The wonderful high-visibility and high-impact Steering Group is… not holding an annual stakeholder conference this year. And it’s still not holding elections. Apparently this is Too Hard.
Below is my contribution to this non-debate.
a) Me on the BBC Radio Manchester’s Alan Beswick show tomorrow morning (Tues 7th), doing “read the papers”. Probably about 0650 and 0720.
b) Interview with Chair of the Steering Group, Gavin Elliott.
How to hold goddam elections or “Never Mind the Ballots”
Why you need to do this
Er, you said you would (see “background”) and there’s a basic question. If you can’t even organise elections, why should anyone pay any attention to you when you say you are both aiming at and capable of helping Manchester to create a “low carbon culture”?
It’s there in your terms of reference. There was a long discussion about it at the March 2012 Steering Group meeting, and a promise at the March 2012 Stakeholder conference about elections being held in November. Of that year.
Legitimacy either comes from doing stuff (the Steering Group hasn’t) or in being elected (the Steering Group isn’t), or – god help us all – in both at the same time.
So, the first thing to say about creating democratic legitimacy and credibility, is that it’s a process, not an event. That is, if you had started when you promised you would, when you should have – in 2010 – we’d be there by now. But you didn’t. It’s now 2014. Without a time machine, we just need to crack on from where we are…
Here’s how you could do it
In the first year, you elect three people who are “supernumerary” to the existing slimmed down Steering Group. Their role is to plug gaps, be gadflies, help get the website into some semblance of usefulness (hahahahahahahahahahaha) and to grow the number of people on the electoral role.
They are elected for a two year term (three years is too daunting a prospect), but they can be kicked off if they don’t turn up to meetings etc etc.
Who is the electorate?
I keep hearing this. It’s so unbelievably puerile an “objection” that I am not sure if the people throwing it up are merely trying to make me throw up.
The electorate is… anyone who is eligible.
There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Oh, who is that you ask? The same people who were supposed to be getting carbon literacy training by the end of 2013- anyone who lives, works or studies in Manchester. Hell, if you want to fudge the whole Manchester/Greater Manchester issue, then expand your eligibility criteria to include the wilds of Oldham and Stockport and so on.
So, you get your deadline. I don’t know. Say May. THIS YEAR.
You get some posters done, you have a facebook group etc etc
It’s a job for your communications bod (and since you ask, there’s a job spec for that poisoned chalice coming up soon on this site.)
You put flyers in relevant places (the Town Hall, the Friends Meeting House, the Cornerhouse, the Libraries etc etc)
You come up with a list of events at which you ask the organisers if you can have three minutes to explain what the Steering Group is (hahaha) and why it’s having elections.
You have application forms handy so that people can sign up then and there.
You have a hashtag. Either #mcristoast or #vote4climategroupmcr or something like that.
[Btw, In the first year, you'll only have 1000 or so people sign up. So it goes. And the skeptics/denialists will say you're not legitimate. And they will be right. But it's a process, not an event.]
That application form
You need their name, their postal address, their email (not to be shared) and, if they don’t live within the boundaries of Manchester the reason they are eligible (job, study).
As an optional extra, they can fill in a sentence “in order to be ready for the changes that are coming, Manchester should…” These sentences, stripped of their author’s name, would make an interesting resource…
These paper applications (and online ones) are processed as soon as they come in. A follow-up email is sent, confirming that they are now on the electoral roll for the Steering Group. You ask them to put this up as their Facebook status and also on twitter and all that malarkey, social validation blah blah blah
You have a regular blog about the progress towards the deadline, updating people on how many people there now are on the roll and so on.
About a month before the registration closes, you ask for people to put themselves forward as candidates. In order to be a candidate, people have to supply some basic biographical information and write a 300 word statement about what they would want to achieve in their two years on the Group.
You could cap candidates at 20 (I don’t think you’d get that many, tbh – the Steering Group has achieved the remarkable feat of being both a nonentity and a reputational risk).
Or you could have it unlimited?
In either case, you’ll then need to slim down so that there are no more than 10 candidates for the three positions. Don’t quite know how you would do that, if needed. External person ranking the quality of the statements? Picking names out of a hat?
Once you have your short-list, you announce this, and then create physical ballot papers. To save money, you only send these to people who are definitely not going to attend one of the hustings/election events you have scheduled. You include a freepost envelope…
Voting would be open for, say, a fortnight.
You could hold a hustings/election event in Central Manchester where the ten people who made the final short-list set out their brief (!) spiels. These (3 minute?) spiels could be posted on youtube for people to watch. Doubtless the speeches will contain good ideas and inspiration.
You could then hold separate voting “events” in different parts of the city (not, please, all of them in Chorlton), where people who had registered could come to a meet with other registered voters, watch the videos of the candidates, then cast their own paper ballots.
There would, of course, need to be some other attraction to get folks along!! People seem to like hearing from scientists, so you could get the Tyndall Centre folks to do a series of presentations. Burning in Burnage, Drenched in Didbsury, Hot in Harpurhey… You get the idea].
You could have some “on-line” voting too, I suppose, if you find a techie both willing and able to sort it out for you.
At the end of your two week voting period, you have a public count of the electronic votes and of the paper ballots.
You announce the three people who got elected. Blah blah blah.
Crucially, the people who don’t get short-listed, or don’t get elected, must not be discarded. They are clearly motivated to help, so tasks should be found that match their talents.
In subsequent years
You continue campaigns to grow the electoral roll.
You put different posts up for election (the comms role, the conference organiser role etc)
Even, gasp, the role of chair of the steering group might actually be open to election. How outrageously democratic.
A couple of random questions
Why doesn’t the steering group have a student rep from the universities and colleges?
Why doesn’t it have an observer from the Faith Network for Manchester
Why on earth are its meetings held in private?
Some of you lot will say
“Interesting ideas. Not sure all of them are practicable. Let’s look into it further. Shall we pencil it into the agenda for our September meeting?”
others will say
“Marc Fucking Hudson can fuck right off.”
And nothing will be done. And in a year or so, the Steering Group will die, and release a press release saying that the fabulous groundwork that it laid is being taken over by the GM Low Carbon Hub.