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Central Council Membership – An Alternative View

The report of the working group on the Central Council membership was published in The Ringing World (p.669) to stimulate debate in the exercise. If changes are to be made, (and many think they should be), then it is important that the changes should be the right ones. Just as important is that they be seen to be right, and that is why the debate should be open and wide reaching.

The working group report reaches a set of conclusions, which is more than many bar room discussions on the subject do. Many, including me, would be unhappy if that particular set of recommendations came out on top at the end of the debate. I therefore offer a different point of view as another contribution.

As with so many complex arguments, people come to different conclusions not because their reasoning is better or worse, but mainly because they start from different underlying premises or beliefs. This is not always apparent as they are often either not stated, stated selectively of stated using words whose meaning is open to interpretation.

I will start by discussing what I believe are the two prime issues: representation and work, ie. how the Council gets its members and how it uses them.


There are two ways to view representation. Either we can think of it as a form of mass proxy vote, or we can think of it as a means of drawing on the widest range of experiences and ideas in the Exercise.

Most ordinary ringers do not care whether they count for one 75th or one 500th of a CC vote. If they did, then CC representatives would see and hear far more from them. (Many probably do not care about the CC at all, and we ought to pay heed to the fact too).

Within each Guild, or part of a Guild if it is a large one, there will be different clusters of opinion, shaped by common experiences and shared problems. Ideally the Council would sample each such pocket of opinion. It would then have a set of individual members which most represents the Exercise as a whole. (In practice, it would not be a perfect sample, since it would contain none of the ringers who take no part in their Guild activities and it would still be restricted to those prepared to give up time and to travel to meetings in the service of the Exercise).

Council Work

The Council matters because of what it can do, and if we look at the contribution the Council makes to the Exercise, it is predominantly through the work of its committees. They and the officers do almost all of the work. There is an undoubted benefit to members in coming together and meeting colleagues with different perspectives on ringing, but that alone would not be enough. For the Council to function effectively, it must have a good supply of people with the right combination of talents, experience and drive to do the work of its committees.

The main body of the Council fullfis a less dramatic, but very important role. It acts as a sounding board for ideas and ultimately as a regulator of the committees. If the committees are the enthusiasts and the experts, then the Council as a whole must act as the voice of common sense and practicality. Its members must be the link to what the Exercise really wants, (or perhaps conversely, what it will tolerate). Of course, the whole Council also elects the committees and influences them in that way too.

The Ideal Representation

From this there appear to emerge four requirements for the representation system. It should ensure that:

The first two are inward looking, purely directed to getting a mix of people able to do the job. The last two are outward looking, directed to ensuring that the Council earns respect and can therefore be a more effective force within the Exercise.

Acceptability could mean many things. It could mean equal number of ringers per CC member, but that is unachievable and a more realistic target would be that each ringer felt he or she was represented by someone sharing similar concerns.

The general perception of the Council is a difficult thing to pin down. It is clear that many consider its deliberations arcane and irrelevant. It certainly does its image no good when it takes seemingly irrational decisions. The Council must strive to become more the voice of ringers as a whole, and not just the privileged, specialised few.

Multiple Representation

The tower where I learnt to ring was within the territory of two different associations. We saw this as completely normal and ‘a good thing’. It meant that we developed a close affinity with two different groups of ringers. This overlap of boundaries seems far preferable for towers who happen to be on the edge of their Guild’s territory. In our case, the two had quite different styles and we were proud to be in both. We would have found it odious to be forced to choose to which Society we ‘really belonged’, (as the proposals of the working group would have had us do).

To Be or Not To Be Territorial

The working group report, wisely dropped the term. There is not a clear boundary between those who define their existence in terms of geography and those who do not. There are too many grey cases. The working group’s proposal to treat all societies in the same way is laudable, (although they cannot resist making two unsubstantiated exceptions!). The idea of admitting those who are responsible for running the ringing in ten towers is attractive in principle – What could be fairer than judging Societies by how much service ringing they run? – But it is illusory in practice. Very few of the so called territorial societies run service ringing. Most confine themselves to indirect forms of support such as monthly meetings, training sessions and the like. On the other hand, many university Guilds do run service ringing, as do many city societies.

