The current hot topic in the boating blogosphere and the virtual Canalworld is the forthcoming election of four boater representatives to the Council of the new charity, the Canal & River Trust (very important, that ampersand, because other wise it would form the acronym CART, and that would never do).
Now the first thing to say, is no, I will not be standing; I think there will be plenty of worthy candidates without me plunging back into the murky and shark infested waters of electoral politics. My experience thereof though does lead me to wonder about a couple of points. The first is that with only ten proposers needed for a nomination, no deposit required, and approximately 30,000 people eligible to be candidates, the ballot paper is likely to be a very long one.
The second thought is slightly more complicated and intractable. In most elections, candidates are limited, in the interests of fairness, to a single manifesto statement (in this case, a very brief one of 150 strictly enforced and very precisely counted words). In internal elections in which I have participated (for example, party selection processes) any additional attempts to communicate with the electorate were deemed grounds for disqualification. In local and national elections, this is effectively imposed by very strict limits on candidates' spending - the exceeding of which can not only lead to disqualification, but a prison sentence.
Limiting candidates' communications with the electorate can be controversial - for example, in that internal party election I argued (unsuccessfully) that the ability to communicate effectively and garner votes was an important factor in selecting a candidate, and candidates for selection should be allowed to demonstrate this. But the counter arguments also carry weight: limiting everyone to the same number of words or the same level of spending means that no one should gain an unfair advantage from being able to afford to print more leaflets, or having friends in the press.
What happens to this principle however in the internet age? The prospective candidates whom I am already aware of are either high profile bloggers or prolific contributors to Canalworld, or both - that, by definition, is why I am aware of them - whereas there will be other candidates whose names I shall see for the first time on the ballot paper, and about whom I shall know no more than they can express in 150 words. Those I do already know, I happen to think highly of, and will very likely vote for. But does that mean that the other, lower profile, candidates have been unfairly disadvantaged?
Disadvantaged they will have been, without a doubt, by not having a pre-existing base of support and established platform to communicate their message; but is that unfair? Or might we say that someone who has already proven their ability at communicating with a large number of people, and who has been and will be in contact with a broad range of fellow boaters, is by virtue of this likely to be a better representative?
In the meantime, shall we have a sweepstake on how many candidates there will be for the four boater rep. positions? I'm going to pluck a figure out of thin air and go for thirty eight. Leave me your guess in the comments, I'll record them all, and the one nearest the actual figure gets a prize of some sort.