There’s a general feeling at the moment that voting in elections isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Politicians are all the same anyway, so the consensus goes, and you get an almost identical old bunch of self-serving, out-of-touch buffoons regardless of the candidate or party you select on the ballot paper. Whether it’s a national election or a local one, it seems, you might as well stay at home and rearrange your CD collection.
But a group of local people in the Somerset town of Frome (just down the road from me) weren’t happy with this state of affairs. They felt that elections are important and that people should have a genuine say in how their town, county or country is run.
And they decided to start with their own dreary, stick-in-the-mud town council. They decided to challenge the prevailing view that nothing can be done to change things. They decided to put their heads above the parapet and do what people said couldn’t be done.
Flatpack Democracy is, in part, the story of what happened next. Its author, Peter MacFadyen, was at the heart of this movement of ‘independent’ candidates who won control of Frome Town Council in the local elections of May 2011.
But it is also a how-to guide to revitalising politics in your own neck of the woods. MacFadyen writes candidly about his group’s experiences and gives valuable insight into what he has learned and how he would do things differently in the future.
The book goes even further than this, though, and acts as an eloquent argument for the restoration of democracy to its fundamental level of government of the people, by the people and for the people. MacFadyen reminds us that democracy is something that we have to create and nurture, not just something that happens whether we pay attention to it or not.
Sure, this is a very ‘middle class’ book. And the group in Frome is perhaps overly heavy on the well-off, well-meaning, well-to-do brigade that so often lies at the heart of civic affairs. But the fact remains that they’re out there doing something. And for that I think they deserve our respect. And possibly, if you live in that neck of the woods, even your vote. If you can drag yourself away from your CD collection.