Alternative Editorial: You Have No Authority Here

Alternative Editorial: You Have No Authority Here

Written by Peter Macfadyen for The Alternative

Sometimes evidence for The Shift we are looking for – now in Week 43 – appears in unexpected ways. Last Friday evening a video of Handforth Parish council meeting went viral. Many of you will have seen it already, but for those who didn’t, here it is

You will see a video recording of a highly dysfunctional Zoom meeting in which everyone disputes who has authority, the acting clerk evicts the chair and Julie’s Ipad holds court. You hear stumbling, bullying, barking and sulking and observe the surreal power of the Zoom host over all those gathered.

On Twitter #HandforthDistrictCouncil trended all day. National Association for Local Councils (NALC) volunteer Jackie Weaver (“refer to me as Britney Spears”) is an overnight sensation prompting merchandiseremixes (check the ‘drop’ in this one) plus a musical. LOL. If nothing else this is a moment to enjoy the humour and quirky creativity that social media generates during lockdown. 

But why did the excruciating video get so much attention? Its original promoter, 17 year old Shaan Ali – who likes watching random council meeting as part of his A level politics research – says it was ‘relatable content’. The petty frustrations, the casual misogyny, the struggle to be heard: we’ve all been there. But the unguarded hostility shown here, the naked power-battles in this first tier of local government, takes Zoom frustrations to a whole other level. 

Check this Handforth spin-off T-shirt, already being sold on Amazon for £13.99 which proclaims YOU HAVE NO AUTHORITY HERE. Looking back over the past 43 weeks since lock down began, that’s been a growing theme across the political firmament. We could be witnessing the competing authority between the medical establishment and the Prime Minister at the pulpit in 10 Downing Street in which the latter rarely wins. Or the two Presidents haggling over the outcome of the US Elections. Or shaman Jake Angeli claiming authority over the American constitution in the storming of Capitol Hill. The offices of state are increasingly being challenged, faced with the serial failures of politicians to serve the public well.

In many ways Covid has played a part in levelling the playing field. Seeing figures of authority on the same Zoom platforms as their constituents, often less competent at handling the gears, has made them more vulnerable to being mocked. The first time Downing Street used the video platform they made dangerous security mistakes. Ministers forgetting to unmute themselves, while making august pronouncements, deserves a smirk. In Handforth, Chairman Barry is wobbly on all fronts and not at all scary to the visiting clerk (despite quoting the rules repeatedly). If anything, he is a bit vulnerable.

But where does this loss of authority leave us? Are we stronger because the edifices are collapsing? Do we see feel safer because we can now see up close the bullying, the lack of expertise, the clinging onto protocols that only get in the way of people communicating well? Simply pointing out the weaknesses does not create a solution. In the worst cases – such as the interregnum between Presidential administations – it can have the unintended consequence of creating a vacuum of agreements between people, inviting extremist responses. Do we want to usher in an era of people just ignoring the rules on principle?

The old politics gives way to something less delineated

All across the political spectrum we need new and better structures that bring the wisdom of the citizens into a better relationship with those that are designated to make decisions, only some of whom are elected officials. 

The old presumptions that those who choose to seek office know better than those who don’t are no longer valid. Not only because we all have the tools now to educate ourselves or access information about the facts and figures relevant to the decisions that impact our lives. 

But also because, in this era of waking up to the reality of our collective plight, it is precisely our insights and self-knowledge about the way we live – in our homes, with friends and family, at work – that will make all the difference to our ability to survive and thrive. 

In short, leaders should be hungry for participation from citizens: without their input, they simply cannot make the right decisions about the ways forward for our communities. This in a nutshell is the logic of Flatpack Democracy (which we’ve been reporting for nearly four years on this site). FD is now orchestrating a movement of citizens standing as Independents to take over their local councils. The precise intention is to harness people power and get better results for everyone.

But it’s not an easy task to deliver the message that you are tearing up the old rule book and writing another, at the same time. For example, if a Flatpack team succeed in taking over their local council, gone will be the three-minute rule that restricts the rights of citizens to make their case in front of the council. But in its place will be a culture of listening, responding and constructing an agreed agenda for change. This is not an offer to abolish rules but to transform the ways that new rules are decided and implemented.

In the process of change, there will always be a minefield of emotions, capacities and behaviours to navigate. According to Pam Barrett, the first independent Mayor of Buckfastleigh, the culture of bullying is endemic in small councils: the same groups of people hold onto their positions for years, using their power to deter any newcomers. Says Pam: “We have brought this issue up again and again with NALC but they have not been able to offer any support to tackle it”. 

