Sunday, 18 November 2012

Infernal Coalition: Disbelief

Wednesday 13 January 2010

“Thank you all for attending this evening’s meeting. Before I explain the procedure that we will be following tonight, can I again confirm that the copies of the candidates’ CVs that you will have found on your chairs will be collected in, once the entire session is over.” 

By the time Alex made it to the meeting, most of the other committee members had already arrived, and it was clearly too late for him to stand any chance of a private word with Nicholson before the formal business began. The civic hall assembly room was not quite up to hosting the full gathering of the executive committee in any degree of comfort, and he could do little more than find a spare seat and bide his time. Nicholson was soon on his feet and clearly basking in his role in the spotlight.

“Once again, Marcus Haines from CCHQ is in attendance. The candidates are waiting in the clerk’s office, and they will each be called in turn to make a short presentation for no more than ten minutes, and then answer questions from the floor, again for no more than ten minutes. When they have all finished, we will have a discussion amongst ourselves, and decide who should be invited to address the membership next week. We are of course obliged to invite at least two of the candidates, and may invite all of them if we so wish.”

While Nicholson was explaining the process, Alex had done an initial speed reading exercise on the CVs with a growing sense of disbelief. Even allowing for his prior research online, it was surely going to be a near impossible task for the executive committee members to study the candidates’ written credentials in any detail, weigh them up, listen to what they each had to say for themselves and think of any pertinent questions, all in a time slot of twenty minutes per candidate, and then draw any meaningful conclusions.

Had he been recruiting even the lowliest paralegal or trainee for his firm, he thought, let alone making a high profile lateral hire, this would have called for a major investment of time and thought, so as not to risk selecting the wrong person and being left to nurse the consequences of a costly mistake. And yet this is how we are being asked to deal with the choice of a potential member of a legislative assembly, for what could be a well cushioned job for life, with powers to tax and regulate those who put the representative there? A choice that the members might never be able to review if the seat remained safe?

“The running order will be Alexandra Holt, Adrian Swan, Olwen Williams, Martin Darby, and finally Janine Kendall. I must explain that earlier today I was contacted by Howard Bailey, who informed me that he had been put through to the final round in Bristol South West, where he will be in competition with one other candidate, and he had therefore decided to withdraw from our own process. I will now invite Alexandra Holt…”

Alex was almost overwhelmed by astonishment. A last minute drop out – and they had still not given Susie the lifeline that was surely hers as of right? What on earth was going on? He raised his hand and would have interrupted Nicholson in mid flow, had he not been beaten to it.

“Mr Chairman, on a point of order.” It was Karen Rutherford, a keen local councillor who was probably twenty years younger than the average age of the executive committee membership, and who was gaining a reputation in the constituency for her fearless enthusiasm on local and national issues. She rose to her feet and raised her voice. “The list of successful applicants stated that Susie Harris was a reserve. This is, of course, Professor Susie Harris, the wife of our Deputy Chairman Political, Alex Harris. May I ask why she has not been invited to this meeting in place of Mr Bailey?”

Alex could barely hide his admiration for the force of the intervention, knowing that the questioner would only have been able to formulate it within moments after hearing the unexpected announcement. He gave Nicholson a piercing stare, awaiting an explanation. But Nicholson was oblivious to this as he nodded to Haines, who cleared his throat and waited for near silence to return.

“Mr Chairman, and members, the association rules make it clear that the extending of an invitation to a reserve in circumstances of this nature is discretionary, not mandatory. He or she has no automatic right to be fully shortlisted if a chosen candidate withdraws from the process.”

“Who exercised the discretion, then?” Rutherford was clearly not minded to give up easily. As Nicholson raised both hands and tried to wave her back into her seat, making it plain that he wanted closure, Haines pressed on in blissful ignorance of the gesture.

“I am informed that the selection sub-committee met earlier today and exercised their discretion against fully shortlisting Ms Harris, after a casting vote.”

“A casting vote?” Alex could contain himself no longer. He stood up, locked eyes with Nicholson and waited for an answer. So they had been deadlocked? And the chairman himself had put the knife in? “Would you mind explaining why?”

“The subject is closed.” Nicholson struck the table with a nearby water jug as if to distract attention from his pompous turn of phrase, having visibly reddened. “I’ll speak to you afterwards if you wish, Alex, but we must move on. Time is short.”

It was obvious to Alex that there was no point in protesting any further. The door had clearly banged shut on Susie’s short lived political career for once and for all, without any chance of it being reopened again after it had briefly come ajar. Alex gave Nicholson one final baleful glare before sitting down and turning to the first page in the stapled set of candidates’ CVs, as the first aspiring successor to Sir Walter Hough MP made her entrance.....
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To follow: Amazement - and Retaliation.