“The Flatpack Democracy movement has a proven track record. It brought about radical life-changing reforms to the community of Frome. If we can repeat its success up and down the country we will not only see life improving for millions, we’ll also see the birth of a new, truly democratic force for the wide-ranging and radical reforms our society so badly needs.”
The West Country town of Frome has been at the centre of experiments in local democracy:
This is something John Harris of the Guardian has been following for some time – as he lives in the town – and here he is again, exploring the phenomenon in these strange times:
Local people have had to improvise during the pandemic. Could their solutions stick?
A new kind of community politics – ‘flatpack democracy’ – has emerged in towns left to fend for themselves by the centre
About eight months ago, a fascinating social change began to ripple through hundreds of British neighbourhoods. Given the deluge of news that has happened since, it is easy to forget how remarkable it all seemed: droves of volunteers who were gripped by community spirit coming together to help deliver food and medicines to their vulnerable neighbours, check on the welfare of people experiencing poverty and loneliness, and much more besides. From a diverse range of places all over the country, the same essential message came through: the state was either absent or unreliable, so people were having to do things for themselves.
A couple of tantalising questions were triggered by all this. Would at least some of the energy and creativity that had been unleashed be sustained beyond the pandemic? And if that happened, might any of the people involved shift their attention to politics? Unfortunately, before any answers started to become clear, the end of the first lockdown saw many local efforts apparently being wound down or fizzling out.
Look closer, though, and it’s clear that in plenty of places, the basic structures of self-help have remained in place. And, in some areas, what seems to have kept the early lockdown spirit intact is the fact that on-the-ground work has been based around town and parish councils that were once barely visible; these are now run by energised community activists who have used recent localism laws to push their work way beyond such staple responsibilities as parks and bus shelters. They’re now blazing a trail for a new kind of ultra-local government.
I live in Frome in Somerset – where, in 2011, a town council with an annual budget of about £1m was wrested from the Tories and Lib Dems. A new group of self-styled independents began running things, with an accent on participation, sustainability, community wellbeing, and the rejection of traditional party politics. The same basic idea has now spread to about 15 other places: its name, coined by an inspirational councillor called Peter Macfadyen, is “flatpack democracy”…
And we are now seeing a relaunch of the flatpack project – with the intention of contesting next May’s local elections:
Flatpack2021 – off to a flying start
The idea behind the campaign is to support people to reclaim local politics from the systems and political parties that are currently failing them. Flatpack2021 will support communities to take back power by winning local elections, of which there are thousands in May 2021.
With virtual events around the country happening now:
Finally, a challenge:
The Launch of Flatpack Democracy 2021
Flatpack Democracy is a DIY method for communities to win back their council as non-party candidates, pioneered by multiple towns around the UK.
Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform said:
“Flatpack Democracy is the democratic revolution we need today. Party politics is broken. We have a centralised state controlled by a tiny elite and elected by a minority of the electorate. There are no constitutional checks and balances and few of us feel we can influence anything in the public sphere. We need to shift power to the local and make that power truly democratic – real people, making real decisions, together.
“The Flatpack Democracy movement has a proven track record. It brought about radical life changing reforms to the community of Frome. If we can repeat its success up and down the country we will not only see life improving for millions, we’ll also see the birth of a new, truly democratic force for the wide-ranging and radical reforms our society so badly needs.”