MAG President Ian Mutch reflects on last weekend’s AGC in Blackpool

This year’s MAG AGC was one of the best and most constructive I can remember.  Most importantly it provided the strongest case yet of why it’s important to have real ‘meetings’ with ‘real’ voting as opposed to virtual meetings and email votes.

There was a healthy turnout of well over 250 members, many of whom had made the effort to travel up to Blackpool from the South coast and everywhere else in the country.

My sense of the feeling in the hall and the way it evolved throughout the meeting was that a large portion of members had come with the intention of voting one way on major questions but in the wake of the debate, swung around to vote in a different way.

I don’t see this as weakness or indecisiveness but as open minded intelligent behaviour and it underscored the value of ‘real’ meetings in which all advocates can be seen in the flesh and heard first hand.

In recent times the call for email voting has grown and it’s easy to make the case for democracy by adopting such a system for our AGC. Democracy is, after all, the rule of the majority, ergo the more potential voters who can vote, the more democratic the system is? That’s a hard one to challenge head on but it does not necessarily follow that democracy and fairness are always one and the same thing or that the interests of justice are necessarily served by the active involvement of the greatest number of participants if many of those do not enjoy the advantage of ‘real’ debate. This may sound like blasphemy to committed democrats but that doesn’t make it wrong.

E-mail and email debates, be they via websites, Facebook or twitter, are powerful instruments but debate in this format lacks something. It lacks the intimacy the gutsiness and the humanity of a ‘real’ debate in the same room. We have probably all seen how emails, shorn of intimacy, devoid of inflexions of voice, the accompaniment of gestures and the influence of volume and tone, can be totally misinterpreted. Human language is a subtle device that can telegraph totally different meanings with identical words. It can appear benign or aggressive, credible or dubious; it can inspire trust or suspicion without the slightest variation in vocabulary. We have probably seen how feeling can be whipped up on social media to demonise those who the participants in on line debates have never met but heard bad things of.

MAG has always rejected the option of running its Group Conference with email voting for reasons that may arouse suspicion from those who advocate it. I suspect that anyone who came to this year’s AGC however will instinctively recognise the value of retaining the traditional system in the face of demands for the mechanization proposed by others and in my view we are right to do so.

Against the expectations of many, the 2014 AGC endorsed the recent internal policy of the board and of the National Committee that overwhelmingly supported it.

We have had an uncomfortable year internally that has tested people’s faith in the organisation.

Some uncomfortable truths have had to be exposed and abrasive language indulged. As with any voyage, errors, deviations and indiscretions have occurred. I have learned how very careful we must be, particularly with the written word. My own words have been thrown back at me as accusations, my intentions in their use grotesquely distorted in an effort to attach motives to them that were never intended. We have all learned a lot from this bruising experience and are the wiser for it.

MAG has rebuilt its lobbying front line and is now making headway at an unprecedented rate on the political lobbying front.

By recruiting Lembit Öpik, MAG has bought not only the services of someone with exceptional skills but also an army of political connections that it could only have dreamed of in the past. This has dovetailed seamlessly with the unparalleled access we have to top level transport policy shapers via Dr Leon Mannings. The adage that it is not only what you know but who you know is true and the doors that have opened to us in political and business circles have presented MAG with opportunities that we would be insane to ignore. The truth is that we are not ignoring them and are already beginning to reap the rewards of our investment.

MAG is like a raft floating down a river. From time to time we hit rapids that challenge our watertight integrity, our resolve and our buoyancy. MAG always comes out the other side where others capsize because we believe in something.

We believe in the right of individuals to justice and self-determination with responsibility. We reject the nanny state and the mentality that resents motorcycling as a hazardous indulgence of a past age when danger and risk were accepted as part of life’s journey. Risk is part of life’s journey. We’re not loons; we don’t endorse reckless selfish behavior but some risk is a feature of a world in which fun, challenge, and exhilaration are not dirty words. Most progress involves risk. The sailors who discovered the new world took huge risks, the men who flew to the moon did the same.

In the increasingly risk-averse culture of today, motorcycling holds a torch for those who recognise the indivisible nature of life’s quality and risk. MAG is the torchbearer of that principle. There is no other viable raft on our river. Those who leap overboard will find no other vessel to board because none exists. MAG is not perfect, it evolves unendingly but it holds to principle and its path is upward.

My hope throughout these difficult times has been that we emerge on the far side of the rapids with as many people inside the raft as possible and the meeting in Blackpool has reassured me that we will do that again.

Ian Mutch

MAG President