We have already discussed (see below) the ‘revision’ of history that our star-crossed lovers are convinced they can get away with. Everyone we spoke with, regardless of where they stood on other issues, agreed that one belief is shared by Vernon The Charismatic and Robbin’ The Affectionate: that everyone they are forced to deal with is of inferior intelligence to themselves, slow as a retired Clydesdale, gullible enough to buy shares in the Bermuda Triangle Crystal Energy Company, thick as slug soup. Untermensch. Especially the party’s members.
So if they say to those selfsame dopey members - s l o w l y , as their 15-watt brains don't rip along like our heroes' - that “People Power would have held the balance of power in the new Victorian government were it not for the screwups idleness and wicked thickheadedness of others”, then of course, the party faithful will believe them. Of this they are firmly convinced. The Way, the Truth and the Light are only as revealed by St Vernon Bruce, patron saint of foot-shooting (and adoring disciple Robbin’) – and then only as revealed in the last email (all previous Revealed Truths being superseded).
[Interesting side-note #4: It goes like this: we live in the Age of the Email; emails are quickly and easily sent; once sent emails cannot be retrieved; emails sent will be received & read by the recipient; emails can be forwarded & reforwarded; emails do not self-destruct in puffs of blue smoke; emails can lie dormant like herpes for .. a very long time; emails can return to haunt the sender. Now all that might sound self-evident, but it is gobsmackingly jawdroppingly stupefactious how often even the Wise forget those innocuous little facts, when they petulantly hit the 'Send' button. So, if Vernon had sent everyone an email last 27 May saying, Wasn't that a bonzer 49th birthday pissup at Chez Highground last night? but then, a few months later, sends another, saying, I worn’t born on 26 May 1957 I wuz born on 25 December 1974, are the recipients of that last email just going to say “Aw gee, I musta imagined that hangover, I’ll just adjust my birthday card list”? According to them, yes, that's exackly how it is. But we think not all of the members are quite as dimwitted as our generous-spirited heroes seem to believe, because if what is later said appears to contradict something said earlier, then some missing-link member too wilfully meanspirited and frivolous to acknowledge Vern’s godgiven right to adjust his story is, sooner or later, going to ask An Awkward Question. Sooner or later. More on these email landmines later, and their habit of going Pop! underfoot, months after being written.]
So here we all are, after struggling up the stairs to this airless upper-storey room and hearing out the introduction, but some silly members are still asking questions like, Hey, what happened to the refreshments? (You remember, from the Notice Of AGM, that line, “Please RSVP for catering purposes”?), as many members never bothered with the delicacies downstairs - they had understood their revered President would be serving lamingtons and Tiny Tips.
We wonder what other little surprises our intrepid organizers have in store. The promise of catering which never eventuates, for instance, could be regarded as a little unwise, as most members aren't in a terribly receptive mood, you couldn't call them exactly gruntled, as they unfairly blame Uncle Vern for their parched throats. But we are confident that a Compelling Reason will be wheeled out before too long, and the catering-free status of the room convincingly explained away, and little cartoon lightbulbs go on over the heads of his members. After all, Vernon Bruce and Rob’n wrote the book on Unpalatable Truths And How To Run Faster. Nobody does it better.
We were not to be disappointed.
But oh, what a piece of work is democracy! All the People Power members who Vernon Bruce, back in November, invited to participate in today’s gala were given the opportunity to attend. Even some of those not-so-cunning Plotters, those lucky or well-connected enough to have the discriminating Notice Of AGM forwarded to them, were thereby enabled to drag their spud-witted carcasses along, and it really did become a test of credibility.
What we are trying to say in our clumsy hamfisted way is, the fact of members’ attendance, and the way they voted for the various motions on the day, turned out to be the truest test you could devize of Vernon’s standing in the Party. Consider:
Ø The invitation went to those he wanted to invite, plus a few he probably did not want there (but invited so the sake of Fairness and Balance)
Ø Thus, the attendees on the day were, if anything, always going to be in favour of him and his friends and allies
Ø Likewise, the only widely distributed appeals for proxies came from Vernon and Robbyn’ (they being the only candidates for board positions who had the membership list), so the proxies used in the voting were also always going to be in his favour, or in his friend's and ally's favour (we had a recount and only got to one)
Ø Thus the voting on all motions on the day was in his favour
Ø Thus even allowing for the ‘herd mentality’ factor involved in votes using a show of hands, the secret ballot at the end most definitely was a true indicator of what the members thought, but
Ø (like Mae West) we are getting ahead of ourselves.
In fact a certain friend-of-a-friend sent us a list of the names of persons present that day, at our AnGerMeet (hey there, new Board, how about releasing the minutes ?) and we put our heads together to study it this weekend. It yielded an interesting little factoid and some even more interesting inescapable conclusions: of 44 members present, 20 had been candidates on 25 November (a total of 42 candidates actually made it to election day, so this 20 made up almost half the total, and some of those had been part of the game plan for nearly 2 years). These people, therefore:
1. would know the truth or otherwise of many of the statements made, conclusions drawn and faults assigned,
2. surely knew (and esteemed) Verna and Robbin’ better than anyone else,
3. knew the Invisible Malaprop, the other candidates and the Cunning Plotters (whether 4, 6 or 10 in number) better than anyone else,
4. probably represented a fair snapshot of what all 42 candidates (minus the casualties since polling day) thought and felt about all those people and issues,
5. would be casting their votes in person, not by proxy, and probably (being the damnably opinionated individuated lot they are) be very vocal about it.
In our last instalment the pow-wow had only just begun, Vern had handed out, and had accepted, the uncontroversial one-page minutes of the last AGM, and 50 pairs of feet and innumerable shame-files were shuffled as co-founder (soon to be sole founder!) Vernon handed out his next opus, the innocuous-sounding President’s Report.
Do not be fooled! Complacency is the enemy! Beneath the surface of this vanilla-flavoured title, 'President's Report', lurked a cutting, give-no-quarter rage, just as beneath Vern’s guineapiglike features crouched a Man Of Steel, with canines sharpened and vengeance in his manly heart!
As that insight roared noisily through the frontal lobes of us slow learners in the audience that day, others present, more accustomed to his winning ways, smiled as if they knew what was coming next, and started to read his Report. And Vernon started to talk, in the process having yet another crack at rewriting the Authorized Version of the Party History – because that was what his “President’s Report” turned out to be.
It got off to a cracking start: “People Power was formed in 2000 by Vern Highground with the support of Stephen Malaprop.” Shucks, bit different to what the website said a few months ago: “People Power was formed in 2000 by Vern Highground and Stephen Malaprop. “With the support of” is a rather less ..generous way of putting it, but who are we to defend the reputation of the absent member? He then goes on: “the challenge of breaking into the political conversation in our country seemed too overwhelming.” So Vern The Perseverant gave up for a while, Stephen Malaprop started Crikey! and busied himself with trivialities like supporting a family (no such diversions for the saintly Vernon), until, “in March 2004, Vern Highground began exploring the possibility of representing the disability, etc communities.” The website adds: “Following a review process lasting two years, involving extensive consultation and reflection, People Power activity was re-established in 2004 around a refined sense of mission.”
