Like all good postcards, lets set the scene first. For those who arrived early for the Napo AGM on Wednesday, the portents were not particularly good. The Scarborough heavens opened at about 6.30pm and what looked and felt like a biblical flood nearly prevented the author from making it from hotel to pub. But the sky had miraculously cleared by the second pint, and upon eventual return to my bed, there was a full moon reflecting upon a mill pond sea. By the following morning the streets were dry and the blood orange sun rising over the North Sea can only be described as spectacular. (Ok, that's enough waxing lyrical.)
This AGM is as much about saving the General Secretary's bacon as anything else. Those with good memories will recall his rousing Bob Crow-style speech last year at Llandudno when he announced that he'd started the Judicial Review process and got a standing ovation for his efforts. A year on, a hundred grand lighter, and we're precisely no further forward, so what is the General Secretary to do this year? There's understandable disquiet in the ranks, not to say hints of open revolt and talk of Emergency Motions.
The disquiet was alluded to in the somewhat pedestrian speech by interim-chair Chris Pearson, who I must say I found just a tad irritating by continually referring to pro-bation rather than probation. A small point I know, but I found it jarring nevertheless. Having repeated his classically understated feeling that there were a few (unspecified) things that were 'not quite right' with Napo HQ, in his eagerness to cover the General Secretary's back, he strayed somewhat from the prepared text. He sent the afternoon's only excited ripple through the auditorium by stating that "following a recent meeting with Queens Counsel, a positive announcement will be made tomorrow morning regarding Judicial Review."
Not surprisingly, this tantalising snippet was siezed upon by a jubilant Elfyn Llwyd MP, also in an obvious diversion from his prepared speech, and which gained him a well-deserved standing ovation as a good and loyal friend of the probation service. Again, no doubt in an effort to bolster a beleagered-looking General Secretary, he was at pains to tell us as a former lawyer how difficult JR can be, how you need all your ducks in a row and how much effort had been put into it all by Napo officials.
During the teabreak one can only speculate as to what conversations took place behind the scenes, but suffice to say that by the time of resumption of business, Chris Pearson was rowing-back considerably and urging people not to jump to any rash conclusions ahead of the 'announcement' to be made the following morning.
It's worth noting that both MP's, including John McDonnell who spoke after Elfyn, were at pains to point out that this is the first Napo AGM in living memory where the relevant government minister has refused to take part, and forbidden Noms officials from attending. Not only that, but we also understand that ministers are refusing to meet with the all-party Justice Unions Parliamentary group, a situation that both MP's said 'they would not tolerate'. All grossly immature behaviour from a Minister of the Crown who reportedly gives his reasons for not meeting Napo as being because we are 'an immature union'.
So, the scene has been set for the General Secretary's keynote speech. Is it a case of his thunder having been stolen? Is it all evidence that Napo HQ have been panicked into action by the prospect of open revolt from the floor? Is it just an amazing coincidence that a legal breakthrough has occurred at this most propitious of times? Are we going to be treated to another dose of barnstorming smoke and mirrors?
Now I have no idea what game is going on here, but I think I'd be tempted to offer some words of advice. Forget the overly-crafted oratory, the fake outrage, the smoke and mirrors, the bullshit and bollocks - just be yourself and tell us the truth - are we getting a Judicial Review or not?