A damp squib of an election
22 July 1997
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Even dirty tricks and defections could not set the elections on fire, says Chris Fogarty
It was apathy wot won it.
Only 30.3 per cent of the 83,000 solicitors in England and Wales voted in the Law Society elections. The rest could not be bothered to tick three boxes and lick an envelope which, if the protagonists in the presidential elections were to be believed, could have sealed their financial future for the next 12 months.
The result saw Martin Mears left dead in the electoral water and outgoing Law Society president Tony Girling happily dancing on his grave.
"I don't disguise my delight at the outcome," said Girling, who argued that voters had "recognised that a vote for tilting at windmills is not a vote for progress".
Support for Mears collapsed from 14, 239 at the last election to 8,148, while Sycamore held and slightly increased the share that Girling received last year, by polling 16,878 votes.
The turnout was the lowest since contested elections began three years ago and was down 13 per cent on last year. This effectively means that Sycamore has the support of just 20 per cent of the profession.
Vice-president Michael Mathews, who won by 16,497 votes compared with David Keating's 8,161, argued a 30 per cent turnout was in line with local authority elections.
What is clear is that the leaking of Sycamore's campaign meeting minutes outlining a possible dirty tricks campaign against Mears had no real impact on the election result.
What probably did was Robert Sayer's decision to disown his former ally Martin Mears and join the Sycamore and Mathews team.
Sayer, the highest polling candidate, with 17, 245 votes, heavily criticised Mears' style in a letter sent to solicitors. The Lawyer understands that up to 30,000 solicitors received it.
And Mears himself admits that Sayer's switch was the decisive factor behind the collapse of his vote.
Although having Sayer on his side undoubtedly helped Sycamore win the election, he now faces the danger of being overshadowed by a deputy who may not always be prepared to stick to the party line.
Sayer is not a maverick in the mould of Mears but he has his own distinct agenda. His decision to join the Sycamore team was driven by the recognition that the most effective way to instigate change at Chancery Lane will be from the inside.
What the profession can expect from Sycamore - a quietly spoken Lancashire lawyer - is less clear. His primary aim is to build a strong relationship with the Government. But considering the Lord Chancellor's
recent attack on the Bar, Sycamore will face a tricky task pushing solicitors' interests.
His second priority is to resolve the problems faced by the SIF. He has promised a strong line against firms that have continual claims made against them and he will seek to lock them out of the fund.
Traditionally, however, Law Society presidents spend the majority of their time reacting to events rather than setting agendas. There is a pervading view in the profession that it does not matter who the president is because it will make no difference - this year's low turnout can probably be attributed to this feeling.
Sycamore was voted in on a tide of apathy. He can judge his term a success if he leaves office on anything approaching a ripple of enthusiasm for the work the Law Society does.