What do these ringing phrases tell us? The message is a simple one (even for the less-than-stellar intellects of People Power members), namely, that Our Vern was single-handedly responsible for the party’s engagement with the disability sector, that he has taken Ronnie Reagan’s mantle as The Great Communicator (“extensive consultation”) and that the Mission was really religious in its nature, complete with its own 40 days in the wilderness (“reflection” and “refined sense of mission”). Mother Theresa could learn a thing or three sitting at the feet of our guru, we should hire him out as a motivational speaker.
We don’t begin to understand why people get upset about those who rewrite their own life stories. Personally we think it's very smart move, good for the economy, for regular bowels, for psychological health – and think of the employment it brings! Not just those directly employed, publishers, wastepaperbasket inventors and graffitti cleaners; there are those indirectly supported by income from the sale of cleaning materials, from delivering therapy to the bed-bound confused, photo-retouching software designers, porta-loo technicians.
And its got to be a blessing when you think about all the feel-good potential that changing your own story can generate. Are you a parent stricken with guilt over neglecting your child? Just tell the ungrateful little carpet-grazer about the time she made you a Mother’s Day card saying, “To the world’s best Mum”, then remind her of the time you donated one of your lungs, both legs and your nose just to pay for her birthday party – no, really, try it - if they squeal then it just proves how much you’re being taken for granted, make them feel guilty about that.
I bet Kim Jong-Il has a whole army of revisionists working on the school history textbooks which tell all the little Kims how North Korea first conquered, then brought peace and prosperity to an underserving world. If some ingrate citizen complains that his family is so hungry they want to eat the neighbour’s children, all you need tell them is that, before this Korean generation, there wasn’t any such thing as ‘children’, that ‘kids’ were the invention of brilliant Korean scientists in white coats who made it their mission to develop tasty, nourishing new meals for a starving world (“you can even grow your own at home”), and point out how much worse off other countries are (“in Australia the lottery's first prize is a concrete sandwich”.)
As most of our dear readers know what St Vernon and his loyal disciple have said since, we won’t bore you with all the other details Our Vern quietly changes along the way – they are unimportant details (though never to our saintly Vernon!) but perhaps we can give a flavour of the whole by summarizing the reasons – and especially the people - given for the party’s failures, as documented in the Gospel according to St Vernon.
Ø In the Werriwa by-election (March 2005) “preferences & campaign financing were divisive issues” (…sounds vaguely familiar..), but these only became a problem “when the candidate (Deb Locke) expected the Board to meet the expense” (ungrateful woman, what did she expect, support? And look at what they did give her: the bed in her spare room got a thorough workout when they stayed with her, they relieved her of the awful burden of looking after her NSW membership register, etc)
Ø When Vern's board ran with a preference arrangement that was later to cause problems it was because it had acted on “advice from campaign manager, Nell Brown.” (we were too trusting, we listened to bad advice, but that's kinda guys we are)
Ø When the candidate and a Board member called Bill Hackett arked up about various irregularities the Board felt they had to expel him (..sounds vaguely familiar..)
Ø These same Dark Forces then snapped at the heels of our transparent and accountable Board, impeding the party’s progress by lodging objections to registration “on every possible ground”, including “technicalities about membership” (..sounds vaguely..)
Ø By 2005 all the energies of the party were directed at the Vic state election, but that effort was sabotaged by the perfidious laziness of the party’s own upper house candidates! To Vernon Bruce that “came as a shock” (he was too busy "representing communities" to notice every little detail, like whether seats had candidates)
Ø August 2006 saw St Vernon demanding that the board give Robbin' the flick, but they declined to act, which allowed Robbin’s “problematic decision-making style” to create further mayhem (what is wrong with these people?)
Ø By the time they did act it was too late, and her behaviour, combined with their inaction, “paralyzed the campaign” (sounds like a classic "conspiracy of inaction" to us)
Ø Then “came a further shock”! The dastardly Malaprop announced he was pulling out of the campaign, and “publicly identified ‘internal turmoil’ in the process”. (Yes, you can read it in Crikey, and here, where he says his motive is the fact of his own membership preventing the party from getting good press – but he does devote half a line to, “there were tensions, but..”). hy couldn't he learn from Vernon's media expertise, newbie like him, why mention 'tensions' at all?
Ø These last 2 factors together “led Vern Highground to withdraw from the campaign on November 20”. Faithful Vernon, sticking by his fellow-members until ‘led’ to withdraw, and its not as if he pulled out at a critical stage, is it? After all, there were 5 full days to go! Bags of time to rebuild the campaign for his seat! It's not as if other candidates had problems, is it?
We think you should go back and read all the above again. No, we mean you really should read it again. The prophet amazes us with his foresight, humbles us with his sharing of the credit for the ensuing failures; he continues in this vein for hundreds of words, rarely blaming the same person twice, but somehow managing to be so inclusive that we wonder he didn't work in the fact that George Dubya and John Howard were conspiring to place further impediments in our hero's path. And he does it all without once implicating himself, but emerges in fact smelling sweeter than Scents Of The Forest bowl-cleaner.
To summarize: Once a less-than-stellar result seemed likely in the days before 25 November, St Vernon (on 20 November) washed his hands of it all - immediately he became aware of the treachery of others, the attacks by ex-members and ex-candidates, the bone-idleness of upper-house candidates, and Stephen Malaprop’s Cunning Plot as evidenced by his persistent attempts at “killing the party’s respectability”
[Interesting side-note #5: VBH and RMA are nothing if not ..generous.. with their communications, and not just about each other.. but especially where talking with other political parties. There is the matter of Vernon voting DLP on 25 November ahead of his own candidates! (Don't forget to send the emails, J and H!) Evidence of a beautiful spirit of sharing, of a desire for partnership of like-minded souls, surely? Even in the President’s Report Vernon takes 2 paragraphs to tell readers what jolly good sports those DLP people are: “there is a strong commonality in DLP core philosophy with People Power”. Then there is the generous idealism of Robin “I’ll latte with anyone” Amways, who was spotted sipping coffee and sharing printed emails in a certain inner-urban coffee shop with a prominent member (or ex-member) of the ALP, our very own Andy Landy! (Hi Andy! Remember me, big boy?). We just know that this doesn’t show disloyalty, as some unkind party members have claimed, but rather a touching belief in the one-ness of humankind, and the why-can’t-we-all-work-together school of political ethics and reciprocal empowerment.]
Meanwhile, back at the AnGenMeet, members continued to arrive, note-to-the-teacher late, throughout the course of the first half-hour: two middle-aged men came stomping in as Vernon began his masterpiece, an Irish ex-Democrat who was greeted as Brian (who Marsha says ran a close-fought campaign, wonder they didn’t have him put down), arriving with a certain Gordon (not a nice person, Robbin says, we're warming to him already), who looked like a scowling Keith Richard on a bad morning-after; they were followed soon after by another (this time younger & nicer-looking) ex-candidate, Strato, who looked like he had wandered into a timeshare presentation by mistake, and kept checking first his watch, then the exit, and bolted for the second before the excitement was even half over.
It would take all day for a full exegesis of the amazing President’s Report, with its verbal gymnastics in the cause of self-absolution and a typically Vernlike generosity in its equal sharing of the blame – so generous, in fact, that he didn’t even keep any of it for himself, but open-handedly gave it all away to everyone else.
