From the top of the lane, where I live, I can look across to the island of Sark, separated from Jersey by only a few miles of shallow sea, and yet, if one has the pleasure of visiting it, a world away in almost everything but climate and language. Jersey is a busy, impatient place, full of people frantically overworking to finance their conspicuous consumption, and losers in the rat-race comforting their disappointment with alcohol or heroin. Sark is a quiet, carless oasis of tranquility, whose inhabitants cherish their cosy peace.
The extent of the differences from Jersey has been highlighted this week, by the General Election that was held there. The General Election itself was the first contrast. In Jersey it is felt that the public could not be trusted with the power to thoroughly remove an unsatisfactory regime, and the system is designed to allow only piecemeal change. This year, as always, the inability to make any big change discouraged the overwhelming majority of entitled electors from bothering to vote. Sark, though had never had a public vote before, and the turnout was a huge proportion of its tiny population.
The second striking contrast between Sark and Jersey, is that in Sark, the supporters of democratic reform, who brought about the General Election, were also looking in the longer term to selling the island out to rampant commercialism, whereas Sark's establishment wished to retain the quaint and quiet lifestyle that made it such a delight to visit or inhabit. In Jersey, it is the democrats who are sick and tired of being sold down the river, and the establishment who rub their hands joyfully at the prospect of massive development to accommodate soaring immigration. The calculation by the establishment in both islands, that the general public are deeply sceptical of the benefits of living in a highly developed island, leads to different strategies. When Sark reluctantly bowed to mainland pressure to institute full democracy, the old guard stood on a platform of defending Sark as it has been, and were endorsed by their newly enfranchised voters. In Jersey, the establishment got back in by murky spin and shrewd avoidance of vote-splitting, and by the grace of a badly or cunningly designed electoral process most qualified by a minority of the votes cast by a minority of voters. The losers, of course, got even smaller minorities, so they cannot complain too much, but being elected in polls topped by abstentions is not much of a mandate. Not that they have to care about mandates – they are in office for the next three years and can do as they please.
A third contrast is the different attitudes of the electorates to blackmail. In Jersey's 2005 elections, much was made of a quote from a leading representative of the mighty finance industry, that it would leave at the click of a mouse if its puppets were not re-elected, wiping out a quarter of Jersey's jobs instantly, and many more in the knock-ons. So, the few who voted decided that readiness to instantly leave if it could not pull strings was a sufficient level of commitment, and backed the finance industry's men. (Note to non-Jersey readers – finance industry is a local euphemism) In Sark's 2008 election, the Barclay brothers, who had bought up a quarter of Sark's employers while promoting democracy as an avenue to their own seizure of power, likewise let it be known that they would be off, if their stooges did not win. They were comprehensively beaten, to their fury.
A hard decision is, what lesson should be learned from looking at these contrasts? Jersey long ago sold its soul, and is proudly open for business, red light shamelessly shining. Sark has refused to be bought, and can hold its head high. Yet, one cannot live and raise families on pride alone. Sark is suddenly a disaster zone, even as Jersey wallows in its customary orgy of materialism, "Christ"mas. If Jersey were to lose its finance industry, whether through our own intransigence in the face of blackmail, or, more likely, through changes elsewhere turning the money supply off at the mains, we too could be where Sark is now, and by and large, less able to cope. Is the moral, if blackmailed, give in. Or is it, if blackmailed, hold out and be damned. I favour a third option; don't let anyone get into a position of more power over you than they can be trusted with. Jersey needs some rebalancing of the economy to achieve this though. At present we are right under the thumb.