Friday, 18 May 2018

Networked cities as resilient platforms for post-capitalist transition > case studies Frome and Buckfastleigh

How might we 'transition' to a new society, a new economy, a new way of life?

Senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society c4ss.org Kevin Carson has been looking into what that might mean:
Futures Forum: Transition to a new society ... a new economy ... a new way of life

This is from his latest research - which takes us to the West Country: 

Libertarian Municipalism: 

Networked Cities as Resilient Platforms for Post-Capitalist Transition

(PDF Available) · January 2018

Local Case Studies: Frome. 

The local government of Frome, a town of 25,000 people in the western English county of Somerset, was taken over by the “Independents” in 2011. Although the group (named for its refusal to run under national party labels) eschews platform as a matter of principle, it's politics is largely greenish and oriented towards economic relocalization—as could be guessed from the fact that it was galvanized by Peter Mcfadyen, former leader of Transition Town Frome. Mcfadyen questioned local officials about the green policies they had in place—policies regarding Peak Oil, energy descent, resilience in the face of climate change, etc.—and was told “the park.” 

A group of equally dissatisfied locals who frequently complained about the quality of the town's government in the pub decided to run for office on a set of principles that Mcfadyen later popularized  as “Flatpack Politics” (based on Ikea's self-assembled furniture). They won ten of seventeen seats on the town council, as well as the mayor's office (which went to Mel Usher). In 2015 they took all seventeen seats, following Mcfadyen's replacement of Usher as mayor the previous year. 

While their agenda in office—consciously inspired to a large extent by the example of Podemos in Spain—has been constrained by policies at higher echelons of government, their accomplishments have nevertheless been significant. They strengthened the local credit union, and a renewable energy
cooperative and a tool library/library of things (the Share Shop). The Share Shop was the first facility of its kind in the UK, although the idea has since spread to communities all over the world and been popularized by publications like Shareable. Kate Bielby, also of the Independents, replaced Mcfadyen
as mayor in 2015; he now serves as chair of the town council and head of the energy cooperative.

The Frome example, along with Mcfadyen's book, has inspired other local efforts—mainly in Somerset, but some elsewhere in the UK.

Last year, Macfadyen decided to pour the IfF story into a 100-page booklet called Flatpack Democracy, subtitled “A DIY guide to creating independent politics”. When the-then local government secretary Eric Pickles visited Frome in February 2015, he pronounced it the “home of localism”, bought a copy, and after having lunch with Macfadyen, insisted that he sign it.

The booklet has so far sold close to 1,000 copies, and Macfadyen is regularly in touch with similar groups of independents in such towns as Liskeard in Cornwall, Newbury in Berkshire, Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, and Wells, Wedmore and Shepton Mallet, all in Somerset. Most notably, on 7 May, people who had directly followed the example set out in his text took control of two councils in very different parts of the country.

One was in Arlesey, a settlement of 5,000 people in Bedfordshire – just under 40 minutes by train from London – whose town council is now run by the Independents for Arlsey group, after they won 14 of its 15 seats. Its founders were alerted to the flatpack democracy idea via Facebook and resolved to shake up the politics of a town that had got used to uncontested elections and a council run by old-school independents. One of the prime movers was 64 year-old Chris Gravett, who says that whereas the town’s ancien r√©gime was “dysfunctional”, he and his colleagues are now set on starting everything from scratch. “We’ve followed the core principles in the Flatpack Democracy book pretty closely,” he says. “We took a lot of advice from it. And I must say: the results were beyond our wildest expectations.”

In Buckfastleigh in Devon (population: 3,326), the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. “This isn’t an affluent community,” says the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett. “It’s a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” Fired up by the possibilities of localism and their experience of fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents resolved to stand for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”. One of the catalysts, she says, was a box of 10 copies of the Flatpack Democracy booklet, which was brought in by one of her colleagues. “It was articulating what we were already thinking,” she says, “and it helped us take a lot of shortcuts.” On 7 May, they took nine of 12 seats, and started running the show.

Which very much links to this:
Futures Forum: Radical Municipalism: "We will never properly address issues like climate change and other environmental problems that are undermining the stability of the planet unless we address the underlying issues of dominance and hierarchy. In order to heal our rapacious relationship to the natural world, we have to fundamentally alter those social relations on every level."

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