[Interesting side-note #6: We just heard that Vern’s gym membership had lapsed. He doesn’t need it any more, d’y’ see, he’s keeping very fit these days, with all those Olympic-standard sports he does so well, like jumping to conclusions, throwing mud, running people down, shooting off at the mouth, casting aspersions, tossing off and hurling abuse. Time to get out of the house, perhaps – maybe a bit of water-sport, practise your breast-stroke with a close personal friend?]
But we seem to have lost our thread, and our intention to tell the AnGerMeet like it was, sorry dear readers, but the fact is we did not get to read all of the President’s Report on that day – the fireworks from the floor interfered. Speaking just for our corner of the room, Marsha and us would have loved to hear all 4 pages of the Report ..we do love a good story. But alas! We were to get no further than the top of page 3.
We’re a little confused about the order of the interjections, contradictions and objections that greeted Vernon’s masterpiece of Fair And Balanced Reportage, so will just have to set them down as we remember them. Suffice to say that every time Vernon tried to continue, Marsha (who as we said can be a wee bit catty) was singing under her breath, Tiny Tim-fashion, “Tip-toe through the landmines..”. As usual, she was right, in her coarse way, for every time Vernon trod on another topic it went, Bang! underfoot, and he lost yet another friend or ally. Even Karon-oh, the businesslike minute-taker who Marsha thought looked like Judge Judy (but she swore Vern was looking very warmly at her, another conquest in view?), bridled when she was named and shamed as having recruited no candidates, and pointed out very firmly that she had recruited three.
[Interesting side-note #7: it seems our Vernon really does manfully stick to his guns, all the way, without faltering, even ..until challenged. When the tough-looking bird taking the minutes objected and showed no sign of budging, Vern The Bold made some muttering noises which no-one in the audience could overhear and they moved on. Sure enough, when next we saw the Gospel of St Vernon, online, the next day, her number had been changed to a ‘3’.]
“See”, hisses Marsha, “he’s sensitive to peoples’ feelings, he really is in touch with his feminine side”.
So our Bearded Lady ploughed on with the Report.. “Hang on!”, bellows Marsha in my ear (we just cannot wean her off the habit of sitting on our shoulder reading our stuff on the screen), “Who’s this Bearded Lady?”
Sigh… Marsha can be so slow at times. We agree with her about Vernon being in touch with his feminine side, but we would give it a slightly different slant, you see, because though Marsha thinks it’s all just wonderful, we think that when Little Vernie got snipped (yes, true, he is! A close personal friend of his told all our friends!), the surgeon’s knife slipped, and – well, let’s just say he was a changed boy, after that.
Cruel? We deny that, categorically, we’re just helping him "out" himself. He/she likes impersonating women. Don’t believe us? Have a little look-see at these emails, one from ‘Libby’ (together with close personal friend Robyn’s identification of the real writer), the second from ‘Liz Stewart’, which talks about Vern in a 3rd-person voice. But the plot goes all custardy at that point, because both times he uses those female aliases he is later ‘outed’, and thereafter (but - silly boy - forgetting to change the ‘From’ line) actually signs off as ..Vern.
But if you look at the 2nd email you will see that it just says, From: Liz Stewart, To: sep01@dodo. So, we hear you say, proves nothing. But some of the lower candlepower intellects in our story think that if you Blind CC people you also have to put something in the ordinary ‘To’ line (you don’t have to do that at all, at all). But Windows has these ridgi-didge yellow label thingies that pop up when you hover the mouse over a link ..or an email address. If you hover over the ‘Liz Stewart’ a little yellow label thingie pops up saying, ‘mailto:sep01@dodo’. Well, shut ma mouth wide open! Verna (we think that is more appropriate now he is outed) is writing to herself, but wants to be known as ‘Liz Stewart’. Well, if that's what he/she wants, we'll call her…Liz.
Or we could call her ‘sep01’. Another alias, this time, and we are just guessing of course, the ‘sep’ stands for ‘Social Enterprise Partnerships’ – does that sound familiar? Yes indeedie, so it should, if you have been a donor to People Power some time in the last two years you will know that acronym, because Verna and Robin’ asked us donating members to make cheques payable to, yes, you got it in one: SEP. Not that we are claiming anything not-quite-kosher, of course, perish the thought, and we are sure they have paid every cent into People Power’s bulging coffers.
To return to the Gospel of St Verna. Poor dear little chappie must have put so many hours into its composition, we feel bad about people casting nasturtiums of any kind, especially when it resulted in her only getting through 2 pages. The bottom of page 2 was where the upper-house candidate scoreboard named ‘n’ shamed them (starting with the truly wicked Stephen Malaprop) then, at the start of page 3, Vernon/Liz said that he/she was “forced” to withdraw due to ( & here s/he summarizes the reasons in case the Neanderthals in the party still don’t get it):
o “No campaign structure,
o “lack of early resolve in handling Robyn’s issues,
o “Stephen’s public declaration of ‘internal turmoil’”.
That was to prove the camel that broke the straw man’s back, though, as Marsha’s ‘too sweet’ lady, lawyer, proxy-bearer and Malaprop wife Paula rose to her full height – all six feet of her. But - alas for our persecuted friends - she seemed by now to have mislaid her 'sweetness'.
“I object to this rubbish”, she began in brook-no-bollocks tones, “It defames my husband and totally disregards all the time, energy and money he has contributed to this party – I demand that all mention of him be removed immediately!” You gotta hand it to the dame, not a shrill note in her voice (Marsha says she’s a l.a.w.y.e.r.), and she had timed her objections to perfection, for the murmurings from the floor had by now grown to sound like the Yarraville Kung-fu Tap-dancers Club re-enacting the Battle of the Somme on our corrugated iron garage roof. Things got a little bit confused at that point, and trying to unravel all that was said then would be like putting a Spanish omelette back in its eggshells.
Another member leapt to her feet and demanded that Liz/Vern stop immediately, Karonoh insisted that her ‘score’ be changed, two men at the back called out that they wanted to hear the rest of it, "..to see how many kinds of dickhead he is”, and the surprisingly calm Member For Perth tried in vain to restore order. Marsha was doubled over, her face lobster-red with laughter and tears streaming down her face, and a droopy-eyed Vernon, looking like he'd just been told Santa wasn’t real, twitched his nose behind his whiskers, just like Marsha’s niece’s guinea-pig.
At least three motions were simultaneously moved, withdrawn, amended and re-moved, all at the same time, but after more roaring and finger-pointing Vernon was, it was decided, to be allowed to finish, then a vote taken on whether or not to accept the Report.
Poor little fella, he was doomed not to get all that healthy air-clearing blame-sharing off his chest after all. Two words in and the bulldoglike Mrs Malaprop leapt to her feet again, this time to deliver a real Exocet at the fibrillating heart of our hapless President: “There’s no mention anywhere in this of what has been the main problem for the last 2 years”, she began, clear as a bell, as the voices around her fell silent, “Namely, your affair with Robbin!”
For the briefest of moments all went silent - you could have heard a mozzie fart in Darwin – before bedlam erupted yet again. A solitary voice from the back called, “I don’t want to hear this”, but all the other grunts and roars that came from the floor seemed to agree to the lady's naming of The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.