It doesn’t help that the same problem exists at every level of authority – all the way up to national government. While there are legal definitions of what constitutes bulllying, the broader society – itself in a process of understanding where power lies and unsure of how to distribute it better – is caught between defending the old system and bringing on the new. Too often a person showing vulnerability is labeled a “snowflake”, whereas in reality it takes enormous courage to stand up and make a complaint with the intention of making it better for everyone. 

From the Handforth video, Jackie Weaver is a hero precisely because she doesn’t back down in the face of those furious at her attempts to change the way power is held at this council. However, she will also appear as domineering to those who stand to lose their traditional roles. These dynamics appear everywhere as the old gives way to something else less well delineated. Even in our own homes between genders, ages and different forms of privilege.

Inviting local councils into an alternative process

Having said that, Flatpackery is an attempt to model new and better relationships between all those potential conflicts from the outset. Peter Macfadyen has often described how the Frome council meetings traditionally had people at loggerheads with each other – former Labour and Lib Dem councillors, for example. Steadily, the Flatpackers developed a way of talking that led to new, low-stakes agreements. 

There were less massive conflict resolutions, with compromises all round – and more friendly, patient listening, with pennies dropping about complex problems, and a generous giving-way to others’ needs. Human interaction at its best, creating the kind of relationships and trust that enables communities to progress quickly.

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If a group of citizens manage to win more than half the seats on the council, thereby gaining control as independents, they have their best chance of moving into this new culture fast . The Flatpack manual details ‘new ways of working’ that emphasise – but also offer concrete tools for – collaboration, deliberating and creative responses to problems. 

However, if only a few of the candidates win and become a minority on the council, it can serve to intensify the existing problems, when the Flatpack light is shining on them. Again, this tendency is seen all across the many sectors in which old authority is being challenged.

 Those that stand to lose their privileges, even if they are otherwise very good and fair people, can become very aggressively defensive if they feel they are being blamed for society’s broader ills. They will deny they carry the same problems they might read about in the papers, in the same way that any of us would deny our personal responsibility for the broader culture.

The Facebook page for indy councillors (by invitation only) is a great support group for these fledgling councillors who need the experience of those long in the tooth to keep going. But it can still feel as if it’s a very steep uphill battle to change the working culture.

What would probably make the journey easier is more Flatpack Councils showing more proof of the value created with their new ways of working. Which is why the Flatpack 2021 Campaign is the right response to the many complex problems of authority appearing in all sectors of society. With almost seven years under their belt since the first successful takeover of Frome town council, seasoned Flatpackers have developed a deeper understanding of what it takes to move from thinking about standing, to running for election and then re-election.

Much of this wisdom is in the second book Flatpack Democracy 2, again authored by Peter Macfadyen whom we caught up with yesterday. In our Zoom update, Peter agreed that while it was tempting to jump on the Handworth bandwagon to shame and humiliate the failing councillors, it might not help the Flatpack cause. Once the whole world of local councils has been roundly pilloried, it’s hard to free yourself from the sinking ship. 

Instead, the Flatpack team have come up with an open letter written to the people of Handworth, inviting them – and any other community minded citizen – into an alternative process as follows:

Open Letter to the Residents of Handforth Parish

Dear frustrated people of Handforth,

We understand how embarrassing it must be to be suddenly thrown into the national spotlight by the actions of a few members of your parish council. Local politics is far too often a comedy of errors. 

If it’s any consolation, you are not alone; we at the Flatpack2021 campaign sadly have seen many examples of such behaviour from up and down the country.

Take it from us: it doesn’t have to be like this. 

We at Flatpack2021 believe that a council should reflect and represent all the people in the area, not just the same old Brians and Barrys. We believe that by working together, free of party politics, a parish council can achieve amazing things. We’ve seen it happen, again and again.

A parish council is the basic building block of democracy. It has wide-ranging powers to make lives better for its residents. If you want examples of the excellent work that can be done by town and parish councils, just take a look at what places like Frome and Buckfastleigh have achieved. There are many more like them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are sure that, as a parish, you have come together in ways you might never have before, in order to do what is best for your residents. Why not build on that success, take over your parish council and continue this fine work?

It can be done – it has been – many times and in many places. If you think your community could do a better job of running your council, and if you want support or advice from the people who have done it before, visit the Flatpack 2021 website or, better yet, contact us now. 

