These last seven days have been marked by a curious little polemic over whether the self-nominated members of the Management Committee are democrats or apparatchiks.
Tom Holland — Chairman of the Management Committee, who should be the most important man in the Society — finally got around to answering the campaign that forced this election. But he did not answer by writing to this Electoral Section on GD-Frontiers (the formally announced forum for the campaign), but instead chose SOAF’s novel website, www.writersinfrance.net . Now, I have deliberately avoided entering political comments on this site because this could compromise my role as Chairman of SOAF. Also, one should note that we still have some quite serious teething problems with this site.
But Tom, who must have been trawling the net instead of using formal campaign information, did insist on this small new site. He thus avoided all contact with me. In it he found a short article by SOAF’s Secretary, Pamela Lake. It was under a section entitled ‘Gregor’s election bid’.
Pamela’s article claims that the Management Committee’s system of self-nomination ‘reminds one of elections in the Soviet Union where the voter had no choice — a put up job in fact.’ She did not, in fact, mention a polemical word about ’apparatchiks’.
It was Tom who did that. In his answer he assured that ‘elections for the Management Committee (have) been contested before.’ He further promised that the ‘system is entirely open and transparent.’ And there was nothing nasty about it: ‘far from this being some sinister shuffling of apparatchiks around a Politburo, the names of those nominated are posted in the Author, together with an invitation to other members to apply…’
Now, I don’t know if Tom is aware of this or not, but the term ‘apparatchik’ is not actually new to this campaign. As a matter of fact, I have used it in some of my own writings about the Society. And I have used it because some of the members of SOAF, angered at being sidelined by Central Office, have employed the same term in the past.
I did reply to Tom, asking him to provide us with a list of open elections to the Management Committee over the last twenty years. None of the members I know can remember any. And I further asked him what his and his nominated colleagues’ policy was with regards to the deteriorating situation in publishing — ‘or are we still faced, just one month before the votes are due, with the silence of apparatchiks?’
Tom, so far, has not answered. Nor have the four nominated candidates. All we have on policy is that of the one independent candidate. It is the independent candidate who forced the election. For the correspondence, see http://www.writersinfrance.net/greg....
This is actually no minor matter, for it is in the Management Committee that the decisions are made, or should be made, on how to combat the scandalously bad publishing that is currently going on in Britain — and elsewhere. Publishers can hide a lot. But they can’t hide the rot that they publish.
What is the Society of Authors doing about this? Precious little. And the main reason is that author-members are not participating in the way their Society is run. There is no pressure on the Society to do anything. So they don’t do much, save ‘quiet negotiations’, behind the scenes. We don’t actually know what those ’quiet negotiations’ are. What we do know is that they will never directly take on ‘the powers that be,’ the corporate publishers; so they will never confront the big issues.
What do you expect but apparatchiks? I don’t think there is any sinister conspiracy here. It is simply what happens when you rely on nominated administrators and have no democracy. That is the situation we are in today.
The point was brought home to me later in the week when the summer issue of the Author arrived on my breakfast table. I was quite shocked at the way the apparatchiks had so blatantly taken over the magazine. Here we are in the midst of an election and yet there is virtually no mention of it in the official organ of the SOA!
This summer issue shows the emptiness of Tom’s claim that the ‘system is entirely open and transparent.’ In the first place, it is the very opposite of open. Nobody, who did not know that an election was in course, could guess that an election is going on. True, if you are living in Britain, ballot papers are included. But not if you are in France, or anywhere else in the world. Shouldn’t there anyway be a mention of this ’open’ election in the main body of the magazine, like on page 1? Sorry, the SOA is not being open!
Secondly, it is hardly transparent, either in the way this election is being run, or, over the longer term, in the secret manner in which policy is eventually executed. Whatever happens in this election, the majority of the Management Committee will still consist of nominated members, who have told us nothing.
Doesn’t any one of these nominated people have an idea in their heads? They are all writers. Surely — at some moment ’twixt midnight and dawn in a witching time of light slumber — some thought emerges about what eventually happens to just their writings? Well, as members of an executive committee, they have a duty to say to the rest of us authors what those thoughts are. Or do they, like apparatchiks, sit passively under the orders of some higher authority? If this be the case, we have, as members, a right to know who this is and how these orders are made. Whatever, all this is the very opposite of transparency!