Vernon wrinkled his nose and shook his head ever so slightly, as if to say, “What a silly person”, whilst lover Robin called out clearly, “That is just ridiculous ..and false ..and defamatory”, her eyes glazed over and her mouth full of perfect white teeth made grinding motions as she cycled through the ‘Indignant Adjectives’ section upstairs, breaking silence every six seconds or so as she thought of more, like, “ ..and untrue”, until she ran out of witticisms.
Well, how true is it? And how relevant? How many fingers am I holding up? Marsha thinks Verna was a victim, and Robbin’ a femme fatale (but we think she stole that handy little term from Vernon herself). Because although we are but insignificant little cogs in the throbbing machine that is People Power, and privy to precious little in the way of secrets – well, let’s just say, remember what we said above, about emails being forwarded and re-forwarded until they reach all kinds of people?
We would now, in keeping with the precedent of sharing set by St Vernon, and ever mindful of the dangers of pointless hens’ gossip, like to share with all our dear readers some little pearls that have been going plop, plop, into our inboxes during the course of the last two years. But where to begin? And as our dear old Professor was so very fond of saying, Where the cluck are you going with this?
So we will confine ourselves to answering just two questions: Was/is there an affair? And, Has the affair-that-wasn't affected the party?
In last week’s instalment we closed with a lover’s tender words into the ear of his beloved:
“You would be right at home in the Middle-East. They’re your kind of people.”
Ohh-kay, we hear, they had a little teensy spat of the professional kind, proves nothing, but let’s delve a little further.
Long before the time Robin Amways, Professional Campaigner, pulled the People Power website off the web (prompting the above), most party members had seen snippets like the following quoted in emails (Health Warning: all men are bastards, the following should not read without adequate Kleenex at hand):
“So why would I say one day I wanted Vern out and the next I wanted you to support him?
Well. Why do you think? He left me, not the other way around. So it hurts like hell, but I still love him.
But… inconclusive, or fantasy, or even forgery? OK, what about the glory days when the party had as its star candidate, Jack Reilly? Why did he leave? Anonymous threats, pressure, he had to move the car, or fed up with lovers’ tiffs? This from lover Vern to a would-be mediator (who we could have warned not to waste his time, if he had asked):
“..thanks for your moderation today. Robyn and I met after you left and made a pact that we will not give you grief over internal matters over the next 11 weeks ... Hold us to it.”
Unlike the gentler lady, Diplomat Vern is careful with his words; if they gave Nobel Prizes for Euphemistic Circumlocution he would have it made, with his talk of, “..internal matters..”. But Vern could be a Hard Man when he had to be (for the good of the party):
“I resign from the campaign committee as of today.
Don't ask me to attend further meetings until you have shown that you are going to rein Robyn in.”
“I have resigned from the campaign committee.
. .Robyn’s way of working is intolerable. She uses threats and blackmail tactics to get what she wants..”
Again, the next day (17 October):
“On Friday I resigned from the campaign committee over Robyn Amways’ unilateral decision making, and her using threats and blackmail..”
Did she take it lying down? Never, not her, she’ll make sure The Nurturing Sex strikes back (sent to around 60 addressees):
“..I am very accustomed to his tantrums..
“Vern can’t handle stress or people disagreeing with him”
“Don’t walk away, Robyn. It would be too awful for everyone..”
[Interesting side-note #8: Remember that bit about emails going the rounds? It seemed that, last October-November a lucky few got daily – sometimes, hourly - email updates on the ups and downs of our gentle, loyal lovers. Note the big patch of white between ‘To’ and ‘Subject’ on the right? that’s because there are no less than 40 addressees; every time they got emails from each other, they just, kinda, intuitively understood that, all over Melbourne, people were waiting around, on street corners and in internet cafes, for the latest update on their ‘relationship’; breadwinners were putting their jobs at risk, mothers were neglecting their children, taxi-drivers running into parked cars, all for the importance and urgency of knowing, Have they made up? What’s the latest quarrel over? Will he manage to slip the tongue in this time? What could be more important or integral to the campaign's success than the progress of their --professional relationship--?]
“..poisonous behaviour. ..my pathetic misjudgement of character is to blame. I was the one who brought Robyn into this.
..the one who has poisoned the culture of our little party, killed any sense of fun in being in it, and probably destroyed it. ..its worse than my worst nightmare”
The beast! Look, 2 days later, at what he has done to her (health warning #2):
“..since being told what you were planning to do to me, I have had a resurgence of the anxiety disorder..
.. I find it difficult to sit down, let alone stop crying.”
But (you can't keep a good woman down!) she picked herself up enough to fire back, in the same email, her own defence, and selfless regard for the Party:“..you need to take notice of the destabilising effect he has already had and prevent him from continuing – for People Power’s sake..”
So what aroused the righteous and Godly ire of our founder and prophet? Was it the fact that she demanded – and got - $4,000 of hush money, to keep her from spilling the beans to the press or her other friend during the 3 weeks before the election? The fact that, in a drunken/stoned rage (according to the aforementioned loving friend only, we quickly add), she pulled the website down 4 weeks before election day, thereby leaving 42 candidates without a website for a week? The allegation that she drove away so many ‘dream’ candidates and supporters? The how-to-vote card artwork she made quite sure was unreadable before sending it to the printers? The fact that she can’t make a decent pot of tea the next morning? No, it was none of those. He just decided she wasn’t really his sort, and if you read the following very closely – between the lines, you might say – you can see him trying to tell her that, in his kindhearted inoffensive harmless roundabout softhearted sort of way, in this email:
“..you have a poisonous mind that is full of hate and loathing. ..a woman who exists to create destruction… a drug-dependent narcissistic powermonger, with a mind half-fried from dope and the other half twisted into so many knots from hatred..”
(If you find his beating about the bush frustrating, and really must read it all to see if he ever gets to the point, you can click on the email).
Well, that was a long and breathless little episode, wasn’t it? But the wonderful thing about reading things (as opposed to hearing them) is that, if you don’t want to know, you don’t have to jam your little fists in your ears and chant, “I’m not listening..”, all you have to do is switch it off. Or skip it.
But since Robbin’ and Vernon have sent their emails (about 0.1% of them are quoted above) to around 1.5 million Melburnians, it seems unfair that the other 1.5 million should miss out. It is fact - not opinion - that more column-centimetres went to party members about their relationship that all the 'business' stuff stacked up together. And all the above are verbatim quotes (the little "…" means we’ve left out a few words), not made up by us, put there so we can all make up our own minds about whether or not there was ‘an affair’. Of course, we knew all along it wasn’t true.
As to whether it affected – even harmed – the party, and the November campaign, we leave to others, better qualified than us, to judge. Personally – and we speak only for ourselves, of course – we fail to see why people can't keep their eyes on the ball, and treat those regular email updates about their relationship as the inspirational messages we are sure they were meant to be. How could that 2-month stream of emails fail to help the campaign? We 've got framed copies of the best of their emails, plus pictures of them, in pride of place on our fridge. We look at the, every time we need inspiring.
We were going to finish up the story of the slickest AGM that ever was, with this episode, but three things stopped us:
1. We could have just told you certain things in much less time, but then you would have to take it on trust. This way we all get to judge for ourselves.
2. the next thrilling bit of the AGM concerned the finances, and that is – well, another story, as they say. Deserves its own spot. It is a wonderful, heartwarming story. Sort of like 'National Velvet. Without the horse.
