The little Somerset town of Frome may not be the first name to spring to mind when thinking about radical grassroots democracy, but something rather interesting has been going on there in recent years. In 2011, a group of people up-ended the local council by offering a real alternative to party politics. They ran as a group of independents, calling themselves Independents for Frome.
As a group of independents they had no manifesto or stated policies, and no obligation to vote in any particular way. What held the group together was a set of core principles:
- National party politics are unhelpful on our town council
- Improvements can and should be made in the town
- There should be more openness and involvement in decision making
- The town needs strong representation and
- We can all make the town cleaner and greener
Remarkably, they won 10 of the 17 seats. On their first day, they voted to suspend the committee structure and devolved power to working groups instead. They limited private meetings and have tried to make everything open to the public, while getting on with supporting local business, improving parks and making the town more sustainable. They are experimenting with consensus decision making and open space.
Whether or not Independents for Frome stands the test of time and can rally the support for another election, it’s a bold experiment in local residents taking power. For towns (like mine) that are locked in endless rounds of obstruction between jaded factions of national parties, it’s a real breath of fresh air.
The experience of IFF has already inspired several other groups to have a go, and to help them along, Peter MacFadyen of IFF has written a book about it. It’s called Flatpack Democracy – A DIY guide to creating independent politics, and you can find out all about it at the Flatpack Democracy website.