KC Membership Consultation – some initial thoughts

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

The primary function of democracy is not to ensure that people get what they want: it is to ensure that they accept what they get.  And they are much like less likely to accept it if they feel their interests are not well represented – Jeremy O’Grady, Editor of UK magazine, The Week

I have had it on the highest authority that over the last few years, whenever the Kennel Club has spoken to focus groups or carried out surveys, the number of times the issue of widening the membership has been raised is minimal. I have to accept that this is the KC’s experience and despite my own writings and those of other columnists over many years, it may be there really is no appetite among grassroots canine activity enthusiasts to challenge the status quo.  But I would make two points.

The first is that the vast majority, the 1,250 or so members of the KC are not only seen as being separate and distant from the real world inhabited by most of those involved in showing, agility and the rest but are perceived to have perhaps inadvertently, placed psychological barriers against application in addition to the complications and time involved – not to mention the costs.  For most there is little point in even discussing the issue.

The second is that it is a matter of principle: in the 21st Century any organisation which aspires to be representative should actually be representative.  It is true that many members hold influential positions within the world of dogs, many give freely of their time and contribute a great deal financially but the fact that their enthusiasm and hard work keeps the boat afloat is not in itself enough.

Trawling through the back issues of Our Dogs as I sometimes do, this is a thread that has been running through edition after in edition for decades.  And I am the first to accept and celebrate that much has been done in the 50 years in which I have been involved in dogs.  Clarges Street can be proud of the impact which it has made in improving the health and welfare of dogs and much other canine related reforms and innovations.  For me, although there are always matters of opinion as to the best way forward for the promotion of pedigree dogs and in maintaining their popularity, the one real elephant within our world has always been the elitism which, rightly or wrongly, deliberately or otherwise, emanates from Clarges Street.  This is not personal: individual members do not see themselves as elitist but the perception persists that although there is a great deal of welcome transparency the KC remains a ‘club’ which is little different to the other much less visible cabals which exist at so many levels throughout our world.

I sincerely hope that with the publication of the recent article in the December 2016 Kennel Gazette members will allow this perception to finally be put to one side.  The new proposals, which are based very much on what I and other commentators have been saying for many years, are to be commended and I sincerely hope they will be accepted by the membership when a formal proposal is put forward as a future Annual or Special General Meeting.

A different perspective

Having said that, may I ask you to consider an equally valid but slightly different perspective on these proposals?

The suggestion of Town and Country membership (I think these are terms which are more usual and certainly more egalitarian than ‘full’ and ‘general’), and household membership are sensible but minor: the key proposal is that all members will be equal in paying £60 a year (£50 if paid by Direct Debit) for membership of the Kennel Club with full voting rights for Country members after a three-year period.  Some many feel that this delay is unnecessary but it is not uncommon: for instance, a similar sensible protectionist principle is embedded in the Rules for Southern Counties Canine Association for exactly the same reason that it is being suggested by the Kennel Club i.e. because anyone can join the Association without being proposed and seconded.

Others may suggest that the fee is on the high side (and I would agree) but the amount is irrelevant: it is the principle that is important.  Country members,  understandably, will not receive some of the ‘perks’ of Town members but as all have voting rights and the differences are entirely a matter of financial contribution to separate external services, the move towards acceptable democracy will have been made.

There are other minor distinctions between Town and Country members but they pale into insignificance besides the suggestion that Country members may apply for membership rather than to need a proposer and seconder and that they would not need to undergo the current inspection which some see as an unnecessary and somewhat dated practice which harks back to the 19th century.

Value for money

Those who wish to take advantage of the facilities which are available in London will be expected to pay an additional £100 for that privilege.  While I have always felt that the £150 total membership fee is far too high this has never been anything to do with ‘value for money’: the facilities, the restaurant and the services provided for members are exceptional and having been a member of London clubs and visited many others, I can assure you that the vast majority are far more expensive.  No, for me, it has always been about the cost of the vote for those who are not members but are nevertheless entitled to have their direct ‘say’ should they so wish.  Although there are many ways in which grassroots participants can have their say through the canine press, through the KC Breed Liaison Councils, the Question Times and writing direct to the Chairman, the voting process, although all too often flawed, is fundamental to democratic societies and institutions.

The hurdle of ‘approval’ by the Board would remain and although I do not think this is necessary and I understand the reasoning, I would argue that this should be a formality (I am afraid this is not the case at present).  There are already rules in place to rescind membership should that be necessary on grounds of criminal conviction or misbehaviour within the world of dogs: it does not seem reasonable to make an assumption that people will not behave well and therefore retain barriers to membership.  Surely in this day and age we should be assuming that people will behave well: it would be much more sensible to make it easier demand a resignation or injection if it can be shown that the member disregarded the rules or behaved inappropriately.

Finally, the press release suggested that these proposals will attract great deal of feedback.  It will be interesting to see whether the assurances that I have been given over the years that the grassroots are not actually that much interested or even care about becoming members of the KC.  However, of one thing I am sure: there are likely to be approximately 1,250 people with a great deal to say.


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