Governance

The abuse of history and the BPS bullshit generator

David Pilgrim posts

Those in charge of the BPS bullshit generator have recently had to put in an extra shift. This was necessitated by a report in the press, citing evidence from the BPS’ own membership survey. An article in Third Sector (October 21st 2021), from Stephen Delahunty, was entitled: “Report finds ‘endemic’ lack of trust between staff and members of the British Psychological Society”.

The piece goes on: 

‘’….The summary findings from the Members Network Review, which was conducted by consultancy Korn Ferry and has been seen by Third Sector, also identified a tension between the ‘corporate mindset’ of BPS staff and the values members believe the society should hold…..The review, shared with members two months after the President-Elect’s dismissal, concluded there was an ‘endemic’ lack of trust and respect between staff and members and said members had a ‘lack of access to timely and accurate financial information’. Decision-making was deemed to be ‘unclear’ and stakeholders on all sides felt there was a culture of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Among the other key findings were that ‘membership does not necessarily represent good value for money” and there was a ‘lack of transparency and clarity around how the membership fees get spent’. The review recommends changes to the charity’s operating model that include addressing the need for direct communication with members, refresher and induction training on the requirements of volunteers and the roles of BPS staff, and clarifying the arrangements for decision-making and key processes.”

That final sentence covers a multitude of sins about organisational dysfunction and misgovernance, which this blog has persisted in reporting. They were also the reason that Nigel MacLennan was stitched up and thrown out. For our efforts, we have either been flatly ignored (publicly) by the cabal or told in emails to us that we are being ‘inflammatory’ or bullying to BPS staff. We are prepared for the prospect of being disciplined for breaking the code of conduct, the cabal selectively uses for its own ends. Expelled or not our protests will persist. 

It is the leadership of the BPS that has brought the Society into disrepute and maybe terminal decline. It is not us and it was certainly not Nigel MacLennan. Maybe there is a dedicated ‘shooting the messenger team’ that operates in the bullshit department. Another door might be marked ‘Spin and censorship’. The imagination runs riot about this Orwellian dystopia in Leicester.

Like all good journalists, Delanhunty asked ‘the BPS’ for their view, and this is what they came back withhe goes on:

“The charity said it had received ‘many positive comments’ from members in the full report but did not respond to a request to share it. A BPS spokesperson said: ‘It is important to highlight that many of the issues discussed in this report are systemic and historic in nature. This means they are the consequence of many individual decisions, taken over many years, by many different people, often with the best of intentions. It is also important to highlight that many of these issues have their roots in the past, and that the BPS is resolved to address and has already addressed many of them through our change programme. This is not to diminish the importance of the comments reflected here, but instead to reiterate what we see as the society’s genuine commitment to improving the experience of all our members. We are working closely with members and our representative senate to address many of the issues and create a force of change for the greater good.’”

Here are a few comments in response to the above. First, why was the full report not shared with the membership? Second, why did it take a journalist to place the report in the context of the current organisational crisis? The leadership, alongside the complicit silent pages in The Psychologist, have ensured that information management is guided by the need to keep the BPS membership and the general public in the dark. Many of you will know the old joke about that particular ‘mushroom’ management policy. 

Third, and my main point here, how is history being invoked now, for rhetorical purposes, by the cabal? What exactly is that history, and can someone point to where it has been written, other than on this blog, with our persistent willingness to talk of all things past and present of relevance to the current crisis? The answer to this question is that it is a history suppressed. 

Neither the old oligarchs, nor the ‘BPS junkies’ (The Psychologist, 2006) with their shamelessly recycled names, nor the list of now silent Presidents and Honorary General Secretaries (sinecures accepted gratefully of course) of the past have ever bothered to write that history authentically. This is for one very good reason: they have all been complicit, in ways large or small, in the emergence of the recent crisis. With one or two notable exceptions, it is noticeable that a long roll call of past Presidents has failed to intervene to halt the Society’s downward spiral recently. Their silence has been both deafening and telling.

Misgovernance and corruption have come from somewhere and that somewhere is the past, especially since 1988. That story should be fully told but those responsible for the organisational meltdown now evident are understandably very coy. As for them all being ‘well intentioned’, how on earth, empirically, does the ‘BPS spokesperson’ (no name as usual) know that to be true? Maybe the full story in its gory technicolour might let others make that judgment. If this history was merely ‘systemic’ then were no moral agents involved in the story, with their particular vested interests and nameable careerist intentions? The word ‘systemic’ has become a code for ‘nobody is to blame’ so no detailed truths or moral reckoning are required. As usual the BPS bullshit generator offers us more questions than answers.

