Flatpack 2021 is a quiet revolution. It doesn’t have any policy prescriptions and it isn’t promising to overthrow the state. It aims to build a new politics with only five unassuming prerequisites for its independent candidate councillors. Yet these small asks could set flatpackers on course for creating a radically new political culture.
Let’s take just one of them for now: Flatpack 2021 candidates are expected to establish “positive, inclusive ‘Ways of Working’”. How is this going to transform our deeply corrupt, inept political system?
Flatpack 2021 isn’t just about getting independents elected. In fact, independents at the local level tend to be either extremists excluded from their parties, or single-issue campaigners with narrow motivations for winning a seat. Simply bringing these people into power is no recipe for radical change.
Peter Macfadyen, one of Flatpack’s early pioneers, says the “main difference” between Flatpack candidates and other independents is establishing a set of ‘Ways of Working’.
These are the simple group agreements that all new councillors commit to. Here are some examples from Peter’s group, the Independents for Frome (IfF):
- Avoid identifying ourselves so personally with a particular position that this in itself excludes constructive debate
- Trust and have confidence and optimism in other people’s expertise, knowledge and intentions. Talk to each other not about each other
- Be prepared to be swayed by the arguments of others and admitting mistakes
These are uncomplicated commitments to building a constructive, collaborative culture. They testify to a faith in the ability of groups of people to reach the best decisions, by committing themselves not to a specific ideology, but to practices that allow everyone to participate.
One reason our democracy is so stagnant might be that most people see politics as a nasty game of backstabbing, deceit and revenge. If satire indicates how people really feel about something, then the popular British TV show The Thick of It – with its cast of cut-throat, competitive, envious politicians – raises the question: is it any wonder that no one wants to get involved? Politics has become a sad game where the only people left playing are the most unscrupulous.
The IfF have demonstrated the rewards of practising a cooperative culture. A small example: in one passionate discussion, Nick White, a conservative-minded IfF councillor, was arguing for a supermarket chain to set up shop in the centre of Frome. After hours of debate, he lost the final vote. In traditional politics, you could expect this to have left Nick feeling bitter and vengeful (his wife had at one point said “Nick White and Peter Macfadyen in the same room. This will never work”). But, as Macfadyen puts it, the conversation ended with: “right you bastards you really stitched me up there didn’t you, anyone want a drink?” And that was that.
Focusing on common ground, starting to genuinely care about each other, replacing competition with cooperation: this isn’t everything, but it is a key part of what some municipalists call the feminisation of politics. It breaks down the current conditions of politics, where the loudest, shouttiest, typically male person accumulates control and everyone else either leaves or becomes absorbed in macho, zero-sum competition. Flatpack 2021 doesn’t brand itself as an explicitly feminist campaign, but by rejecting and replacing the culture of competition, dominance and revenge in politics, they’re dismantling a deeply embedded patriarchal system.
In the last season of The Thick of It, we see a principled woman, leader of the opposition, sabotaged by her own staff because of her perceived lack of strength. It’s this culture that Flatpack 2021 challenges, and the alternative it offers could make it massively popular.