Archive for March 2010

Uses, abuses and the importance of power

March 18, 2010

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

I was saddened by the death of Michael Foot. He was an extraordinary, passionate and Quixotic man who influenced many millions of people throughout his life including my father, who was proud to be a Tribunite, and me when I was young and politically naïve. My younger brother, who remained politically naïve through his life, wore out shoes on marches to Aldermaston, where many were given cups of tea passed through the barbed wire fences surrounding the site by those who worked at AWRE – one of whom was my brother in law, Angela’s brother, who was already a research physicist at the establishment.
Foot was one of the few people who, if his name were to be called in a debate, would attract members of parliament, whatever their party, into the chamber. He was a wonderful speaker – although those who did not agree with him called his style ‘rambling’ – who generated amazing emotional electricity when he spoke. You came away agreeing with every word even though on reflection you realised that some of the basic premises on which his philosophies were founded were often totally impractical.   I doubt he ever used the word ‘pragmatic’ in anything but a derogatory sense.
Although now best known for his failure as a spectacularly unsuccessful leader of the Labour Party this is not surprising as he was not a politician: he was a writer, speaker and journalist first and foremost. Politics, despite his commitment, was a means to an end rather than and end in itself although if we are to be fair, the manifesto for which he was responsible (and was at the time described as ‘the longest suicide note in history’) recommended that Banks should be taken into public ownership – not such a bad idea in retrospect.
But parliament was of vital importance to him and he achieved a great deal while a member of the House of Commons but being effective in the political arena is not the same as being a leader. Ideas, (and Michael Foot had plenty – mostly radical and sometimes bizarre but always grounded in his innate humanity) and negotiating skills are the stuff of politics but being a leader requires something more. It is not just about ‘taking the tough decisions’ which we hear from our current prime minister. Most choices at most levels of human activity above that of deciding whether to have fish and chips or a beef burger for supper, are tough and difficult but to be a leader you actually have an immensely strong personality: you have to be a tough person. I have reported elsewhere the view of Cesar Millan that it is only humanity that is prepared to allow itself to be subjugated by power gained for its own sake and attained through violence. Despite the fact that in the West at least, violence is not generally regarded as the route to success although the toughness required of leaders may well mean that is necessary to be something of a bully to get the things that need doing done.
I have to say this has never been my view. I am not religious but I believe that some aspects of religion (as distinct from the faith, obsession and uncritical commitment which have been so damaging to humanity) from art and architecture to philosophy and literature have immeasurably benefited mankind. One of these is the approach to decision making developed by the Quakers and I have found that to guide those involved in decision making towards a consensus is by far the best way to reach conclusions that are acceptable. Unfortunately this is a time consuming approach – and if you are going to make progress you often have to be prepared to move quickly despite the risk of repenting your decisions at leisure. Whatever you may think of the Kennel Club’s reaction to Pedigree Dogs Exposed no one can accuse the management of not acting quickly
What has all this to do with dogs? A good question. These thoughts have been brought to the surface by a number of issues which have been affected by decision making that has been too forceful, too woolly or not thought through. But before that I would like to bring a quotation to your attention from J K Galbraith the economist. He said, ‘Politics is not the art of the possible. Is consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable’. Think about that as you read the rest of this article. Here are just three of many examples:
I was notified last week that the Companion Animal Welfare Council’s initiative to develop better relations between those involved in dog training and behaviour will cease because ‘the role of CAWC continues to be publicly misrepresented’. I understand the frustration felt by those arranging the meetings and there is no doubt that many of those attending took up philosophical positions which were so deeply embedded that it was difficult to have a rational discussion with them. How different from Cesar Milan’s approach which is that if it is kind and it works the philosophy does not matter – it is the trainer that is the key – not the method. The CAWC hosted meetings did make some progress: on a code of practice which most of those present felt that they could sign up to; the original report published in 2008 led to the setting up of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council ( and there was some sensible discussion about rationalising and trying to standardise the various letters which behaviourists and trainers are using after their names. Perhaps the work of the working party had already achieved enough in a difficult (some would say chaotic) area of canine politics. Time will tell.
I see too that there is continuing criticism of the Kennel Club’s Accredited Breeder Scheme. I have been critical too but I have to say that tremendous progress has been made over the past year. Would this and the many other vitally important initiatives over the last eighteen months, have happened had there not been strong (and tough) leadership in Clarges Street? You may feel the results have been a disaster but what if the KC had done nothing in the face of the Tsunami of the RSPCA, Dogs Trust et al? Of course, strong leadership has a downside as German Shepherd and other breed enthusiasts have discovered and it could be argued that some changes have been rushed through but you cannot have it all ways – some may be smarting psychologically but as yet, no one has been physically pushed aside or hit!
The Judges Development Programme is now ten years old and I can absolutely confirm that the decisions taken when this structure was being set up took a great deal of time – almost three years in fact. Also that it had the widest consultation of any Kennel Club initiative in its history with every breed club and general society being asked for its opinion and an open invitation to anyone else to make their comments and suggestions. As part of the group working on it, I know personally how much time staff and members of the working group spent on sifting through and considering the hundreds of replies we had. Despite all this, judging from some of the comments currently doing the rounds at least, we either got it wrong or circumstances have changed so fundamentally that the programme is not longer fit for purpose. I can absolutely assure you that it is not lack of effort on the part of those at Clarges Street or within the societies running the scheme. Everyone wants to make it work and ensure that it is effective. It is true that had my own advice been followed we would not have started from where we did – but I was one voice and the consensus was against me(you do not have to sympathise – I’m used to it!). But everyone agreed that ‘something had to be done’. What do you do under those circumstances? Walk away and let them get on with or stay involved and try to make the best of it?
Oh for decisions made with hindsight! What a wonderful world it would be.