3. we had to stop writing about it for a while. All that blood on the keyboard was making the typing so-o-o tricky.
And what was the final outcome, the denouement, the fate of President Vernon’s fair and balanced account of My Life With People Power? Did Vernon The Blameless finish his Report to thunderous applause, and get carried off into the sunset, draped with garlands of flowers, borne aloft on the hands of his loyal, hymn-singing followers? Well, close, but not exactly. The assembled members voted (we think it was about 40 to 2, but could not be sure as they both pulled their hands down so quickly) that they would not accept the President’s Report as tabled. So, perhaps for the first time in small-startup-party history, the members overwhelmingly voted to reject their own President’s version of the facts.
But Vern had the last laugh, didn’t he? Once he had had a bit of a cry he logged into the party website (with a little help from a close personal friend) and stuck up the cruelly rejected Report there, where the website used to be.
And we do mean, ‘stuck up’. He really stuck it up those undeserving low-browed knuckle-dragging members of his party of empowerment.
Next: AGM IV: Oh, How The Money Rolls In: The Treasurer’s Report, How All Naughty Interjectors Should Be Spanked, And How Malapropisms Can Keep A Party Afloat.
In our last episode we set out just a few of the little, umm, irregularities that seem to have plagued the arrangement of our li’l ole AGM. Was it really that hard to arrange? Well apparently, yes, it was. There were the lamingtons to make, the party hats to put out...
Even as we drive in, unanswered questions blow around like Macca wrappers. Have all the uninformed and frivolous ingrates who belong to our world-best-practice, transparent and accountable organisation got off their bums to work out for themselves that there is a Meeting today?
Where have all the proxies gone? Is there a “take over” being hatched? Will the conspirators have the Mark Of The Beast on their foreheads? Or is that only half the story, and is the Old Guard planning the final apocalyptic death-rattle of the party so that a paying job with a cozy, long-established political party (complete with Christian Family Values) can rise from the ashes?
[We even hear the scurrilous accusation that Our Vern didn't even vote PP above the line in November, but actually boasted that he put his own party's #1 candidate 4th, after the DLP (a party with Christian Family Values) but that cannot possibly be true.]
Perhaps Reason will conquer all and Our Hero decree a last-minute switch back to the Church Hall? Do we have a meeting place at all? Marsha, who can be an uncharitable soul, points out that Vernon couldn’t organize the donation of a white schoolboy’s privates to Michael Jackson, so Church Hall will be getting re-roofed and the room at the coffee shop double-booked for a Greek wedding.
“We’ll end up”, she shrieks, “having it in the car park! 30 minutes in one bay then we’ll have to move to another meter for the next agenda item!”
She’s got a point. In the words of the song, consider this:
Ø Some members were informed, by email, in November, of the AGM (with the date and the Churchy venue).
Ø Copies of that were on-forwarded, and in the following weeks found their way to some other members.
Ø Some members emailed Vernon during December and January to say that they had heard about it 2nd-hand, and would he pretty-please inform all members?
Ø On Friday the 12th some of the members (a slightly different some to the first some) got an email advising them that, for no particular reason, the venue had been changed.
So it wasn’t surprising that the streets of North Melbourne that day would have provided talent scouts with all the extras they needed for a remake of Night Of The Living Dead: People Power members were easily distinguished by their puzzled expressions and well-thumbed street directories.
Note: there have been opinions voiced in recent weeks – mainly by conspiracy theorists of the we-was-kidnapped-by-aliens persuasion – that the confusion was more apparent than real. That there were, in fact, sound reasons for the partial invitations and 11th-hour venue change, reasons which would be revealed by an all-wise leadership. After all, these same leaders make their livings by organising campaigns.
Don’t believe me? Have a look at the website of just one of the companies of which either Lord Highground or Little Miss Amways (cant remember which) is the sole Director, Pro Populi. You can see from their website that they have expertise in “campaign planning & implementation”, in “strategic communication” and in “organisational development”. Well! If they can get the punters to pay them, to pay them real hard cash folding paper money, for their professional skills in organizing and planning, surely the appearance of confusion in the AGM's organisation is part of a Cunning Plan? It surely is only masquerading as chaotic, knee-jerk incompetence, not if they actually get paid to organize this sort of thing?
[Interesting side-note #1: Vernon and Robyn are listed as sole Directors of several companies; apart from the aforementioned Pro Populi, there is a veritable web of companies (well 3 actually): Social Enterprise Forums, Social Enterprise Networks and Social Enterprise Partnerships (which has a lot to say for itself later in our story, but seems to have been taken offline just recently - but why now?) however, the business names are registered in the name of Master Highground alone, and were renewed by him just recently, on 19 November and 19 December, to be exact. Gee willikins, is sole ownership of the business name evidence that he doesn’t trust her or something?]
But back to the excitement. We had got there early enough to feed the inner beast with some of Errol’s calorific pastries, although wicked Marsha just topped up her Short Black (who didn’t object) with vodka from her hip flask, but we refused, wanting to keep our wits about us – in case we needed to find another venue, for instance.
Now Errol’s is a large coffee shop, and right at the back has a long, narrow corridor at the end of which, to one side, is a door. This door cannot be opened completely, as it’s partially blocked by boxes. One must squeeze through the door crab-fashion, do a sharp u-turn, and start up a long flight of stairs (the ground-floor ceiling is high); at the end, at the front, are two low-ceilinged rooms, in which there is room to swing a cat. This is our New Improved Venue.
But before we even start down that first corridor we hear a gruff but polite, “Excuse me” and are overtaken by a big man with what seems to be an unhappy girl thrown over his shoulder, fireman’s lift style (what next, a white slavery racket on the roof?). We follow them as he carries her through the door and starts up the steps. “This just gets better & better”, sighs Marsha. It's only when the girl-on-the-shoulder says, in a husky voice, “I’m fine, Richard, really” that we realize it's not a girl, and when we hear grunts and look behind us, we get the picture, because two others are manoeuvring the lady’s motorized scooter round the corner at the bottom of the steps. Our first disabled member has arrived, even earlier than Vernon, champion of the disabled.
We all arrive in the room in a bunch, and make sure we get seats with a reasonable view: would you go to see Monty Python Live and miss the dead parrot sketch? We also realize, now she’s back the right way up, who the fireman’s-lift lady is - a fierce old Footscray stick called Christine, last November’s candidate for her hometown. She seems to be having trouble catching her breath and has a dangerous glint in her eye – anyone would think she had just been treated like a sack of chook feed, hasn't she got a sense of humor?
We hear a disappointing item of news. A tall lady arrives in company, and from her answers to questions it seems she is representing none other than husband Stephen Malaprop, who will not be attending: Marsha thinks she looks too ‘sweet’ for the bloodbath that everyone seems to expect. But what a blow! Certainly he announced that weeks ago, but we hoped he would change his mind; it was precisely the threat of his attendance, we were sure, that caused Bonnie and Clyde to change the venue. And it worked! The pesky press will never find a way to report on it now – not unless they bribe the window-cleaner on the scaffold hanging outside (and why is he sticking that thing with wires to the windowpane?).
