Independent politics - some answers to your questions
Peter Macfadyen gives his views on some common questions about independent politics and how it can work in the community.
What were the top campaign essentials that led to IfF being elected?
Avoiding party politics and staying local; being ruthlessly positive; clear simple use of social media.
What were the essentials that led to IfF forming and surviving?
Working as a group of Independents; developing and adopting agreed ‘Ways of working’ (i.e. having a shared sense of purpose and vision while encouraging debate and working with differing views; using facilitators; using experts and experience in the community; keeping it light.
What are the top essentials to being an effective council?
Saying ‘Yes’ (and working out ‘how’ later); taking risks; admitting mistakes; building the confidence of staff, councillors and the community; participating actively with the town – enterprises, groups and citizens .
Has the Localism Act really changed anything?
Yes. The general power of competence lets a council do anything legal (so we’ve been able to buy back buildings and green spaces and change the traditional roles of the staff); rights to bid, build and challenge along with neighbourhood plans give real rights; and there are areas still to be tested....BUT it’s all horribly slow and ‘local’ is usually not as local as we’d like.
Is Frome’s success dependent on a few individuals?
Yes and no. The pace of change in Frome has come from the experience (and hence confidence) of a few councillors, which in turn attracted some top staff. But there are plenty of other places with equivalent capacity – they will emerge when they see what can be achieved. And – both in Frome and elsewhere – others quickly catch up. Parishes and small towns are not really that complex compared to a significant business.
Is Frome’s success dependent on being based in Frome?
IfF landed on fertile ground because Frome had started to become a bit of a hub for people interested in social change, the arts and new politics. But not long ago Frome was in a downward spiral. Key facets of the model and success can be replicated anywhere – all of it may take longer, though upward spirals - finding ways to build on successes and involve those with energy and vision - can also take off surprisingly quickly.
Would you be able to exercise more local democracy outside of the EU? My personal view is that I doubt EU membership or no membership will make any difference to the level of engagement. The challenge is that we need to rebuild the will of ordinary people to engage with their local council – it will make little difference if the upper tier (way off in the distance) includes Brussels or not.
How would the model need to change in order to work as a minority group (rather than with a majority as in Frome?)
It would to some extent. But most of what ifF has done is common sense – gently persuading a council into the 21st Century rather than doing it all at once is definitely possible. If a minority group works with the public to change their expectations, while more slowly offering reasonable change from within, real change is possible anywhere. And it is not as if the IfF councillors always agree or approach things in the same way; we work with differences and alliances form around issues too – and that is a positive thing
Can the ‘Independent Movement’ be replicated at other levels of local government?
Not all of them. Some aspects - less confrontational, less (party) political, more engaging and relevant politics are absolutely crucial at higher levels - but the need to define policy ahead of an election makes it hard to see how a group of truly independent individuals can thrive against the party machine. But we are interested in what can happen if local independent groups join up more, and get their voice heard on a larger scale. Starting, for example, with transport and planning policies, if local councils can start, together, to influence district and county councils, we may have a wider reach.
Can this Movement ‘spread’ to other councils and act as a lever to change the face of politics?
Absolutely. There are already a number of councils with Independent majorities who have used some of Frome’s ideas- then adjusted, adapted and rejected to suit their situation.
Does politics live in a bubble in which the ‘Independent Movement’ is just another bubble of little interest or concern to anyone?
Yes and No. Most people have views on how they want to live their lives and want to influence other people (which is what politics is). But they are cynical and turned off with party politics. Unfortunately most people put all politics – from the village council to Westminster – in one pot, and reject it all. The ‘Independent Movement’s’ real task is break down the barriers and massively increase the level of engagement – and at the moment that has not been achieved.
Is the Independent Movement aligned philosophically with particular political ideologies?
No. Having said that, there is possibly more in the ideology of the Left (including the greens) that is open to genuine engagement and is less threatened by change. But if the structure is working well, any view (whatever its perceived links to a party ideology) will be accepted by Independents where it gives benefits to the community.