Saturday, 8 August 2015

Election Disfunction.

The trust has come up with a new formula for boaters to be able to cast a vote for their 'private' boater representatives. So, who came up with this new system, you might well ask. I remember it was supposed to be entrusted to be overseen and led by CaRT Trustee Lynne Berry and council member Clive Henderson. Clive, was previously elected as a Trustee and National Chairman of the Inland Waterways Association from 2008 to 2012. Who was also as it happens elected as the independent, private CaRT council boater representative.

You might just remember that the last round of voting apparently elected the 'front bench' of the Inland Waterways Association. Clive Henderson, Ivor Henry Caplan, Keith Vaughan Welch and Ann Farrell were elected to represent the interests of 'private' boaters. It has to be noted that since the election, they have been very successful at keeping their representation very very private. The reason why you might have trouble remembering anything said by our 'elected representatives' is because they have been almost totally silent ever since.

When you elect a representative, you might expect that the representative would for obvious reasons want to know the thoughts and aspirations of the electorate. the electorate that they are supposed to represent.  The proactive representative would want to gather opinion and seek guidance from the electorate.  After all the role of the council members according to CaRT.

Quote: 'While Trustees are responsible for determining policy and strategy, the Council will have an important role in helping to shape policy, raising and debating issues, providing guidance, perspective and a sounding board for Trustees.

I wonder whose interests they were representing, because some recent policy changes give plenty of scope for speculation. That they were not actually representing a large section of their electorates wishes. There are many causes that they should and could have been championing on behalf of the boating fraternity. For instance, I don't remember any championing for improving the existing sanitary stations or increasing their numbers. I don't remember any championing for increasing the numbers of visitor moorings. There was positively nothing championed about improving the dire waste disposal facilities. When it comes to any kind of championing our representatives were strangely silent.

Someone who puts themselves up for election - who then writes a glowing manifesto about their vision and how they will work for the future. Who then quietly disappears from view, who does not actively seek to represent the views of the electorate. Should be recalled and removed from the role. The recall of members of parliament is a hot topic. Why should that recall not also apply to elected representatives on CaRT council. If they are not up to the job, why can't the electorate remove and replace those individuals.

Lets take this view of a democratic system a step further, why not also elect our representatives to the membership of the waterways partnerships. God forbid that anyone with a genuine love and a deep felt desire to see the waterways improve, should be included.

So here we are and it's all the muted enthusiasm of another election time. One where everyone believes that based upon their previous experience. The outcome is already pre ordained. Well to be more correct, it is election time, but only for some boat owners. 

It maybe not be election time altogether for others. Especially now there is no paper alternative to voting electronically. If you are one of those people who does not own a computer or smartphone, you have now already been excluded.

Why should CaRT take such a retrograde step and what is the rationale behind this change?

According to CaRT the change has been done as a money saving exercise. (I know that money saving and the trust will seem to be an oxymoron to some) And to be blunt, its a fair criticism. Especially while at the same time the Trust continues to throw money into the black hole that is the Waterways Partnerships. A lot more money could be saved by cutting out a whole swathe of CaRT 'Cash Converters'. The Cash Converters are to me and other boaters, the real waterways 'CC-ers.'  

A typical Cash Converter are the lack lustre partnerships, which are supposed to be such a significant part of the canal culture. However the Waterways Partnerships are well below par in effectiveness and are still not even paying their way. The partnerships are being very tardy about generating their target figure of £800,000 a year. The partnerships are unlikely in the foreseeable future to even cover their own running costs.  Yet each of the Waterways Partnerships Chairs have a place on CaRT council. In its own way CaRT is rewarding their failure. To be honest the Waterways Partnerships are becoming an ever growing embarrassment. CaRT seems to be quietly air brushing out the need to 'raise money' and at the same time air brushing out the fact that they have been unable to cover their own costs. Like our elected representatives - the silence is deafening.

The list of money over and above meeting their own running costs brought in by the Waterways Partnerships is small. Here is the list of successes of the partnerships in full. Brought to you in the style of the score announcements at the Eurovision Song Contest. 

Waterways Partnerships Financial targets met:- 'Nil Points.' 
Waterways Partnerships Operating Costs met:-  'Nil Points.'
Waterways Partnerships Notable Successes :-  'Nil Points.'

So, what of the voting system that is being employed. The single transferable vote needs the electorate to rank the individual candidates. During the count, as the candidates are elected or eliminated. Second and subsequent preference votes are transferred to other candidates according to the individuals choices on the ballot paper.  Whoops, there are of course no ballot papers. How will the independent boaters manifesto be circulated by the trust.

The single transferable vote is a voting system that is also prone to so called 'Donkey Voting', where voters vote for candidates in the order they appear on the ballot paper. Because they have not made a concious choice for any particular preference. It also means that if votes are cast in a predetermined order of the ballot paper the outcome can be skewed. 

At the 2012 election Tony Hales said 'There was a good turn out to our first Council election with 26 per cent of private boaters taking part.' 

But is a 26% turn out good and does the claim stand up to real scrutiny. For instance, there are people out on the cut, who own a boat but maybe can't afford to pay the cost of a licence up front in one lump. So now they can't vote either. Why, because they will not be in possession of a full 12 month licence. So that means that our elected private boater representatives are elected by an even smaller number of the 'private' boat owners.

What's wrong with the simple expedient - If you have held a current boat licence in the three months prior to the time of the election you get a vote. This would cover those people renewing short term licences in the interim period. It would also cover those people CaRT refuses to issue more than a three month licence to. I wonder if the change to terms and conditions of the licence would give an unfair disadvantage to those people. I can see someone feeling very discriminated against and maybe even to the point of challenging the veracity of the election.

Now lets speculate a bit on both the donkey voting and the possible election outcome. Lets say a boating club called the 'Big Boating Club' issues a three line whip to all its BBC members saying vote only for Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane in the first four positions. But don't vote for anyone else. Lets now speculate further that those people (Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane) are all leading members of the Big Boating Club, I wonder what might happen to the result. This would have all the hall marks of a 'banana republic election' and would make a good plot for a television fly on the wall documentary.

I mean that could not possibly happen, could it, well could it?

There is a simple solution to all the above. Its a simple expedient, one that brings with it some real democracy. The sooner the Trust has its own membership, one where every user and supporter of the inland waterways has a real voice. Where those people with a genuine interest or love of the inland waterways will have a chance to bring about much needed change. Where they can cast a democratic vote in the knowledge that other affiliations cannot effect the outcome or later behaviour of the person elected. Where everyone, be they environmentalists, bird watchers, boater, cyclist, walker or whatever their individual interests are. The better run and managed the inland waterways will be. 

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