Tuesday, June 29, 2021

There are occasions when you realise that you were right the first time...

Readers will remember the end of my term as a member of the Party's Appeals Panel for England or, at least, how it ended. I was astonishingly discreet about the actual details which were, in truth, a bit wounding - having a Regional Executive debate your future in front of you as though you weren't there is never likely to be anything else.

Talk of appointment on a temporary basis whilst they took stock, complaints about a lack of transparency (it's an Appeals Panel, for pity's sake...), as a means of demonstrating respect for a volunteer doing a job which offers little but pain and aggravation, it lacked a certain something.

And so, I graciously withdrew my name from consideration, allowing the Regional Executive to proceed as they saw fit. I notified everyone concerned, and that was that. At the time, it was suggested to me that the English Party would be looking to fill its vacancies on the Appeals Panel for England and that I might throw my hat into the ring. I wasn't enthusiastic - the idea of further rejection wasn't high on my list of desirable outcomes.

My mistake was to allow myself to be persuaded to do it anyway. Admittedly, I was approached directly by a senior member of the English Party and given the impression that I was needed, and there are very few of us whose ego wouldn't be stroked by that.

Funnily enough, I don't mind that I didn't get the job. Even before the news came that I'd been unsuccessful, doubt had begun to gnaw away at me. But I wouldn't have applied had I not been asked to in such a way as to suggest that the interview was more a hurdle to be cleared than a meaningful competition. I did it because I thought that the Party needed me, when it turns out that it didn't. I am reminded why my views on corporate headhunters are so negative.

It reminds me that political parties don't always treat volunteers all that well. That's not necessarily deliberate, although recent events have made me wonder, but it's sometimes because they're given contradictory messages. And, occasionally, people are stupid, or unkind, or make bad choices for worse reasons.

I had put the events of the past few months behind me, however. Life is too short, and I have other things to do.

And then, this morning, I received an e-mail asking me to serve on a hearing of the Appeals Panel for England. It's not that I despair - I'm too old for that and I've seen too much. But perhaps I ought to look upon it all as a hint.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Can the tide of political unpleasantness be turned?

I spent some time this afternoon talking to some political colleagues about the problems that arise when people disagree. It was an interesting discussion and offered me an opportunity to express some of my concerns about modern politics and how the way people treat each other undermines how political parties function.

Unfortunately, that seems to be a problem that gets worse with time rather than better, and it distracts from the cause, whatever cause that may be. For a bureaucrat not generally seen on the front row of political activity, I don’t tend to be involved in the competitive element of politics, even within my own Party. It does risk appearing somewhat sheltered from the reality of campaigning, especially when you consider that, in my quiet corner of England, politics is relatively genteel.

That said, I do understand how much it can matter to people. I’m not naive. Indeed, I have a pretty good understanding that, when a contest really matters, people can be tempted to bend, even break, the rules for personal advantage. The first round of list selections for the European Parliament in 1997 was a case in point, when the prospect of becoming an MEP was a real one for whoever topped their regional list (and in some cases, the runner-up too).

That led to some interesting strategies being employed, but in the absence of social media, it was for the most part fought in good spirit. Had we tried to repeat the process twenty years later, I have a nasty feeling that it might not have been quite so easy to manage. There are, unfortunately, those who have less restraint in terms of the language they use, or allegations they make, especially if done remotely.

And, to make things even harder, as time has passed, the rules and procedures are more prescriptive, more complex, more open to misinterpretation (deliberate and accidental) and the implications of getting it wrong more severe, and not just to the person committing the “offence”.

The danger is that you have to dedicate more and more resource to dealing with the unhappy, the unreasonable and the unlucky. And, given that most people join political parties to change things or gain power, finding people to handle that burden becomes more difficult. It is, in short, a challenge that seems to grow as the years pass.

Ultimately, political parties, like societies, operate better and more effectively if people behave reasonably both in general and towards each other. It seems like such an obvious truism that you might wonder why it needs to be expressed. However, people often forget that political parties are not monoliths, where everyone agrees, but coalitions loosely wrapped around a philosophical concept, where arguments can rage over what outsiders may see as trivia.

Thus, the existence of rules to guide behaviour, ensure due process and compliance, covering everything from meeting etiquette to candidate selection. You hope that they don’t have to be enforced much, by offering training, encouraging mutual respect and providing guidance. You hope that it’s taken up and applied and, when things do go wrong, that there is someone to remedy the situation.

