated the following evening in Lewes at the first of three 38 degrees Live events. A buzzing crowd of activists in a workshop looking at how we can reclaim politics from the Parties. There is an extraordinary energy and surprising optimism about what can be – and is being – done at a local level. And again a palpable anger at the way in which dysfunctional local political systems are excluding access by those ‘ordinary people’ to the lowest levels. As austerity bites it becomes essential that this local level works better – and Frome has shown how a real integration of community and council unlocks potential and can help us fly in the face of ideologically imposed austerity.
To date I have mainly focussed on how to get elected at a local level and then make that role effective. I have argued that attempting to change the national political travesty will be a waste of energy for most of us, and focus on the community level will be more productive. I’ve now seen a lot of people intensely frustrated by the national situation but impotent to act at that level…… who are also now recognising that a dysfunctional lower level is hindering their realistic aspirations. Given that the barricades of the town hall will be weaker than those of Westminster, how best to unleash that energy?