... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Election time!

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.


  1. Hi Sarah,
    I'll go for 45 I think.

  2. Excellently argued. I'll come down on the side of those who have already proved their communication skills.

    The number of candidates? I'm going much lower: 13.

  3. Mmmm that's a hard one. I'll go for 23 - my age :-) (I'm sure there will not be as many as my real age ...... well I certainly hope not!!
    Kath (nb Herbie)

  4. 84.

    No logically thought out reason, other than it is my boat's number, and I think it will be a very large slate.

  5. Graham, I see, has gone for 17. I'm going for 42. A thought provoking and well written blog Sarah. Jill, Matilda Rose

  6. Coo, if you want response, offer a prize (iPad, anyone?)
    I reckon the communicators/bloggers have demonstrated their public-spiritedness, so it's reasonable that they should have preponderant 'profile' and electoral advantage, especially since a blog profile cannot be simply bought.
    My guess: 12 candidates (can I have a white one, please?)

  7. I will have to go in Alan's direction - its going to be over 50 I am sure. Not that I have any vested interest in this matter ;-).
    To be honest Sarah, if I didn't have the blog I wouldn't have put my hat in the ring because what can you glean from 150 words. I am very happy to let people judge where I am coming from by reading my blog. Andy

  8. Interesting, it's the two declared candidates (or are you technically still prospective candidates?) who have gone for the highest figures. But Andy you will have to pick a figure to be in to win... Or shall I just put fifty?

  9. 58 and no I don't want an Ipad, work of the devil, just like semi trads.


  10. Sarah,

    I am definitely standing, but on an "all boater" ticket, as I think with just 4 electable places each person elected needs to be prepared to really be a "boater", (these are specifically boater places, not "waterways association" places!), but to be able to represent the whole spectrum of what that means.

    My 150 word "election statement" is in my blog, but I'll not link to it directly here.

    But so people can associate me to a candidacy, I will give my full name for those who don't know me, namely Alan Fincher.

  11. I am interested by the implications of large numbers of candidates. This means that CRT will have to produce a fairly large document of 'election statements', and post them to all licence holders, some thirty thousand mailings - an expensive undertaking. Just how many of those will be read through in detail is open to question - inversely proportional to the number of candidates I suggest.

  12. The link to 'Alan's' blog did not connect me .. so I don't know you Alan - I am also not aware of Captain Ahab's surname - I know that he is Andy. If bloggers want our vote we need to know their names and blogs.

  13. I didn't want to use Sarah's blog to actively campaign in, but I hope she will not mind me pointing out that we own the boats "Sickle" and "Chalice", and that a link to our latest blog posts appears in Sarah's blog list to the right. Alternatively "Googling" "Sickle and Chalice" will find it.

    "Captain Ahab" has introduced himself publicly elsewhere as "Andy Tidy", so I don't imagine he will mind me repeating that here. He blogs as "Captain Ahab's Watery Tales".

  14. Hi Sarah, if it's not too late to add a comment; excellent post, thought-provoking too... couldn't agreed more with what you've said... I'd like to to enter the sweepstake - 29 ie. adding up our boat's BCN number: 18686. Cheers Nick

  15. To make it more interesting how about the number of men and the number of ladies, I only know of one lady who has put her name forward.

  16. Ray, I disagree. Sex, colour, creed, sexual preference etc. are all irrelevant. The only thing which matters is passion for boating on our inland waterways.

  17. Well, what's interesting about that is that your name has to be on the licence if you want to stand. If you're the co-owner of a boat, I bet that was the last consideration in your mind when deciding who would sign the licence form! For boats that are jointly owned (and boated) by male/female couples (I would guess that to be the majority of boats, if only by a narrow margin) I wonder what proportion are licenced in the man's name and how many in the woman's, and how this relates to how active a role they respectively take in boating. It's hard to see how BW/ERS could have done it any other way, but that's certainly a flaw in the system.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Deleted becasue I double posted... And not just to put the comment count up still further! This is already my record.