We continue looking at the faces round the room, watching out for telltale signs that tell us, I’m one of the Take Over Gang! Apparently these “take overs” are not new: the peasant rank and file (they're the ones shaking their pitchforks) has launched other coup attempts, only to have them repulsed by the ever-vigilant Highground-Amways sentries. On 1 November Ms Amways sent a poignant email beginning, “I am writing to say goodbye – and to wish you well…” (round about that time there was a rushing noise in Melbourne’s air – it even made the nightly news bulletins – but it had just been the sound of 40 synchronised sighs of relief as the candidates read that line); she continued, “Apparently, Garbi, Lindah and Karon have decided that they do not want me to be Campaign Director.”
But all was not lost after all, and scant hours later came the stunning, unlooked-for response: “As Campaign Director, I am sacking you” (naming the same three) “– to take effect immediately.” So, in one fell swoop the coup is overset, the 3 witches sent packing (Macbeth can have them) and herself back in the director’s chair. Decisive. And smart. So are the 3 witches standing for positions on the board? We scan Vernon’s oh-so-helpful Notes On Candidates (film rights available) but none of the names are there. Well, that was 10 weeks ago after all, and they have probably retired or gone to early graves since then – and another group of conspirators risen in their stead! Dangerous times we live in.
[Interesting side-note #2: we have just been forwarded yet another email about the Great 1 November Conspiracy, also penned by the loquacious Ms Amways. It begins, “The party has been hijacked by four career politicians..” Whoa! There are now four of them - they breeding or what? We read on: “They are..” (breath held) “Lindah, Garbi, Karon and Stephen Malaprop”. (So! conspirators really do multiply!) “Yesterday they announced they were taking over control..”. But, golly-gosh, what an inept gang of gunpowder-plotters they turned out to be, as Our Rob joined up with close personal friend Vernon a few weeks later to turf Malaprop out on his ear, and the original witches continued in their roles as humble – and ultimately unsuccessful – candidates. But don’t doze off into your popcorn just yet, for we were soon to hear of a takover by six – yes six – Plotters, who were a different group entirely to those earlier revolutionaries. So by our count, out of the 40 candidates who stood in November, fully 10 later became perfidious conspirators!]
It is now 2.00p.m. and people are still coming in, though the room is full; the inner of the 2 rooms is where a long table has been set up (or should we say, a Board has been "properly constituted"?) for those running the show. Which is, who again? Robyn Amways comes in and looks at the floor – we recognize her, of course, as we have been snubbed by her before – and you can hear clicking sounds from all round the room as female claws get unsheathed. She sits in the middle, head down, arms & legs crossed in eloquent body language, not quite exactly as you might say among friends, but in the audience with us plebs, as befits a disgraced Treasurer. Oh, didn’t we tell you about that?
[Interesting side-note #3: we only just heard ourselves, but: in the weeks before the 25 November election it was decided that Ms Amways might be a shade too, umm, relaxed, may we say imprecise, in the financial exactitude that goes with the job of Treasurer, and a bit, ahh, uptight about the stresses of being so, ah, imprecise all the time. So, with the enthusiastic support of close personal friend Vernon, she was removed from that position. We quote from Master Highground’s email, written on the afternoon of Thursday, 2 November: “I cannot work with Robyn – her abrasive style and dogmatism is something I have known about..” (for how many years, Friend Of The Disabled?), “..a problem in People Power too, often offending people and getting their backs up..”, then follows a few ‘celebrity’ names turned off The People Power Way by the Amways way, and closes with the resolution that she, “..be removed from the position of Treasurer and cheque signatory.” So it was done. But she was put back on as signatory, later, for a wee while – about as long as it took to sign a cheque made out in the name of a close personal friend.]
So from a one-time high of 9 or 10 members, the board has some how carelessly lost – well, nearly all of them. Lets count them together: there’s Svengali himself, dear Vernon, who may or may not have resigned: 1; there is Vernon’s loyal missus: 2; there is Geoff G., from Perth, whom we are soon to meet: 3. Tim W, Brisbane lawyer – resigned after the 57th email from Vernon and the 235th from Robyn, each and every one complaining about the other one; George V, disability advocate – resigned after the 57th email.. you can guess the rest; Stephen Malaprop – chucked out; Robyn herself – chucked out. So we are still only up to 3. We could go back even further into history, Anthony and the others who joined in the first flush of optimism, only to find that there were crumbs between the sheets after all, but the point, we think, has been made. People Power had all the staying power of last year’s Big Brother and the value of two mens’ tickets to Titanic On Ice.
Just in case you’re asking, yes, there is a point to this discussion of past and present boardspersons: who will run the AGM and the Board elections? Despite Fearless Leader’s predeliction for hiding behind skirts, we rather doubt that Mrs Highground will be driving. And Leader knows that if he gets up on his own hind legs the questions thrown at him will be competing for airspace with the rotting fruit, so that leaves ..who?
And just at the moment the lady from Amways takes her seat Marsha drives an unsubtle elbow into our ribs: “I like him”, she says in a stage whisper, of Geoff G., all the way from Perth, WA, who takes a seat and says something, half heard, about events being deferred half-an-hour to allow all members to arrive. But Vernon’s not having any, not at this show, not with his party, and at 2.15 precisely he bounces the ball.
“Welcome,” he starts – but he can’t even say that without trespassing on shaky ground, as people mutter, “Some welcome”, and someone calls out, “There’s people still arriving.” But our Vern is nothing if not singleminded, and he presses on regardless, introducing Geoff to the crowd, and explaining that they lacked a Secretary (“Another casualty Vern?”, someone calls), calls for a volunteer to take the minutes. Karen Oh, a candidate last November - not to mention one of the Three Witches – shoots up her hand and moves to the table before Vern can even accept her offer. “Streetfighter”, murmurs Marsha cryptically whilst I double-check Vern’s Notes, but she is not a candidate for the board, and though Vernon appears to be checking the virtual Rolodex behind the beard to find an objection there is no conflict of interest, so no objection is made to her minute-taking role.
Vernon has a bit of a quaver in his voice as he starts to distribute papers to the people in the front, who pass them on; it is the minutes of the last AGM, held in November of ’05. Marsha, who has never seen Vern in the flesh before today, has come over all motherly, “He’s harmless – look at him, all a-quiver with nerves, poor dear, how could you take against a poor little man like that?” The minutes are quickly scrutinised and, no offensive content being found, getting them accepted and written into the record takes a moment.
That, though, was to be the last straightforward item of the day, because it is Vern’s next action that helps the Marshas in the crowd make up their minds, those who (maybe rightly) had suspended jungement on Poor Dear Little Man; if he had been a bit more generous in the document he handed out next who knows how the day would have turned out?
But the moral high ground where Vernon sees himself seated has no place for generosity; its an abstraction best kept for Policies. In the real world you have to be cruel to be kind, why its his favourite expression – at least in emails, where he can really strut his Gary Cooper stuff. Take this description of his close personal friend and business partner, campaign-planner extraordinaire Robyn: “You’d be right at home in the Middle East at the moment – they’re your sort of people.”
Next: AGM III: In which the President gets a prize in the Simon Says competition by rewriting the history of the past 6 years and blaming everyone including Kruschev but not himself for everything that ever went wrong with his life, and the ex-Treasurer wonders whether maybe she should have let Andy-Landy pay for the coffee after all.
So, the mindset and the setting: the November Vic election was over, the corpse planted six feet under before a post-mortem could be ordered to discover which major organ failed.
