DOOM and gloom abound, but the biggest beef seems to be ‘we can’t do anything about it’. There are clarion calls such as ‘just say no’ or ‘we need a new party’, but they rapidly fall on stony ground, and new parties are predicted to fail because the system is rigged. Yet the very roots of our democracy are still alive and unexploited by us.
I recently heard Michelle Dewberry say on GB News something like ‘local council elections, I can’t be doing with that’. She is an intelligent person, which only illustrates the level of ignorance around this subject. That’s not surprising, given that no school, to my knowledge, has ever taught the structure of local politics. Yet this is the key to our salvation.
Whether we live in a large town, a suburb or the countryside, we all live in a village. It’s called our council ward. It has a name and a boundary, and it’s quite easy to find its details via your council map on the net. Are you familiar with that boundary? Do you even know the name of your ‘village’? Most people know neither, nor the names of their local councillors. Yet it is the very seat of local power and, potentially, collective national power – there are nearly 9,000 ‘villages’ in the UK.
Take as a prime example Oxford, currently a centre of controversy over the 15-minute cities concept. There are 24 council wards comprising Oxford City Council. Each is represented by just two councillors, so 48 people rule the roost and have the power to make good, bad, ideological or tyrannical decisions. Who put them there? The voters did. Principally, or in the majority of cases, by simply not bothering to vote.
Think small. ‘The big picture’ is simply a mosaic of little pictures. Continuing the Oxford analogy, and to emphasise the opportunity, one of its ‘villages’ is St Mary’s ward, population 4,783 (2021). In the 2022 local elections, fewer than 2,000 cast their votes. The point is that a relatively small number of people have the power to vote in the two councillors they want. Even more importantly, they have the power to nominate the candidates they want in the first place. It usually takes only ten nominees to stand as a councillor (see further down for more detail on this). Ergo, if the people of St Mary’s ‘village’ got their act together, nominated their candidates and voted them in, they would, as is always the case, truly ‘get the representation they deserve’.
Here’s the thing. We need to divorce ‘party’ from ‘politics’. We need independent councillors. And before you quote examples of independents who’ve stood in the past, only to find themselves swamped, shunned and overruled in council meetings by party councillors, that is true and accepted, but my point is that we have the collective power to get rid of them all through our overall policy of voting for independent spirits. Surely the councillor you really want is someone who stands for your local interests, not a spouter of party verbiage dressed up for local consumption – to use an old-fashioned term, you need a couple of village elders. They do exist. They’ll be lurking amongst residents’ associations, all kinds of voluntary groups, allotment-type people or in urban areas, folk who run a youth group. If this all sounds quaint and ‘jumble-salesy’, that’s exactly what it is. We’ve got to get to know each other as a matter of some urgency. Our ‘village’ border gives us a simple-to-understand identity.
And while the Michelle Dewberrys of this world may deride it, they utterly miss the point. This strategy would rebuild communities, each represented by independent minds, in 9,000 villages across the UK. Then imagine all those village elders in touch with each other. Democracy from the grass roots upwards. That power would truly scare centralist government. However there isn’t much time, because there are already moves to centralise smaller districts into bigger ones.
The process of standing as an independent candidate yourself is the easy bit. There are full, simple instructions on the government website at ‘Become a councillor’ and on the Local Government Association website at ‘Be a councillor’. You need the signatures of ten registered electors in the ward where you wish to stand.
However the real task is more fundamental and challenging. Foremost is to sell the village concept to a largely unaware and indifferent population. Many don’t even know they live in a council ward, or have any idea of its boundaries. Most won’t recognise the latent power they have. An awareness drive is therefore needed to get people talking about the importance of independent representation, whom they’d like to represent them, and who would like to stand. This cannot happen overnight, and involves leafleting, doorstepping and social media to produce a ‘Great Awakening’ (not to be confused with pre-election promotion, but a continuous pressure between elections – this is not so much a campaign as a cause). Some expense would be involved, both in money and time, and independents don’t have access to central party funds or support of any kind. But a bunch of people kicking it off can quickly start to raise funds.
I’m currently writing some communications copy which I’m happy to share unconditionally. If you’re interested, please make yourself known via the contact page on my website.
The logo below belongs to me, and is available without charge or obligation to anyone who wishes to promote the concept. It should be used with the name of your ‘village’ underneath, thus: