Trust the People





The COVID-19 crisis and the magnificent response of the public has proved yet again that local people know what is best for themselves. They also know the actions that need to be taken to make where they live a better, vibrant and more caring place.  During this strange time it has been obvious in many, many areas that it is the local people who have taken the lead and organised themselves to support their towns, villages and communities.

So as Coronavirus starts to move on do we want to revert to the old ways? The national government has been doing what governments do at times like this: centralise and control.  Their attempts to engage and orchestrate volunteers, make and distribute protective equipment or to fund initiatives have often not only failed but undermined local actions.  Local government at the middle level, which has been trying to care for more people with less money for over a decade, has also struggled: on top of austerity it now faces crippling extra costs which will have a devastating impact on services. Do we want to let Party politicians guided only by their Westminster central office and Party ideology, organise our lives for us? Or can we nurture some of the shoots that have emerged in these past few months?

In 2019 many more people elected new independent councils which had one common aim – to make things better for people where they live. From The Haswells in the north to Buckfastleigh in the west local people are now being properly engaged to make the decisions that affect their everyday lives.  (With Buckfastleigh recently nationally recognised as a Democracy Pioneer by the innovation foundation Nesta for their work to support and network other local rural councils.)

Of course I am not alone in hoping we can grasp this opportunity for change. The world over people are saying ‘No Return to Normal, Normal Wasn’t Working’ backed up with brilliant articles by the likes of Arundhati Roy. They seek to learn so we are better prepared for what comes next. My route into local politics came with a growing realisation that climate change posed a threat greater than all others, and this remains the case.  National governments are in a system that will never allow them to respond to climate change fast enough, but just as people in their communities have responded to Covid 19, so they are making good decisions on how to respond to the climate emergency.

At the core of Flatpack Democracy’s success is the idea that people know best.  I’ve been working with the Future Democracy Hub and their new initiative Trust the People (described here in the Alternative UK’s excellent article). One of their strands is to support local people who have ‘come out’ and now provide leadership and inspiration to their communities.  I believe these can be the people who will reclaim politics from those who are currently failing us, with fatal consequences.

Now that many of the local elections scheduled for 2020 have been cancelled, we have been given longer to prepare for 2021.  And as many vibrant local organisations set up during the pandemic, including the many thousands of Mutual Aid groups, start to move on, this is the time to build on those foundations. We must not return to a ‘normal’ that just wasn’t working.  Now is the time to get together with like-minded people where you live to build a local democracy. There are many roads to independent politics but the Flatpack Democracy route offers a tried, tested and successful way to start that journey.


You can hear more from me about the Flatpack Democracy movement and how it is rebuilding democracy from the ground up, on The Spark on Radio 4 Monday 25 May at 11.00, repeated on 27 May at 16.00 and then on BBC Sounds.


About the author

Peter Macfadyen

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


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  • Very interesting ideas. I had not heard of you until this morning’s interview by Helen Lewis on Radio 4 (the Spark). Although as a small group we have concentrated on retaining – now re-instating – the NHS, it has made us very aware of the failure of ‘democracy’ and the unaccountability of the political system both locally and nationally. The failure has become even more apparent during the mis-handling on very level of the Covid crisis in this country – a national disgrace, and I speak as someone involved in epidemiology for nearly 40 years
    I look forward to learning more, but I know that changing the current entrenched scene here in Merseyside will be extremely difficult. The Councillors admit they know nothing or very much less about health matters than we do, yet they continue to make decisions exactly against the interests of the electorate they are supposed to represent. Until last year we had Frank Field as our MP and earlier in his career he has been a very effective local MP, less so in recent years. Our current MP inspires no confidence in anyone – just a Union man (UNITE and UNISON apppointee) who seems to have no expertise in anything

    • Thanks Judith, very interesting. Of course you are right that larger councils are harder to change and more likely to be entrenched in their Party confrontations! The Localism Act does give a glimmer of a right to form a local community council as a layer below, though hard work, some have achieved this to good effect (notably Queens park in loondon)

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