But Vernon had been thinking ahead: he called an Annual General Meeting for 13 January, which he sent to the Lord’s Elect in November – but I can’t tell you the date because I’m not one of God’s Chillun. But I do have friends, and she sent me a copy.
Because it is, I kid you not, a masterpiece. He would go down a treat in the Labor party. (Click on image to enlarge)
Firstly, he has 3 hats which puts on and off as the roles change: he writes as Secretary, he asks for proxies to be sent to the Public Officer, and he signs it as President. Which, he adds, he will not re-nominate for – but more on that later.
When we had a chat about it (between the chardonnay and the Gaggia espresso) we asked the hypothetical: what attributes help run a successful election if you are both candidate and incumbent and administrator of the said election? Answer: a certain flexibility towards moral ambiguities, a belief in the universality of human stupidity and a healthy set of delusions, and here we have them all.
So here is the invite. Because the piccies they let you have on Blogspot are unreadable I’ll quote extracts – but I warn you, even the second line, the time of the meeting – is a pearler:
>Sat 13th Jan
>2.00 pm - 2.30 pm
Now that unpretentious little line actually has a lot going for it. It says, Don’t you be late or you’ll miss it; maybe it says, if the biz aint finished, bad luck coz the meeting is; but it certainly says, This will be easy. Next bit:
>4. Appointment of Public Officer
>5. Election of Board of Trustees
What do we learn here? Not much more than the assumption that the status quo will continue, unruffled, because they are so sure of themselves that they believe the old board will get away with appointing – not electing – the Public Officer, and a meek and biddable membership will quietly swallow it and proceed to the no-surprises-here election of their people. But I loved the subtlety of the next extract:
>Please RSVP for catering purposes.
Catering? Don’t remember being offered tea and lamingtons before; but maybe its just our suspicious minds, and it wasn’t an oh-so-clever way of finding out what the odds were going to be, but a genuine desire not waste a Tim-Tam.
I think you get the drift; here was Deep Thought again, hard at work.
Monday 8 th January was a day of sound and fury. First came the news that Vern Highground has called in a pre-emptive strike against the man he fears most (get our pinkies singed in 01?), defrocked Liberal neophyte Stephen Malaprop, by cleverly taking him on at his own game, ie, publicity.
He expelled the aforesaid from the party (hang on, didn’t we already?) in a glimmer of publicity, sparked by rubbing cutting phrases hard against the recipe he used in cooking up the party (“serious-minded people”) and noting that the recipe doesn’t include an “undergraduate, not-grown-up” Foreign Object like said Stephen (notice how they use your first name before shafting you? Now that’s what I call civilized behaviour.)
The second of the links above also mentions the sum of $35,000; now I'm neither millionaire nor a big rap for the lanky one, but doesnt that make the expulsion smack just a touch on ingratitude? Hear the sound of teeth closing on food-bearing finger-bones?
Vernon is a seasoned campaigner, make no mistake, and has spent years – decades – building up a list of contacts in the media. These people found their fax machines had come to life overnight; the media release was quite explicit: “..board members voted unanimously to expel him. This decision represents a clean break by People Power from any association with Crikey and..”. Blimey! Didn’t we do that bit before, as well? Just hit your PageDown a couple of times to see that, in 2001, due to many people associating Crikey with PP, they had a trial separation. See what I mean?
To make quite sure that the message was clear (and after the local bobbies advised him that they would not attend unless an offence was committed) he came up with a rather cunning plan; they sent an eleventh-hour email to a Favoured Few advising them of a change of venue, so the press horde that Friar Stephen has arranged to descend on the meeting won’t know where everybody is. This went out on the 12th - it really was either an Oh Shit or a very shrewd gambit.
But what about the people you didn’t email about the change? he was asked, and answered, I have a Cunning Plan, I will leave a note on the door of the original venue, the Anglican church hall. Ahah! comes the response, and you won’t write it in journalese so those dippy, dipso reporters will just mill around aimlessly for an hour, nice one.
So the Annual General Meeting of the party founded on the apple-pie principle of a fair go for the disabled has now been relocated to the function room above Errol’s café, barely 5 minutes’ walk from the church hall, and if you’re in a wheelchair a bit more – lets say 10 minutes’ wheeling away – and when they get there, press the button for the lift, and – no lift?? You mean there’s no lift?
So some half-dozen people push their wheelchairs over to their PCs and get the emails off the ground pointing out to the Prez that there are a number of wheelchairbound members coming along, must be a mistake, mustn't of known. And wait, patiently, for a reply. And wait…
In the meantime the airwaves had been heating up with chatter. Two or three candidates & ex-candidates wrote group emails about their concerns, most of which concerns are mentioned somewhere on this site (hey, we never claimed its *all our own work*).
We did say that Monday was a big day. One email in particular, from a certain Dennis W, was especially succinct – and productive, given that he seemed to have addressed it to heaps of members (if we had a list like that we would not need this modest bloggette); then of course, it was forwarded to other members, and in due course many heard about the Annual General Meeting for the first time. It had a second consequence, bad or good depending on which end of your egg you crack open, and that was the replies – to all those members whose emails he had – that came crowding in thick and fast.
Some of these were very detailed, especially one from Peter H, who apparently had been a candidate in the Vic election but dropped out because he had issues with Mr Malaprop. He attached a very acute article which was turned down when he offered it to Crikey. We cannot reproduce it here, because it says in very big letters: NOT FOR PUBLICATION; its not available on the web as far as we could discover, but perhaps the title will serve as an Executive Summary: “Stephen Malaprop – Politically Uncorrect”. I tell you what, Vernon the commentator could learn a thing or three from this Player… if only it was online. (you listening Peter?)
Meanwhile, back in the Highground menage a trois, the Ancien Regime have been counting their proxies. The Missus has got one, the girlfriend 3 or 4 and the Prez about the same, but there’s only 8 sleeps to go - now what the frock do we do?
Vernon kickstarts the brain, gives it some choke, and cranks out another Cunning Plan. As the HonSec as well as Prez, sez he, I’ll use the membership list I’ve got (coz its in my job profile) to send proxy forms to the members with no email! But you can’t ask them to give you their proxies, comes the plaintive voice of Jiminy Cricket (old Walt wasn’t silly when he made the Conscience a tiny cricket).
I won't, he cries, quick as a flash, I’ll just tell them to fill it in and return to the Public Officer – also me - & they’re so silly they’ll write my name at the top, which happens to be where you nominate the person you’re giving your proxy to! And in case they don’t know where the meeting is I won’t tell them the venue – just where the proxies go! Which is Chez Highground!
So out goes the letter, cunningly dated ‘January 2007’ to baffle the punters a bit more. How many proxies will come in from members yet to catch up with the 20th century (ie, no email)? Because, you see, in the last 2 or 3 days – too late by far for any last-minute counterattack by the opposition – that is what its become: a Battle Of Proxies.
Then its decided to go on the attack; it seems there is a takeover plot being hatched, and Robin Amways gets the job of Rottweiler, snapping at the jugular with a hard-hitting hatchet-job to warn readers of the dangers of voting for They Who Would Be Queens (and Kings, because we are nothing if not inclusive).