‘Far from this being some sinister shuffling of apparatchiks around a Politburo, the names of those nominated are posted in the Author, together with an invitation to other members to apply.’ Have you ever found those postings?
Effectively, if you look at last spring’s issue of the Author you will find, on page 34 out of 36 pages, a ‘Noticeboard’, in which the first item is ‘The Society’. There is no mention of the word ‘election’, either in the headings or anywhere else. But this is where the famous announcement is made of the four new nominees. On what basis are these nominations made? Nothing is said. Are minutes kept of the meetings? If they are, they are not made public. So there we are, the nominees are posted at the back of the magazine, where nobody will notice them. And that is all we get.
And, of course, there is the invitation to members to present an application, in which case we are promised a ‘ballot’, not an election... Hold your breath, and let’s hope nobody presents himself!
But this time somebody did. And that was yours truly.
In the April issue, the four nominees are listed by name and biographical pedigree. I supposed you are supposed to think that these people are so good that an ordinary member couldn’t possible compete. Let them dare!
Well, I’m sorry, this sort of thing doesn’t impress me in the slightest, nor should I imagine it impresses many members. One good book is worth eighty bad ones, and I’ve no idea what most of these books are about. I do know the books that are getting published these days are not very good.
What members want to know is what are the nominees going to do on the Committee? What is their attitude before the current publishing crisis? What is their programme?
As an outside candidate I was allowed 75 words for a Profile. I turned to one of the active members of SOAF, who is also a very accomplished journalist, who knows how to précis, to write this. I did not compose it myself, which, as it turned out, was an important point. At SOAF, we discussed my possible candidature over a couple of ‘First Tuesdays’ — as SOAF’s monthly meetings are known. There were also a number of emails that passed between us. That was also an important point: the decision to run was a collective decision.
The text of the profile appears on the front page of this Electoral Section of my website. It is also reproduced on the ballot sheet. I kept all electoral statements away from SOAF’s website for reasons that I have explained.
The general idea of the profile was to minimize professional qualifications — though I certainly have them — and maximize intention and programme, which I would then follow up with a series of articles appearing on this website. They are in the process of being written. Anybody going to my website thus has a clear idea of what I, and many members of SOAF, stand for. Surely, that is what members of the Society expect of a genuine, open candidature.
Then comes this summer’s ‘Noticeboard’, less than a month before the ballots are due (20 July). As in spring, there is no mention of an election. The four official nominees are again listed, this time without bibliographies. Then, in the second paragraph, there is the first, and presumably last, mention of me in the Author’s very brief account of this whole campaign.
I must say, I have been receiving calls and emails from people outraged.
The anonymous person who wrote this ‘Noticeboard’ obviously does not feel too comfortable about my candidature. He or she completely turns round the sense of my Profile by making me sound like an embittered writer sitting in a garret trying to advance his amateurish scribblings. As ‘Noticeboard’ sees it: ‘Gregor Dallas, who describes himself as “a well-know historian whose work, as with the other four candidates, speaks for itself.”
Now isn’t that clever? The implication is, obviously, that he is not a well-known historian and his work does not speak for itself. I do not think my colleague at SOAF did a bad job on that Profile, given the stingy amount of space made available. The problem is in the malice of ‘Noticeboard’.
There is no way one can describe this system as ‘entirely open and transparent’. When an independent candidate presents himself he is given 75 words for a profile and then just mentioned once, less than a month before the ballots are due.
I have presented an entire programme and policy in these essays, but the chances are nobody will read them because the website is only mentioned on the ballot, by which time the members have probably decided on who they will vote for.
Nowhere is it mentioned that I am, and have been since 2006, Chairman of the Society of Authors, France. That gives me experience — and an understanding of problems — that I do not think the nominated candidates have. The omission also shows a terrible contempt for the regional groups of members.
Is this deliberate? ‘Noticeboard’ does not show much consideration, or understanding of what is going on. I doubt that there is a general conspiracy to keep members sidelined from the main issues at play. But that is no doubt what is happening. No doubt, the authors are partly to blame; they work usually at home and their main concern is their writing.
I do ask myself why am I the only independent candidate to present myself, the only independent candidate for many years at least. I would be delighted if there were more.
Authors have to speak up more, behave more collectively, and especially use those regional groupings to make their voices heard. Otherwise all that will be left are the apparatchiks at the centre, who will kowtow to the powers that be when times get bad.
‘Will’? That is the situation we face right now.