New faces, same faeces

I knew it would happen eventually, and at 5.30 this afternoon, it finally did. Andrew Martin posted the following comment on my Facebook page:

“It looks to me as though you have a very deep plan to become the next CEO of the ECF.”

Rumbled at last! Like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie, confess it I must – ’tis indeed true. All along, I and my cohorts have been implementing a deep-laid plan to take over the Egregious Chess Federation. Our slate will include myself as CEO, Ray Keene as President, Nick Leeson as Treasurer, (no longer Sir) Fred Goodwin as Risk Manager and Gerald Ratner as Publicity Director. In order to improve efficiency and reduce running costs, various other ECF services will be privatised: responsibility for the management of Women’s Chess will be sub-contracted to the Taliban Ministry of Education, whilst the Burmese Chess Federation will take over the running of the ECF grading system.

“Hi, I’m the new ECF Diversity Commissioner”. (photo:

Needless to say, we are not so naive as to believe that this latter-day Ministry of All the Talents will actually be able to change anything in British chess. Given the present structure and constitution of the ECF, that is impossible. In any normal business, the shareholders elect a Board of Directors, and the latter are free to run the company’s day-to-day affairs. They are subject to company law, of course, but this actually gives the shareholders very little control over the daily actions of the Board. The latter can take almost all decisions affecting the affairs of the company, and in almost all cases, if the shareholders do not like a course of action, their only sanction is to convene an EGM and replace the Board with new directors, who in turn will enjoy the same degree of autonomy as their predecessors.

Sadly, in the Egregious Chess Federation, this is far from the case. Under its byzantine constitution, the shareholders (ie. members) of the federation have no effective say at all. Power rests in the hands of Council, a bizarre body made up of representatives of a host of regions, counties, congresses, and other random organisations. It is Council who elect the Board, using an elaborate system of proxy votes and other shenanigans, that make the Trade Union block votes of Labour Party Congresses look like a model of democratic transparency.

Even worse, thanks to some elegant legal manoeuvres in recent years, the overwhelming majority of the federation’s money is not at the disposal of the Board, but is locked up in various trusts, beyond the clutches of the Management Board. Every time the latter want to buy anything much more expensive than an extra large packet of paper-clips, they have to run, cap in hand, to the various Trustees (several of them former directors, voted out of office by dissatisfied Council members), who have absolute power to decide whether or not to grant the requested largesse.

“We just have to make sure he doesn’t change anything, Bernard”. (photo:

As the Martin Regan board soon found out, this combination of Trusts and Council acts as a blocking mechanism, of which Sir Humphrey Appleby would have been envious. I still treasure the memory of something I witnessed at the UK-China match in 2007. I was sitting in the Press Room, next to Jon Speelman, when one of the senior members of the newly-elected Martin Regan board came in and sat down. Speelman asked him how he was getting on as an ECF Director. This elicited a deep sigh from his interlocutor, followed by the immortal words, “It’s so difficult to get anything done. The only time people get really enthusiastic is when they think there’s a chance to block something!” We all know how short a time the radically-minded Regan board lasted.

So, there is no chance to change the state of British chess, all the while the governing body exists in its present form. Anyone with any business sense or initiative will soon be driven to despair, and premature resignation, by the frustrations of being blocked at every turn by the assortment of termites and imbeciles, by whom they are surrounded. And it will never change, of course, because that would involve Council voting for their own extinction, and the turkeys will naturally never vote for Christmas.

So, we on the Giddins ticket do not pretend that we will change anything. Far from it. And we have chosen our campaign slogan accordingly:

New Faces, Same Faeces. 

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