The abuse of history

Our stance towards history is politically important. Those managing the present and shaping the future will tend to ignore those aspects of history that do not suit their interests, while invoking history, in a celebratory manner, when it is convenient contingently. A problem the current cabal have is that they are either ignorant of history or they know of it but recognise the inconvenience it creates for their current regime of power. 

For example, Katherine Carpenter has simply gone for ignoring it and exhorting the membership to look forward to a brighter future. As the illegitimate President Elect, whose installation was contrived by the cabal’s invented election strictures, this stance is perfectly understandable. Some in the cabal (the non-psychologists) will know little if anything of the history of the BPS. Why should they, as none of us can know everything? However, that ignorance is also a very good reason for us not to have confidence in them knowing what they are doing with the fate of the BPS. Fools may well have rushed in where angels would have feared to tread. Having said this, it is inconceivable that some of them (the CEO and the Finance Director especially) were not aware that they came to the BPS in the wake of frauds in the recent past. A previous CEO and a previous Finance Director had left in suspicious circumstances and yet again the membership had been denied an honest explanation about these departures. 

Drawing a line under the past: ‘that will do nicely’

The truism that ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’, is one relevant literary allusion for us to think about here (Hartley, 1953), but so is another – ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past’ (Faulkner, 1951). I favour the latter over the former in this instance for a simple reason. Managers love to ‘draw a line under the past’, just in case old skeletons might trouble career prospects in the present. That was then and this is now, so no critical reflection or inquiry is required. From financial corruption to sexual exploitation, managers are keen to resort to covering up the past, and avoiding being tainted by it by simply incanting and repeating ‘that was then and this is now’. For example, see this preferred self-protective contortion in the statements from the BBC management in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal breaking (Greer and McLaughlin, 2015).

Most of the people of relevance to the story of misgovernance since the late 1980s are still alive and their reputations have been polished often by their ‘long term service’ in the BPS. More than that, if we look at the very recent past (a good starting point is 2018 when the SMT were appointed) then it is astoundingly audacious for ‘the BPS spokesperson’ to try and blag their way out of telling the truth, the whole truth, about the current crisis, using history as an excuse. This is bovine ordure extraordinaire.

This is the score. In 2018 the current carpetbaggers on the SMT were appointed. All of them are still in post apart from the Finance Director, who bailed out of the crisis in December 2020. He is now working for the National Lottery. The CEO was put on gardening leave for nearly a year and has just returned to his day job with the full backing of the Board of Trustees. Why it took so long to make a decision I suspect will be kept from the membership.  With or without that current vote of confidence about his return, the historical details about his responsibilities and that of the now departed Finance Director await scrutiny in a transparent public context. As for the ‘Trustees’ past and present, their legacy liability remains.

Turning to those non-independent and appointed ‘Trustees’, they too, by and large, are exactly the same people, who were around during the crisis coming to light. Two Presidents (they were elected from the membership) resigned, within two months in 2020. Why did the rest of the Board not follow suit? If David Murphy’s concerns were so grave about governance and finance, it is relevant to ask why others on the Board remained and were happy to collude with a strategy of silence to keep the membership in a state of ignorance. What stance did they take about the stitch up of the expelled President Elect, Nigel MacLennan? Moreover, where were the Board when the SMT were appointed? Were due HR processes observed and were ‘Trustees’ party to those appointments?

So all this blather about ‘history’ and the problem being ‘systemic’ is just that-blather. Studying history and studying it properly is a form of truth seeking. Using history as a tactical avoidance of current political responsibility is morally reprehensible. The BPS bullshit generator on this particular occasion is really insulting the intelligence of the membership. But do the cabal care? Probably not.

References

Faulkner, W. (1951) Requiem for a Nun New York: Random House.

Greer, C. and McLaughlin, E. (2015) In D. Whyte (ed) How Corrupt is Britain? London: Pluto.

Hartley, L.P. (1953) The Go-Between London: Hamish Hamilton.

The Psychologist (2006) Double top – Ray Miller in discussion with Tim Cornford: The Society’s new President in discussion with the Chief Executive. How do their roles work together, and where do they see the Society going? April, 19, 20-21.

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