08 May 2014

I can't stand up for falling down (Society of Authors management committee election part 2)

My election statement:
I am standing in this election to ensure that members have a choice, as I did last year, when three of us who were members of the constitution task force put our names forward for the Management Committee. We believed that the Society needed change to make it a responsive, democratic organisation in which members were fully involved. It is, after all, a trade union and must be judged against the standards of other unions. Just by standing we ensured that members directly elected four candidates to the Management Committee.

I continue writing and lecturing about, and practising, intellectual property and other types of law, as I have done for 33 years. The Society remains the same, too, for the time being, and elections are being run the same way. In what other organisation is a list of candidates approved by the executive and announced to the electorate, so that independent candidates join in only after the starting gun has been fired? If any other trade union conducted its elections in this manner, there would be widespread outrage.

The Task Force’s recommendations for reform were filtered through the Management Committee before being presented to the membership. Just as it nominates its own candidates, so the Management Committee makes recommendations for reform, patronisingly offering members ‘an alternative solution’. It proposes that its own candidates continue to be given a head start, as the ballot paper will identify those whom it prefers. The level playing field is merely ‘an alternative’. But Management Committee members may nominate whomever they wish, and overt approval from serving members carries considerable weight: why should the committee itself have the privilege of making nominations? To present an open and democratic procedure as ‘an alternative’ to a system that entrenches the nomenklatura is a travesty.

My platform is to do all I can to make the Society responsive to what you want and need. My legal expertise and experience benefitted the task force and is now offered to the MC. I offer no manifesto setting out what I think the Society should do for its highly diverse membership, because different members need different things, and I do not presume to tell you what they are. If elected I will listen to you. Victorian paternalism might have been appropriate for much of the Society’s history, but in the 21st century it needs to be transparent and – yes, that word again – democratic. Only then will we have a Society fit and able to represent the interests of all authors – members and prospective members – in the very challenging environment of the 21st century.

I pledge to work to create a management committee that does what members tell it to do, rather than telling members what they should do. That, to my mind, is democracy. If it accords with your idea of democracy, please support me and the other reformist candidates to bring about the radical change that the Society's establishment will not embrace.
Normally the idea of drafting by committee would be anathema to me. This is not really a committee work, but I received valuable input: what made it interesting, and fun, and unusual, was that the input came from published authors, including a couple of well-known novelists. James Michener reportedly said 'I'm not a very good writer but I'm an excellent rewriter', and the truth of that statement is apparent to me every time I review something I have written - it always benefits from being rewritten, though often it doesn't get the amount of time it needs. And this exercise in writing to a word limit has also shown me the importance of choosing carefully the right words - not only does the writing become more powerful, it becomes more concise too.


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