We’re with you, 

Peter Macfadyen, author and former Mayor of Frome

As it stands, Flatpack 2021 is expecting another 20 groups to try to take over their local council in this May’s elections. But there’s a small chance that the perfect storm of Covid frustration, global power shifts and the Handforth stand off could lead to a more significant uprising across the country. 

Could you be part of that wave of new democracy? If so, get on board with Flatpack 2021 – you’ve still got time.

Read the original article here.

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

Local people have had to improvise during the pandemic. Could their solutions stick?

Local people have had to improvise during the pandemic. Could their solutions stick?

Written by John Harris for The Guardian

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.

Read the full article here.

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

Through the Cracks

Through The Cracks

Written by Peter Macfadyen

The Coronavirus has taught us much about what is really valuable, both as individuals and communities. At a local level, the response to the pandemic has enabled some people, who have never done so before, to come forward and shine. Some will have identified and enjoyed finding their capabilities and gained recognition within their communities, while others will want to return to “normality” as quickly as possible.  

The State is moving fast to ensure that it gives just enough to satisfy those who have started to recognise their own capacity and the dire limitations of the political system. Eventually, some new bike lanes will emerge, although not enough to dent the power of the car, and some grass will not be cut, so we feel better about insects. But where are the initiatives to build on this burgeoning community engagement? 

The pandemic has highlighted how some local organisations can play key roles in their society, while others have failed to respond in ways that are fit for purpose. With Mutual Aid and other groups emerging to provide crucial support throughout the UK, the past few months have clearly illustrated the need for a massive change in the way these local councils operate. Many councils have proven to be totally inadequate during the pandemic. More than ever, at the town level, it is crucial that well-functioning local councils work in genuine partnership with these community groups.

This is the time when these newly engaged and empowered people, who have come to know where they live and what is needed, can step forward. Not just to prop up the creaking structures and systems of local government, but to get elected to fundamentally change them to provide truly participative democracy. What this means is changing the way local councils and the councillors operate. They can and must be constantly looking for how to truly engage and involve the people they live next door to – exactly as has happened in the past few months.
 

Change has to come from below. Central government has never really been interested in community – it’s too distant and lacking in ego. But if citizens insert themselves into the arcane structures that exist at a community level and rebuild them for this century, not just in one town but in every town, then maybe we can build a viral movement that swamps the oligarchs from below.

In any community there will be groups working together for their common good. People acting as “citizens.”  In most countries of the world there will be a group who have been elected or selected to represent views of others: local, parish or community councils of some kind. In my view, these are almost always misunderstood and underused, not least because the systems they operate under are not fit for this century. But they can play a vital role, if they can be untangled from the party politics which has poisoned much of our capacity to tackle the critical issues we face. Their time has come.

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

Is building change from below our best chance of some sanity?

IS BUILDING CHANGE FROM BELOW OUR BEST CHANCE OF SOME SANITY?

The Coronavirus has taught us much about what is really valuable, both as individuals and communities. At a local level, the response to the pandemic has enabled some people, who have never done so before, to come forward and shine. Some will have identified and enjoyed finding their capabilities and gained recognition within their communities, while others will want to return to “normality” as quickly as possible.  

The State is moving fast to ensure that it gives just enough to satisfy those who have recognised their own capacity and the dire limitations of the political system. Eventually, some new bike lanes will emerge, but not enough to dent the power of the car; some grass will not be cut, so we feel better about insects, but where are the real initiatives to build on this burgeoning community engagement?

The pandemic has highlighted how some local organisationscan play key roles in their society, while others have failed to respond in ways that are fit for purpose. With Mutual Aidand other groups emerging to provide crucial support throughout the UK, the last few months have clearly illustrated the need for a massive change in the way these local councils operate. Many councils have proven to be totally inadequate during the pandemic. More than ever, at the town level, it is crucial that well-functioning local councils work in genuine partnership with these community groups.

This is the time when these newly engaged and empowered people, who have come to know where they live and what is needed, can step forward. Not just to prop up the creaking structures and systems of local government, but to get elected to fundamentally change them to provide truly participative democracy. What this means is changing the way local councils and the councilors operate. They can and must be constantly looking for how to truly engage and involve the people they live next door to exactly as has happened in the past few months.  