With a razorlike incisiveness that would put Christopher Hitchens to shame she destroyed the so-called opposition: “During the recent Victorian election, there was an attempted take over of the Party by a group of Victorian members who have shown no apparent interest, or understanding of mental illness, disability or carer issues – and some of these people are now running for election to the Board.”
Whew! Smokin’! But lets look at what is being said here: there was an attempted takeover during the election. OK, we worked a bit on that, supporting in our modest way a candidate who seemed to be in hourly – not just daily – touch with fellow-candidates, if not all 40, then a significant number. Nothing was heard from that quarter, but may be there was? But how would you ‘attempt a take over’ during a campaign? There was no General Meeting, they had just expelled the last non-conforming director from the Board .. what take over?
We’ll just skim over the “no interest or understanding” for now (but we will return). Let’s look at the group who are running for the Board, because if we can pick out which candidates for office are being referred to, we’ll know who tried that dastardly take over! By their nominations shall they be known!
And by identifying the conspirators we can then reconstruct another missing chapter in this modest little history of the party. Our next post will have more burning emails – sorry, I meant to say ‘emails that are a touch more inflammatory’ than any quoted here. But tune in again in a day or two; we must awa as we hear the patter of little feet – possums have no right to our attic – but will be back. And check out Ms Amways’s PS – the email we got has been the only one we've (speaking as a group of concerned members, but none of us Players) ever received from her, ever since being persuaded to join, oh so very long ago.
But we leave you with the mention of one or two leads the Somepeoplepower Investigations Unit (ya see, even Labor rightwingers get in here - hi Andy! Remember me?) recently dug up, and ask the following smokin’ questions:
Who was born in 1957? (Hint: it’s the year before nineteen fifty-eight)
What do the following business names share? What is there in the past that makes discussion of it so painful to contemplate?
Social Enterprise Partnerships
Social Enterprise Networks
Pro Populi (yeah, we know it means for people already)
Social Enterprise Forum
Macaulay Credit Co-Op
More in AGM II: The Reckoning
The official history (on the People Power website until recently, but can still be seen here), written by Hughes states: ‘Stephen's joint proprietorship of Crikey.com.au and his Presidency of People Power led many observers to the (inaccurate) conclusion that People Power was a subsidiary of Crikey. This perception led the founders to suspend activities at the end of 2001 to review the challenges involved in creating a new political movement positioned in the centre of Australian life and opinion.’ Note the green tinge of jealousy in those words, the neglected child pleading, What about me?
But its a master-stroke of Hughes doublespeak like that makes one wonder why success has so determinedly eluded him.. a genius for saying nothing at length that most pollies would die for. But then he has always shown a gobsmacking capacity for turning an in-the-bag victory into a humiliating, last-minute drubbing. Who else would abandon doctoral studies (entitling him to the much lusted-after title, ‘Doctor Hughes’) mere months before completion?
Election time brings out the bitch in people. In the ‘Leftwrites’ blog it is claimed that Vern Hughes attempted to join the Communist Party whilst still a practising Christian, way back in the 70s. We can’t vouch for the truth of that, but his almost obsessive political-homeground seeking has seen him seriously flirt with (though never exactly tongue-kiss) the DLP, Labor and the IPA.
There is some evidence that when Hughes began his move away from a disability-focussed party it was at least partly due to his relationship with the disability sector, lobbyists and advocacy groups and the like. Talk to almost anyone in that field – whether a voluntary or salaried worker – and they will tell you that he is regarded with more than a little suspicion. His policies are regarded as simplistic and redolent of undergraduate revolutionary cabals, he regards compromise as failure to see the rightness of his way and he seems, “..utterly incapable of working with human beings”, as one disability advocate (& mother of a disabled child) said to us recently.
But going back to the His-story, its instructive to read a little more: ‘Following a review process lasting two years, involving extensive consultation and reflection, People Power activity was re-established in 2004 around a refined sense of mission.’ Note the quasi-religious language, the sense that the 2 years were spent on retreat in a monastery until a Loyola-like epiphany showed the prophets the Shining Path.
It also says, ‘The core of the revamped People Power is the concept of empowerment.’ I wonder how many of the members will tell the impending (13 Jan 2007) Annual General Meeting how ‘empowered’ they felt by Hughes’ recent contributions to the party’s mission?
One of the party’s first actions, following this reflection and mission-refining, was to nominate Deborah Locke as their candidate for the federal seat of Werriwa, a vacancy created when Mark Latham resigned. Whether you believe his departure was due to pancreatitis – admittedly a nasty disease – or his sacking as leader of the parliamentary ALP, is not really relevant here.
For once, Vern Hughes had not recruited their new candidate – Ms Locke had seen their material online, liked what she saw, and got in touch. Once it was established that she had a ‘profile’ (ex-police whistleblower, author of ‘Watching The Detectives’ & mother of a disabled child) they lost no time in offering her Werriwa. She was given certain undertakings regarding funding, publicity and registration of the party (sound familiar?) and, on that basis, accepted the nomination. She immediately started campaigning with characteristic vigor; the date set for the election was 19 March, 2005.
Some time during the post-Werriwa soul-searching Hughes decided – unilaterally – that, for the party to get any traction at all, in any electorate, the ‘ordinary voter’ had to see a benefit for himself.
In December 2004, in a typical gig, Hughes said on ABC radio, “People with disabilities and their families and carers are probably the most invisible community in Australia“ and then went on to promise how this ‘silent force’ would mobilize behind the party’s candidates.
But almost immediately after the Werriwa result, the constituency of ‘2.7 million Australians with disabilities, their carers, etc’ was dumped faster than last birthday’s gift-wrappers and the party’s website and public meetings announced that they now stood for, ‘small business, families, consumers’ – every voter, in fact, apart from vegetarian subsistence farmers and lesbian ex-nuns.
But before we leave the gutsy Ms Locke, it may be worth quoting an overheard conversation, in which she responded (quite heatedly) to the person questioning her new-found hostility to the party and its founders. I'll quote it verbatim: "I had a stall at Parramatta (which I paid for, AND staffed) where I signed up 400 people as members .... Robyn and Vern took those forms from my home without my permission and would not return them or even send me copies. " There's not much in the way of comment you can add to that.
Back in Vic, a conference was promoted on the website for 25 June 2005 with the theme: Big Government, Little People: Challenging The Victorian Labor Government (though when they submitted an ad to the government-funded Institute of Family Studies website the latter subtitle was changed to Empowerment in State Politics). By this time the party was trying to broaden its appeal from the intitial disability/no pokies/mental health, as noted: ‘Key themes are: disability; schools; small business; mental health; planning; gambling’. Cost was to be $10 to members, $90 to non-members. This was the organizers’ cute way of boosting membership numbers (Inquirer: ‘So its $90 to attend? A bit steep for me’. PP: ‘Well, if you join its only $10 – and membership’s free’). But anyone chancing on the ad would not be exactly imbued with confidence: the venue is shown only as, ‘Melbourne’. Presumably Vern Hughes was sure of getting an Anglican church venue – a church that has saved the party thousands of dollars in waived venue-hire costs over the years.
Some of the topics had a familiar ring: ‘Service delivery and empowerment: why state politics is far from boring’, ‘Frameworks for challenging provider-driven service delivery’, ‘Winding Back Bureaucracy’, and the other evergreens of the Hughes canon.
Some time in early to late 2004 planning for the Vic state elections began.