So, apply the rules, maintain them, recommend changes to them as the situation requires, but defend them and the ethos that underpins them in the hope that people learn and improve. Because, regardless of the organisation you’re a part of, if you can’t treat your colleagues decently, you’re probably not going to treat anyone else very well…

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Creeting St Peter - goodbye, Alice, and thanks for everything...

Small villages like Creeting St Peter tend to rely heavily on a small number of people who are willing to take on key, often unsung roles. That's especially true if the population is younger and thus busier with work, children and all of the other aspects of modern life that reduce the time available to do other things.

In our case, there are two organisations which tend to dominate civic life - the Parish Council and the Parochial Church Council. For the latter, there is the perpetual struggle to maintain the fabric of a historic building, i.e. the church itself. If your church serves a population of 275, many of whom are not particularly religious, that struggle becomes more acute.

Accordingly, the Parochial Church Council fundraises, and part of that fundraising is through village coffee mornings and pub nights, which are the backbone, indeed almost the totality, of the village's social activity. And residents turn up in sizeable numbers, buying cups of tea, homemade baked goods, catching up with each other and discussing the burning issues of the day.

Someone has to organise that though, chivvying people along, creating rotas, being "bossy". And, for some years now, that "someone" has been Alice. Alice describes herself as bossy but, in her role as Church Warden, she has worked incredibly hard to keep the show on the road. Unfortunately, that is about to come to an end, as she, her husband Mark and her family are moving away... a long way away.

And so we gathered in the churchyard yesterday evening to pay tribute to her. Jenny, the Treasurer of the Parochial Church Council, made a lovely speech to mark her contribution to the Church, the village and its residents, and our Vicar, Philip, offered a few remarks to remind us of her efforts.

It was a good crowd too, despite the rather dank, gloomy weather that had replaced the warm sunshine of previous days, which rather demonstrated how much we appreciate, and will miss, Alice.

As Chair of the Parish Council, I've been lucky enough to have a good relationship with Alice - indeed, I can't really see how I could have a bad one with her. She works hard, is incredibly effective and gives of herself freely. Every village should have an Alice, and I suspect that there are many that do.

Hillary Clinton wrote that "it takes a village". That's probably true, but villages need an Alice too, because without leadership, nothing that gets done is ever quite as effective as it might be.

So, thank you, Alice, and the best of luck in your new life. It won't be quite the same without you..

Friday, June 18, 2021

GB News - is there really space for a platform for talking heads?

There’s been a lot of talk about Andrew Neil’s new venture, much of it unkind. I can’t say that I’m as surprised by some of the glitches of the early days of broadcasting - it takes time to bed things in and there will be errors as new staff work out how things are best done.

And, whilst the list of presenters doesn’t leap out and grab me, I don’t think that I’m really part of their hoped for audience, so that probably won’t cause their backers any great loss of sleep. But I do wonder if there is a sufficient market to allow GB News to survive and thrive.

There isn’t a huge audience for television news in this country, and what there is tends to repeat itself in thirty minute chunks - I don’t sense that people sit down and watch long chunks of news unless a major event is taking place. And whilst having presenters opine at length can work on radio, where you can do other things, television has to be watched, and concentrated on.

The other potential problem is that getting 1% audience share in the United States offers you a decent chunk of advertising revenue, it isn’t anywhere near as lucrative in the United Kingdom. And even the relatively low budget GB News needs to earn £25 million per annum to break even if reports are to be believed.

You can potentially square that circle by offering attractive advertising rates or audiences who are likely to have higher levels of disposable income, but that doesn’t necessarily sit well with a cast of professional provocateurs fighting the sort of culture war that Fox News does so well in the United States.

Indeed, what surprises me about the campaign to dissuade potential advertisers is not that its apparent success but why some of the companies who have announced that they won’t be advertising on GB News would have been doing so in the first place. If your target market is younger and more socially liberal, it doesn’t strike me that GB News is the best use of your advertising budget… at least, not now.

I have read the reviews, which appear to suggest that a number of the presenters are determined to fight a “war on woke” (whatever that means), which makes it easy for me to give it a miss. But, in a free society, the right to offer something different must be allowed to exist and, in a free market of ideas, to stand or fall on its own merits.

So, we’ll see if I’m wrong about whether or not there is a sufficient audience out there to make it work, or whether the management team will need to trim towards the political centre in order to make it sustainable. In the meantime, for those who are getting upset about it, I would suggest that they walk on by and save their anger. All it does is draw people’s attention to the very thing you despise…