Change has to come from below. Central government has never really been interested in community – it’s too distant and lacking in ego. But if citizens insert themselves into thearcane structures that exist at a community level and rebuild them for this century, not just in one town, but in every town, then maybe we can build a viral movement that swamps the oligarchs from below.

In any community there will be groups working together for their common good. People acting as ‘citizens’.  In most countries of the world there will be a group who have been elected or selected to represent views of others: local, parish or community councils of some kind.  In my view these are almost always misunderstood and underused, not least because the systems they operate under are not fit for this century.  But they can play a vital role, if they can be untangled from the Party Politics which has poisoned much of our capacity to tackle the critical issues we face.  Their time has come.  

Flatpack Democracy 2021 is a small group of us who have experienced the potential of local councils to work with and in their communities.  We are here to encourage and support others to do so.  We believe that we can catalyse people who now recognize that central government does not share our agendas, and take back power at a local level.  A ‘movement of movements’ with sufficient breadth of experiences from the grassroots can expose the farce that purports to represent us.  We look forward to your company.

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

The Launch of Flatpack 2021

THE LAUNCH OF FLATPACK 2021

The Corona virus has taught us much about what is really valuable, both as individuals and communities.  It has brought out the worst and the best in people and communities. 

Working with their community in response to the pandemic people, who have never done so before, have had the chance to come forward and shine.  Some will have recognised and enjoyed finding their capabilities and recognition while others will want to return to ‘normality’ as quickly as possible.  My current interest is in how we keep the potential activist on board as the tide of temptation removes the opportunity for change.

The State is moving fast to ensure that it gives just enough to satisfy those who have recognised both their own capacity and the dire limitations of the political system.  Eventually some new bike lanes will emerge, but not enough to dent the power of the car; some grass will not be cut, so we feel better about insects, but where are the initiatives to build on that new community engagement?

The pandemic has highlighted how some local organisations can play key roles in their society, while others have failed to respond in ways that are fit for purpose. The last few months have clearly illustrated the need for a massive change in the way some local councils operate. Too many councils have proved to be totally inadequate during the pandemic. while groups like Mutual Aid have emerged to provide crucial support to their communities,. More than ever at the town and parish level it is crucial that well functioning local councils work in genuine partnership with these community groups.

I believe our focus must remain on the local, to what is happening closest to our homes . It is there that lies the greatest potential for us to make real changes  Now is the time when these newly engaged and empowered people should step forward.  Not just to prop up creaking structures and systems, but to get elected themselves and fundamentally change their councils so they can provide a truly participative democracy.  This will mean changing the way many local councils operate. Councils can and must constantly be looking for ways to engage and involve people – exactly as has happened over the last few months. 

Change has to come from below – from you and me.  Central Government has never really been interested in ‘community’; it has proven time and time again that its main aim is to centralise, to take power for itself.  However, I believe that if citizens insert themselves into the arcane structures that exist at community level they can then rebuild them as fit for this century. Not just in one town, but in every town and village then maybe we can start a Movement that creates real change from below based on what the people want and need, not what a few people at the top tell us we want. 

From today the Flatpack Democracy website is much changed, along with the various Flatpack groups and pages on social media. A small dedicated band of us have set out to support groups of individuals who want to work together to stand in the May 2021 elections. Our support is based on the last decade of experience in Frome and a plethora of new ideas from new councillors, and others from around the country who are working get this crucial layer of democracy functioning better. 

If you, or anyone you know, wants to get involved – and why wouldn’t you – have a look at our website and share it with others.  Occupy the system.

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

Flatpack Democracy 2021 – Campaign Vision

Flatpack Democracy 2021 - Campaign Vision

In May 2021 there are several thousands of council elections across the UK. We believe that these councils should be run by local communities, for local communities. That’s why we’ve launched a campaign to get thousands of independent community councillors elected.
Our big goal is that every council election in May 2021 is won by an independent community-led group. And we need your help!

“People are waiting to be asked to do something big to win something big”.
Big Organizing (a book about the volunteer-led Bernie Sanders campaign)

The  Campaign Vision:

The Big Picture

We need to do this. We need structural change and community self-reliance due to social and economic inequality, a broken democracy, and the global climate crisis. Local elections are accessible and achievable opportunities for genuine structural, economic and political change. Community-run councils can do amazing things! They are also more effective at providing local support in times of crisis (pandemic, food crisis, ecological crisis, and financial crisis).

