Independents for Frome

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Independents for Frome seeks to strengthen local democracy by encouraging election to the town council of Frome in Somerset, England, of capable local residents with an agreed and visible set of core values rather than party political appointees. It achieved overall control of the Town Council of Frome in Somerset, southwest England, in 2011 and again in 2015. The experience forms of the basis of flatpack democracy, a model for more participatory forms of government at community scale with the potential to be rolled out elsewhere.

History

Independents for Frome was set up in 2011 by a group of individuals wanting to stand for election to the Town Council without being affiliated to any political party. They included Peter Macfadyen, a well-known champion of sustainability in the town with experience in working in social justice and development in the UK and overseas, who in 2008 had set up Sustainable Frome, which in 2009 became an official Transition initiative and part of the Transition movement. Other protagonists, including those with experience in local government, as members of Sustainable Frome, or those who had not had had experience in local politics which helped IfF to 'break the mould' of traditional party political constraints and create a more inclusive, Frome-focused politics.[1]

These independent candidates were elected to ten out of the seventeen seats on the council in 2011, and so exercised a majority over the period 2011-2015. In 2015, after wider consultation with the community, the group decided to put candidates forward once again, and won all seventeen seats on the town council.[2]

Vision

The individuals involved in Independents for Frome have diverse ideas and ambitions for the town, but have collectively communicated a set of shared interests:[3]

  • Prioritise wellbeing
  • Actively listen
  • Address inequality
  • Enable balanced development for Frome (economically, socially, culturally and environmentally)

While the group needed to fulfil a formal requirement to register as a political party in order to stand for elections, individuals within it vote and act not according to any prior position but according to what they consider to be in Frome's best interests, on which they have diverse views.

Ways of Working

The original group of seventeen candidates who stood in 2011 agreed before standing upon their "Ways of Working", as a substitute for the conventional party-political manifesto or constitution. It consists of eight guidelines and six principles concerning how they would work if elected to the Council:[4]

Guidelines
*A willingness and ability to participate in rational debate leading to a conclusion.
*Understanding the difference between constructive debate and acidic personal attacks.
*Avoidance of identifying ourselves so personally with a particular position that this in itself excludes constructive debate.
*Preparedness to being swayed by the arguments of others and admitting mistakes.
*Relative freedom from any overriding dogma or ideology which would preclude listening to the views of others.
*Trust, confidence and optimism in other people’s expertise and knowledge.
*Confidence in the mechanisms and processes of decision-making that we establish, accepting that the decisions of the majority are paramount.
*An acceptance that you win some, you lose some; it’s usually nothing personal and there’s really no point in taking defeats to heart.
Principles
*Independence from party politics
*Integrity, including transparency and openness, along with improving public involvement and consultation.
*A “Can Do” approach.
*A New Sustainable way of working.
*Fairness, founded on a respect for local democracy producing a society run for all.
*Making Frome a cleaner and greener place to live.

Based on this, the people elected to the 2015 Council created an updated version based on five core values:[5]

*Independence. We will each make up our own mind about each decision without reference to a shared dogma or ideology.
*Integrity. Decisions will be made in an open and understandable manner. Information will be made available even when we make mistakes and everyone will have the opportunity to influence decisions.
*Positivity. We will look for solutions, involving others in the discussions, not just describe problems.
*Creativity. Use new, or borrowed, ideas from within the group and the wider community to refresh what we do and how we do it.
*Respect. Understand that everyone has an equal voice and is worth listening to.

Achievements

IfF's politics emphasises decisions that are made in the best interests of Frome and local people, rather than seeking to ascribe to nationally-dictated party dictates, which IfF believes hampers the freedom of councillors to use their own judgement and to work more collaboratively with others. The inclusion of women as elected local councillors is also a key focus of IfF's politics, seeking to end male-dominated representative democracy. In Frome the town council acts as a facilitator and catalyst of change in the community. Working with a more diverse range of people that cross many of the usual class, gender or political ideologies that come with certain party-political identities has also opened up a more inclusive political offer. Meanwhile, under IfF, Frome Town Council have employed a Resilience Manager who has championed several sustainability and well-being initiatives in the town,[6] often retaining close links to Sustainable Frome.

IfF's experiences formed the basis of the wider Flatpack democracy movement, which arose from the application of their methods in other places.

References