“What kind of independents are these?
Given that these numbers record only district level and above, they won’t include many of the grassroots independents that have succeeded in record numbers at the community level: town councils and parishes. Notable exceptions will include Herefordshire County and East Devon District Council – the first fully independent council. The majority are more likely to be disillusioned and ashamed Tory and Labour councillors, unwilling to go down with their national party.
However, they are a broadening gateway to something else quite remarkable, and now moving into the space of people’s politics. A new wave of local people who are taking it upon themselves to be responsible for what happens in their local community, how the money is spent and how decisions are made.
Given that over the past three years turnout for local elections has fallen to 33%, leaving 67% technically open to persuasion, the margin for an upset is always large. In 2013 this was the entry point for UKIP. With only one MP and later 2 MPs in the UK Parliament to represent them, they used the power of narrative and social media to characterise this localism as a people’s vote in favour of leaving the EU.
Yet there was no new mechanisms on offer to give people any more agency in the political sphere – even locally – it was all coming from above. After the Brexit referendum they were more or less deserted by their leaders and are now heavily regarded as a spent force.
In hindsight, nevertheless, it is possible to see UKIP and the Leave vote as important moments in the revolution of UK democracy. Not only has there been a weakening of the long-standing duopoly in British politics but it has stirred ambition for a better expressed people’s politics – a genuine alternative to the current political system and culture. Amongst other things, even as a phenomenon to grapple with, it gave birth to The Alternative UK.
The degree to which such a democratic emergency dovetails with the environmental emergency cannot be underplayed. They depend upon each other to achieve the transformation of our society we need to survive. Our own deep dive into this arena for over two years has revealed a substantial movement – appearing in multiple guises – of a new socio-political sensibility that links people to power to planet (I, We, World).
Frome Frome! The Flatpack model picks up speed
Within this, the “values-based” independents inspired by Flatpack Democracy in Frome are causing a storm right now.
The readers of the Daily Alternative, know this political model of citizen-led and participatory politics. The Independents from Frome were also one of the first towns to declare a Climate Emergency. But unlike the UK government, this came with a report of how to get Frome to zero carbon by 2030 and a commitment to deliver locally.
With the added phenomenon of Extinction Rebellion, leading a national and international campaign, becoming independent suddenly takes on another dimension – that of citizens stepping up to save our future, in the face of national-level failure to do so.
How many of the wave of newly elected independents below the district level were Flatpack Democracy aligned candidates, we won’t know for another day or so. In Frome where Flatpack was birthed, former Mayor Peter Macfadyen stood back after two terms to see a resounding 17/17 seats retained for IfF.
In Devon where we have been closely watching and working to create the conditions for the rise of Flatpack politics, remarkable gains were made at District, Town and Parish levels, many of them taking control of their councils.
I spoke to Pam Barrett, former Mayor of Buckfastleigh who reported winning 10 out of 12 councillors; 11/16 in Dartmouth, 9/13 in Chudleigh, 7/14 in Bovey (taking control with 2 non-aligned independents), Portishead 15/16. East Devon has become the first ever independent District Council in the country.
Meantime, members of the Torridge Common Ground, co-founded by XR initiator Jamie Kelsey-Fry, won two further District Council seats alongside their 6 at town level.
Says Jamie: “I’m somewhat rocked in my soul today.. we have a foot in the door and can start to change the way local power operates. We have people’s assemblies, listening, radical inclusivity and the consciousness of acting with the next seven generations in mind, all at the heart of how we do things. It’s impossible not to have hope right now”.
Standing where we have been for the past two and a half years, steadily charting and helping to generate the rise of a new politics, this month feels like a Mexican wave. With first Greta, then the school strike, then Extinction Rebellion, then the Parliaments, then the local independents, all rising to take the headlines in turn. Together they’re generating the sense of something genuinely alternative in the making.
Link rising movements to better practice
But knowing how these waves are designed to start up and gradually fall away, how do we embed them more deeply in the rhythm of our daily lives? How can we maintain the excitement in ways that not only keep the connection between these movements going, but open the door to many more? …”