Steve asks who will represent us; Kevin wonders if there’s enough money to go around
I’ve never met Vaughan Welch, candidate for one of the four places up for grabs as boaters’ representative in the elections for the council of the Canal & River Trust. Neither, despite my efforts, have I ever spoken to him. He’s a man of long and distinguished service to the IWA, chair of its Restoration Committee, member of its Navigation Committee and a host of other committees.
He does, however, have some bizarre ideas, especially regarding liveaboards. He once said, without any evidence, that less than 180 of the 4,500 boats that continuously cruise the waterways actually comply with the terms of the British Waterways 1995 Act requiring them to move every 14 days.
Indeed, a few years back he encouraged IWA members to report boaters who they thought were bending the rules. Or maybe he didn’t say that. He later explained that a personal crisis had precipitated a ‘misunderstanding’ so that when he said ‘I would encourage you to report, with substantiating evidence if you have it, to CRT all those that are obviously bending the rules’ he didn’t mean that at all. What he really meant, was that he loved all boaters and that fairies lived at the bottom of his garden. One way or another his position was so extreme that the IWA had to distance itself from him.
He got elected to the CRT council as an IWA trustee in the ‘hijacked’ elections of 2012 during which the IWA used its clout to ensure that boaters’ representatives all came from within its own ranks. After the furore this caused among non-IWA boaters who felt themselves disenfranchised by this neat bit of political gerrymandering, the IWA negotiated with CRT to prevent the same thing ever happening again.
The conclusion was an agreement between the two that in return for a permanent seat on the council, the IWA would ensure that its trustees would never again stand as boaters’ representatives.
Imagine, then, my surprise to see Vaughan Welch’s name among those standing for CRT council... this time as a boaters’ representative. A brief glance at the IWA website confirmed that he’d resigned as a trustee – or maybe his allotted duration as a trustee had expired. One way or another he was free to stand – a decision which, while not against the letter of the IWA’s agreement with CRT, is bang against the spirit of it.
I was sure he would have a satisfactory explanation for his behaviour which discredits both him, the IWA and CRT. So I called him. Well, I would have – except I hadn’t got his number. So instead I called IWA boss Les Etheridge who didn’t want to give me the number until Vaughan Welch gave him permission.
Under normal circumstances this may be a reasonable strategy. In offices, for instance. In shops and places of work. But Vaughan Welch is a boaters’ representative on C&RT Council, a man charged with representing boaters’ views – MY views. A man moreover seeking to extend his mandate who you’d have thought would have welcomed the chance to talk publicly about some important issues of his candidature.
Extraordinarily, an embarrassed Les Etheridge had to report to me that, no, this boaters’ representative DIDN’T want his number given out to a boater, even one who was a journalist, too. Instead Vaughan undertook to ring me, even though as any continuous cruiser could tell him, the nomadic nature of our lives is not conducive to reliable communication.
However, true to his word, he DID call. Except of course the inevitable happened. I was on the tiller where I couldn’t hear the phone. Or in a communications black hole where I was unable to receive a signal. I came back to discover a long and totally inaudible answerphone message. When I did a call back on the number it had been blocked.
Now, there’s been a lot of criticism in the waterways press and on newsgroups about the performance of boaters’ representatives on the council this last few years. They have been accused of treating the job as a sinecure, or being a set of nodding yes-men for boater-unfriendly CRT policies. With an election pending, I wouldn’t have the temerity to suggest who you vote for, or indeed whether you vote at all.
It might be worth considering though how you’d ever get in touch with your representatives if ever you wanted them to represent you.
‘There’s been a lot of criticism about the performance of boaters’ representatives on the council this last few years’
The question is, will someone be at the end of the phone for boaters?