Multiple representation in one or more forms is unavoidable. There are too many exceptions to the tidy set up which would prevent it. I have mentioned towers with an affinity to more than one Society. What about a tower kept alive by regular visitors who have chosen a different affinity from the few local ringers. Does the tower affiliation have to be redirected to conform? (If this happened, we may see much missionary zeal from societies on the fringe of meeting their quota, fighting to avoid relegation!). What about societies whose members are geographically scattered but who still have a close affinity? Are they to be denied representation? The vast majority of the ASCY members are not service ringers at London City Churches, but it would be hard to deny that there was an affinity between them.

It is difficult to see how any scheme that tried to remove overlaps could fail to provoke many arguments. The resulting bitterness and acrimony would all be to the detriment of the Council’s reputation.

So if we cannot nd a workable rule to keep some Societies out, what should we do? – Let them in! If they are bona de organisations, willing to subscribe to the CC rules, their membership can only serve to enrich the Council’s source of experience and ideas.

How Many are ‘Deserved ’?

The present rules start at one representative for 75 ringers and go up in stages to four for 450 upwards. (The largest society, the ODG., has 2,200 members). The working group’s proposal to extend the scale up to seven representatives for societies with over 2,000 members looks ‘fairer’ on the face of it, but is it really necessary? Do the members of the ODG feel under-represented in the Council with only four representatives? I suspect that they do not, and certainly far less so than the members of a Guild ejected from affiliation by a rule change.

In principle, the sort of representation discussed above could be achieved with a much flatter allocation of one or two members each. That would probably be swinging the pendulum a little too far the other way and some variation with size is sensible. A small Guild may h=ave difficulty finding more than one.

More significantly, the principle of representing different clusters of opinion would suggest that more than one be elected from large Guilds who cover a diverse area, perhaps rural and sparse at one end and densely urban at the other. (Having several members would not guarantee this, of course, since they may still elect all their members with a similar background).

How Many are Needed ?

We noted that the Council does most of its work through its committees, and that it therefore needs to ensure an adequate ow of talent into them. Should the Council be denied the services of people who have proved their worth, just because the Societies who elected them now choose to elect someone else? Should Guilds feel obliged to continue to elect a representative to allow him or her to continue to serve on a CC committee? If a respected committee chairman moves into a new area, should a seat be made available at the expense of other potential candidates?

These questions all revolve around the balance between electing Council members for their specialist skills or purely as a link between the Guild members and the Council. As we have seen, both are important to the Council, but perhaps both should not be equally important to individual societies.

Both the current arrangement and that proposed by the working group provide only one way to get people to meet these two separate needs, for the Council body and for the specialist committees. The first of these is well matched to the supply, but the second is not.

This is not completely true, since the Council can elect Honorary members. Their numbers are limited and there are no specific links to any particular role. By extending the principle so that the Council could directly elect people with a proven track record to serve on its specialist committees, the Council could better ensure that its essential work was done, whilst retaining, and probably strengthening, the role of the elected representative as one who chiefly acts as a bridge between the Council and the ordinary ringer.

It may still be appropriate to retain the category of honorary member for special cases. There would need to be fewer of these, since the ranks would not be swelled by committee chairmen and the like.

The Numbers Game

The number of members in the Council is clearly a factor to consider. We would not necessarily want a change that led to the Council halving or doubling in size, (would we?), but the numbers can be tuned by adjusting the thresholds.

Well over half the current Council members are elected by thirty or so societies with four members. About ten percent come from some twenty societies electing one member each. About fifteen per cent come from the handful of societies in the middle slots with two or three representatives. Some ten percent are honorary members.

The Council has about fourteen committees, (depending on whether you count the administrative committee and the Board of The Ringing World ), and between them they account for eighty to ninety people. Only about ten people sit on more than one committee.

If we assume that the Council should retain its present size, and if half the committee members were elected directly by Council, then allowing for fewer honorary members, we would need thirty fewer elected representatives. This is roughly the number of societies who return four members, ie. the balance could be made if they returned three instead. Clearly there are many permutations. Perhaps the very large societies should have more than three. On the other hand, perhaps more societies should have more than one.

Recommended Changes

The working group made a set of recommendations that supported their assumptions about the needed changes. I am sure many will snipe at them. To broaden the target a bit, I offer another set of rules which support the aims I have declared. Doubtless they too will receive some re. In fact, even if the principles are established, and anyway I do not have access to all the figures to play the numbers game. The numbers below are essentially an inspired guess.

In summary:

John Harrison

Published in The Ringing World 9 August 1991 p775 

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