Archive for May 2014

2014 KC AGM

May 2, 2014

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Pseudocracy – A political system that has the formal appearance of a democracy, but in which the substance of democracy gradually eroded until the vote itself is almost the only thing left. – David Aaronovitch

My quotation this week comes from a column in a recent edition of The Times in which David Aaronovitch discusses the way in which democracy has been constantly hijacked over generations by juntas, cabals and governments determined to hold on to power – not on its record or its proposals for the future but by creating a culture of ignorance and/or fear so any opposition is rendered ineffective. At one end of the spectrum opponents are banished or even jailed and abused while at the other, the governmental and civil service machine is single-mindedly devoted to a determined public relations drive supporting the status quo and undermining both the personalities and polities of any challenger.  Another approach is disenfranchisement: simply making it difficult or impossible for those who are entitled to have an input into government to take part.

Aaronovitch’s article underlines how hard it is to establish a true democracy: the rights of individuals to take part in government have been hard won over the years but it has to be accepted, I think, that the difficulty of achieving those rights have, mostly, ensured the mechanisms have been finely honed so that the checks and balances necessary for the structure to work are in place.  There is still a way to go of course, but the whole concept of democracy continues to be distorted by extremists who, like Humpty Dumpty in Alice Through the Looking Glass are happy to ‘pay a word extra’ if he distorted its meaning.  ‘Democracy’ is a word that must be rich indeed for although Lewis Caroll does not tell what currency Humpty Dumpty used, it is likely the coinage would have to be described as duplicitous!

I cannot remember how many times I have written about this subject over the last 35 years, but I make no apology for returning to it once again in the context of our own world of dogs.

Democracy ‘within the Rules’

The Kennel Club, as John MacDougall pointed out to me many years ago, is run entirely and completely democratically although, as I tried to point out to him then and in numerous articles since, this is only true only within the context of its own Rules.  And I have no problem with this, for a private club, which only has its own interests to promote, preserve and protect is perfectly entitled to set whatever rules it likes within the law.  So organisations such as the Lansdowne Club (sport and social) the Reform, the Carlton and St Stephens (political) and the Guards (military) which do not have a responsibility creating and maintaining regulations – and disciplining those who transgress those regulations – can create their own world for they have little impact on anyone outside their membership.  However, those clubs which take it upon themselves to regulate others have a wider responsibility and The Kennel Club (like the RAC which regulates most motor sport in the UK) has put in place structures to which non-members can be elected and whose suggestions and ideas therefore have an official input into the various Kennel Club Sub-committees.  The Kennel Club also insists that its affiliated clubs and societies have rules which are essentially democratic so that, in theory, members can have their say and committees and officers can be dismissed.
In recent years the Kennel Club has set up the Young Kennel Club, Kennel Club Associates and other groups designed to promote a wider dialogue, but, it must be said, has done almost nothing to promote easy and reasonable access to full membership.

When you talk to any individuals who are ordinary members, virtually all agree that the situation needs reform. Last year at the Kennel Club AGM I called for the issue of membership to be examined and this has resulted, I understand, in a working group being set up internally to consider all aspects of membership. However, if experience is anything to go by, change is not likely any time soon and I genuinely believe we cannot afford to wait!  Furthermore, I believe wholesale changes will be much less acceptable to the membership so one step at a time may be a more effective way forward.

At root, I am convinced the problem is the unbelievably 18th-century approach to membership. It is true that the ‘blackball’ form of election has been discarded and now a two-thirds vote is required – but the mechanism is still incredibly outdated.  As a member of another London club, I was on the Qualifications Committee for some years. It is a genuinely private club: just a social group of professional gentlemen within the arts, sciences and law.  The qualification for membership is that we must be a ‘professional earning the greater part of our living in one of the membership groups’: art, theatre, literature, music, law and science. We also expect potential members to be ‘clubbable’ but as all members are proposed and seconded by other members we always felt we could take as read that they were ‘good chaps’.

We were also quite flexible with the Qualifications Committee and during my time on the committee we elected two members who were churchmen: it was a close run thing but I argued that as clergymen that were professionals in the Laws of God they should be elected under Law: one went on to become an excellent Club Secretary, incidentally.  Potential members were expected to have attended one or more the club events and had to show they were professionals within the membership groups: I do not remember anyone being turned down – why should they be? A structure was in place to elect a new members but it never occurred to anyone that the proposer and seconder of any candidate could not be trusted to ensure that they were professional within the Club Rules and were ‘clubbable’.

Not the case in Clarges Street

This is not the case with the Kennel Club and it has long seemed to me that, lovely people though all members are, there is a protective crowd mechanism in place which instinctively wants to maintain barriers to membership.  Although there have been attempts at reform they have not met with members approval (several years ago the General Committee put forward the idea that members could propose four candidates in any one year rather than two – the proposal was defeated) and the move to full membership for Ladies was only reluctantly accepted as a result of the possibility of legal action under the then new laws against sexual discrimination.

The current mechanism for proposing new members is long and convoluted and carries with it the possibility of a rejection – a possibility which is a potential embarrassment to all concerned.  And it is avoidable – if you do not put anyone forward it solves the problem.  It is obvious the process has been unfair and unjust to many for years – why else should people be elected on the second and sometimes third time around.  What, I ask myself, did they do in the meantime to scrape past that two-thirds barrier?

And we are in a new era. We are now a Company Limited by Guarantee and although this has its downside in the straitjacket which is imposed regarding amendments to agenda items it does mean that all members can have a vote on important matters – not just those who attend the meeting. Limited Company rules serve to highlight the responsibilities of the membership and I would hope that we can therefore to become more representative of the world of dogs as a whole and be seen to welcome new members even if the numbers are not going to increase substantially soon.
In the final analysis, it is all about trust. Does the General Committee trust individual members to put forward candidates that are suitable or, as appears to be the case at the moment, are they inclined to take more notice of hearsay comments put forward those who have axes to grind? We can easily take the guesswork and secrecy out of the process: the time has surely come to clarify the process and make it just and transparent.

I would hope that all members not able to go to the forthcoming KC AGM will use their proxy vote.  I would, of course, urge them to vote for the minor changes I am proposing – but I am a democrat: the most important thing is that members take part.