By 6pm this evening when the ballot closes, two weeks will have passed since the CBA Executive took a collective decision to accept “the deal”. With the benefit of hindsight, what would I change? If I had known then what I know now? One thing only: the acceptance of the deal without calling first for a ballot of the membership. We acted swiftly to reverse this. But two weeks on, have I changed my mind? No, I am still voting to accept the deal – or, in answer to the question posed by the ballot, I am voting NO.
The wording of the ballot was triggered by the request for an EGM to consider the wisdom of accepting the deal and instead replace it with these words as our new policy. Knowing we were unlikely to find a room for 4000 people to debate this, coupled with the fact that it is always a good idea to hear from those that do not shout loudest, I chose a ballot as the fairest way for the whole membership to have their say. Whatever the outcome, the CBA Executive has committed to accepting your decision.
I have had to wade through rather a lot of treacle in the last week but, as you would hope, have had time to read and absorb the cross section of views expressed through the blog and through speaking to people. I also looked at twitter during the first few days, but decided that rather like the warning on cigarette packets it was bad for my health.
There is one aspect of this process that has been unwelcome. No doubt feelings are running high, there are those who are angry, those who are desperate and those who feel passionate about their arguments. We are used to an adversarial system, we are used to exchange of argument, but threats & abuse have no place here. Whatever the outcome, I very much hope no-one who is disappointed starts playing a “blame game.”
At the same time those of you that have watched this campaign evolve realise that we are not complacent. We have now got Direct Action as part of our armoury for ever. That psychological barrier has been crossed. For 7 months I have said that “Not a penny more” cuts was the aim. In the eyes of an unwavering Lord Chancellor, that became suspend the cuts as you cannot justify them. They blinked first.
Based on what I was asking for and had spoken about for months (or has no-one been reading the Monday Messages?), the deal could only have been bettered by the Government agreeing to reverse its’ position on VHCCs. As of now, and at the paltry rates offered, the VHCCs are still being refused. This “deal” does not change that. The CBA is not and would not tell you what cases to take. The market place will decide. And if the stalemate continues in practice, the battle over proper remuneration for VHCCs will continue.
We are now asked by the “Yes” Question to demand a different and all-reaching outcome, one whereby the number of solicitors’ contracts is reinstated and all the cuts for everyone abolished. This is an ideal – one with which none of us quibble – but I’m afraid it is one that I do not believe we can deliver. Not because I lack fight or courage but because I live in the real world. Wanting and getting are not the same thing. Only Tony & I know what it took to get us to this point, the battles we fought to persuade many to join in our action and the number of hurdles we had to jump. It was our unwavering determination, supported by you, that got us to the point where we secured this offer. But I do not believe as we move forward that we are going to find the same unity amongst the membership – or across all solicitors firms – that would have to be in place as a very minimum to continue this fight until all these aims are achieved. I believe we will be chasing a pipe dream.
In the last two weeks I have been called the worst thing since sliced bread. I have also been accused of being anti solicitor. Neither is true. Whilst sliced bread is not particularly nice except when toasted and with marmite (and no I am not calling for a ballot to choose between marmite and marmalade), my personal and professional relations with solicitors for 37 years has been excellent. But I was not elected to represent them and I would no sooner dismiss this deal than I would expect them to dismiss a like deal for their own profession. Being pro bar does not make me anti solicitor (I am sure that is somebody’s law). I simply believe voting “Yes” means throwing away what we have achieved for something we cannot.
Saying No to the ballot and yes to the deal is not a sign of weakness, hostility or appeasement. I think that to do anything else would be complacent and reckless. But one thing I do know is me and I suspect many of you now also feel you know what makes me tick. Having banked our winnings, I will move on with Tony to build a better place for the Criminal Bar. I have no doubt that as of this moment the prestige of the Bar has never been higher in the eyes of government, the Judiciary and the DPP. I do not think we should apologise for this but take pride in it. We have built that. Let’s not knock it down.
We are not “giving up”. We are all aiming for the same ends. But we can achieve these in other ways. On-going constructive discussions that address the fears expressed throughout this debate; we must find ways to address and secure sources of work for the Junior Bar. We must move forwards with solicitors and provide them with such practical support that we can. The government is now listening, they are willing to engage and we must now show “good faith”. Rejecting this deal will destroy that.
In truth it has taken us less time to get here than I thought. This is not the end of the road, there is still all to play for.
Please Vote. Vote NO and let’s work on the rest.