The theory of flatpack democracy

Laura Crossman argues that a town council is no longer a place for politics

The theory of Flatpack Democracy or; why a town council is no longer a place for politics.

Britain is experiencing major political upheaval. A dysfunctional system means decision making often works in favour of the politicians’ needs and not the people they serve and nowhere is this felt more than at local level around the country.

Fewer people than ever are engaged in local decision making – in fact in the last 50 years turnout for local elections has fallen to around just 40%. There are also fewer people willing to put themselves forward as candidates. Did you know that in Britain only 2% of the entire population are members of political parties? That’s a significant minority making decisions on behalf of the country. Are political parties still tools of democracy if they command the attention of so very few of us?

Under the media radar we’re seeing a new movement, a local movement. A growing number of self-styled Independent Groups are working to overtake big political parties and lead their communities from a local level. This movement, as coined by the first Independent Group in Frome, is called Flatpack Democracy.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

Peter Macfadyn, a lone Independent in Frome, Somerset, first decided to take back his local council in 2011. Frustrated with his local elections he created an Independent party with the single view – give power back to local people so they can have a greater say in how their community is run. After years of missed opportunities, he set about making politics relevant, efficient and fun and called it Flatpack Democracy.

After four years in power the Independents for Frome group took all 17 seats on Frome’s town council in 2015 with vote shares as high as 70%. They had won the election with a complete takeover of the town council based on their simple but appealing promise: future policies will be made as joint efforts with the entire community. Further still, their spark of change was gaining traction.

Frome paved the way but we’re seeing Independent Groups taking root all around the country – from small commuter town Arlesey in Bedfordshire, to Cornish town Liskeard and more recently in Monmouth, South Wales. Flatpack Democracy is the small-scale revolution that is bringing real change to local politics.

But how, or why, should communities consider an Independent Group?

We can all acknowledge that the current system just isn’t representative, even more so at a national level where we still see wealthy males making up the House of Commons. The big party manifestos mean little at local level and there simply isn’t the diversity to generate any change.

The first thing to get to grips with is the Independent Group as a structure, not a political party. You won’t find a manifesto or a marketing campaign. This is a group of real people striving for real change.

Independence allows for a greater level of risk taking, the chance for individuals to make their own decision on what is best for their community without constraints of party doctrine, without confusing their careful marketing campaign, without worry of retaining power.

Diversity is key for Independent Groups, there is real strength in both appreciating and facilitating differences within a group. More diversity allows a group to utilise a wider range of skills, experiences and expertise to ensure a broader section of society can truly benefit. It goes without saying that the more individuals you bring together from a broader range of interests, skills, ages and backgrounds the more likely you are to create something that reflects society accurately.

Unlike with other parties a desire to be a ‘politician’ is not necessary, in fact it’s widely discouraged. Independent Groups are made up of volunteers – local people, busy people who want to make a real difference and are willing to share their time and expertise to do so.

Finally, prepare to have fun. Independent Groups combine hard work with good old fashioned fun, at this level it’s a voluntary commitment and groups are keen to keep the platform exciting. You might find your Group meeting in a local pub, or in a Group member’s kitchen, how many political parties can say that?

Frome was just the beginning and the Independent movement is showing no signs of slowing down, prepare to see more communities drive real change. Town council is no longer a place for politics, it’s a place for people.


Laura Crossman is a volunteer for Indy Monmouth

2 thoughts on “The theory of flatpack democracy

  1. In 2004, a group of us organised a slate of Independent candidates in Cardiff in protest at the uselessness of all the main parties on the City Council. Although we played a useful role in publicising the situation which led to a change in the administration, and had an enjoyable experience in the process, none of us were elected and we learnt the limitations of independent politics in our current system.

    Political campaigns come down to money, organisation, and media coverage – things Independents tend not to have. Independents can do well in more rural areas where a stable population can give an individual strong name recognition, and where a lack of inter-party competition can leave such party organisations as exist weak and flabby in contested local elections. These conditions do not apply in more urban areas, where a shifting population looks more to the brand names of national political parties.

    The mainstream media are no help at all. Although it is better than it was, coverage of local affairs in most areas is somewhere between amateur and appalling, and local elections are reduced to crude score sheets between national parties. We are seeing it again this week.

    Laura’s ideals deserve to be encouraged, but the reality is that we will not see real change unless the political parties lose their privileged position in the system – and, since they control the system, do not expect serious democracy soon.

  2. Following these principles, group of volunteers has just taken control of Knighton Town Council, Laura’s article does not mention that community councils are taking on significant responsibilities from County Councils. We have some significant problems of lack of investment, neglect by Powys and WG and being perched on the border, nobody cares. It is hard to find candidates, to operate without the structure of political parties and the word ‘independent’ has a toxic meaning in Powys but we are optimistic we can overcome these problems. Social media proved crucial for us.

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