WATCH OUT! WE’RE COMING…
6:30am on a fresh October morning, Graham Marsh and I set out from the Cynon Valley on a little adventure. We headed to Frome Town Council on the Somerset /Wiltshire border to meet up with some councillors and the town clerk. Why? To find out how this little corner of Somerset has inspired an organic political revolution that is quietly taking place across the UK.
You see, Frome is run not by the Liberal Democrats, Tories, Labour, UKIP, Greens, or even an unwieldy cross-party coalition. It is (and has been for the last five years) run by ‘independents for Frome’ (IfF). They have seventeen independent councillors who are not sidetracked by party politics, who do not have to toe the party line, and who are not career politicians. They are focusing on their community, putting decision making in the hands of the people, holding inclusive and transparent meetings, and shaking the system to its roots.
Frome is an idyllic and well-kept piece of Mendip beauty, vibrant yet compact. There is a small river running through the town, an abundance of interesting buildings, and plenty of coffee shops and places to visit, enjoy and relax.
The thing that struck me is that the town has a population of only 27,000 people, yet is so much more active, positive and upbeat than many of the places that I know and love in the South Wales valleys. Aberdare has a population of 31,000 and the Cynon Valley has around 70,000. Aberdare is similar in size to Frome, so comparisons certainly can be drawn. We have an ageing population in Aberdare, and a substantial percentage of workers in Cynon leave the valley for employment. You can’t help but wonder why is Frome so different from our valley and the towns within it?
We sat for over an hour with the Town Clerk, Paul Wynne (a paid employee of the town council). He enthusiastically shared with us how and why certain things are done in the area. We asked probing questions about the structure, the systems, things that have been done well, things that they would do differently, what does and does not work. Paul shared his knowledge and experience, gave us the benefit of being at the front line of local politics, and offered us plenty of advice. I could list those tips here, but I want to encourage you to come to one of our Cynon Valley Party meetings and find out for yourselves what Paul advised.
Next we took a spot of lunch and then met Peter Macfadyen, a Frome town councillor, one of the originators of IfF and author of Flatpack Democracy. Graham and I were sitting in a lovely cafe (the best bread and butter pudding I have ever had!) when Peter appeared. Now I have met many councillors and politicians in my time. Peter did not look like a man of office. There was no suit, no party tie, no pin badge showing associations to any societies. In fact he looked ordinary – just like me or you, just like our neighbours. And that is what Peter was doing: going about his day to day routine meeting the likes of us, inspiring us, being inspired by us. Later we bumped into another councillor, who again was casually dressed and ‘of the people’.
Again we talked for over an hour – this time about campaigning, communicating with potential voters, maintaining drive, structure, how meetings operate at a practical level, fund-raising, advertising, and much more. So much more, in fact, that Peter offered to visit and chat at one of our Cynon Valley Party meetings. He shared examples of other areas undertaking actions like our own. At the start of ‘Independents for Frome’ Peter thought that its mode of operation imposed a physical limit to its growth and effectiveness. However, as other groups have emerged he felt that this assumption was not quite right. He suggested taking a look at the model currently being deployed by ‘The Alternative’ in Denmark. Their core values are Courage, Generosity, Transparency, Humility, Humour and Empathy – which are all core values of the Cynon Valley Party (with some members being more humorous than others!)
Our visit to Frome with both Peter and Paul was time well spent. We have been invited back to attend some of their meetings and witness how they conduct them. We left with the knowledge that we are doing the right thing, that the Cynon Valley Party’s ethos and underlying intentions are at one with the best interests of our community. We also left with the knowledge that we are treading uncharted waters, and creating something much bigger than what has gone before.
If you want to be part of this new revolution then please get in touch … https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=the%20cynon%20valley%20party