We can do this. Town / parish councils are easy – and fun! – to reclaim with a bit of local organising. District and county are more difficult, but it’s totally possible if we come together. We just need to get the “how to win a local council election” know-how to the people who are already active in their community. This is a campaign to do exactly that in a big way.
“I’m not aware of anyone who’s tried to do this at parish level and hasn’t been successful”
Pam Barrett, Be Buckfastleigh (Independents group in Devon)

Putting mentors in touch with mentees. Peter Macfadyen, author of the Flatpack Democracy book, is already supporting people interested in running an independents campaign. We’re onboarding a larger group of mentors from reclaimed councils who can provide a similar service, linking them up with new campaigners in the same area/region.

This is the perfect time. In light of COVID-19 communities have come together like never before, forming mutual aid networks to support themselves. Many of these community groups have found their councils difficult to work with – why not take them back?

A New Way of Doing Politics

People not parties. Pro-independents, anti-party politics. “Beyond left and right” (because this allows us to achieve more, through community-led participatory democracy – unlike our broken representative democracy). This also means welcoming people from all backgrounds (political, cultural, economic, religious) if they buy into the ethos and methods of flatpack democracy.

A new way of doing local politics. Promoting democracy in UK councils through community engagement, participation and deliberation.

Bringing life, humanity and humour back into politics. It doesn’t have to stuffy, dead and boring. We want our councillors to be real people who understand our everyday lives as the people of the UK.

Councils can do so much more and the flatpack pioneers have proved it. We want to shift people’s perception of what councils are for and what they can do. We want to show them what’s possible when the community runs the council.

Promoting and supporting flatpack (i.e. democratic party-independent) campaigns at all levels of government in May 2021 (town, parish, district, county, mayoral, police & crime commissioner).

Power to the people. Communities are filled with talented and intelligent people who understand what is broken and how to fix it – far better than any party politicians. We want to put those people into power as our councillors. We want to give them the knowledge and support to win local elections and to transform the way their councils are run. Helping people realise “If they can do it, we can do it”.

We have no agenda but your agenda! We trust the people to address the issues that matter to them and to make them part of their campaigns.

Promoting general engagement and participation in local elections.

Principles and values.
We’re using the values to make sure we’re supporting groups of people who are on the roughly same page about the positive change we need. Preliminarily these are:

Participation / Democracy,
Non Party Politics – supporting independents,
Diversity and Inclusivity (empowering marginalised groups through local democracy and election to local government)
Collaboration – working with what’s there via existing groups and organisations
Local community empowerment
Humour – keeping it light, fun and enjoyable
We are ludicrously ambitious.

Inclusivity and Diversity in councils. We want to support all councillors to challenge and deconstruct the systemic oppressions of racism, sexism, classism. We want to see more women, BAME and working class councillors. And we want to empower and support these people to make real changes in local politics once they’re elected.

How are independents going to beat established parties in local elections? Our winning card against powerful political parties is the authenticity of local voices and our ability to organise en masse, quickly and democratically (i.e. in ways where every voice is heard). Volunteer-led digital organising is a key piece here.

CAMPAIGN STRUCTURE

A campaign of campaigns: the aim of the national digital campaign is to help 1000s of regular people/communities to launch and win their own local elections campaigns. Updates from local campaigns feed into the national campaign, and the national campaign promotes and supports the local campaigns.

A volunteer-led campaign. The core team have created a scaffold (communication channels, resources, media outlets etc.) that now allows many volunteers to easily get involved. Volunteers are directed to a list of simple ways to get involved. They are encouraged and empowered to self-organise and to take initiative – everyone is a leader. We recruit/identify regional organisers of the campaign who can take up the task of helping activate campaigns in the up-for-grabs wards.

Collaboration. Working with existing indie councils/councillors, national organisations and community groups to get the Flatpack know-how to the communities who can use it in May 2021. So this campaign is not contacting voters directly. We’re letting locals do that themselves with their local council election campaigns. We’ll do the work contacting the community organisers, mutual aiders and regular people who will actually want to kickstart local campaign in the first place, and helping them get off the ground.

Media and Messaging. Use Facebook, Twitter, Trust the People, to promote the campaign and share the resources. Using press (national and local level) and media to generate publicity. Stories about campaign successes will be central to the messaging; all volunteers are invited to share these through the campaign media channels.

Advise and support communities in running their first campaign. Putting mentees in touch with mentors (people who have experience in reclaiming their council).

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design

site and contents © 2020 Flatpack Democracy | built by EightySix Design