Saturday, 13 December 2008

Tantrum of the Century

There have been strange goings-on in Sark. (For any random readers not from the Channel Islands, a small and beautiful island a few miles North-West of Jersey, with quaintly old-fashioned ways. Readers who found this blog through local links can skip the first three paragraphs.)

For centuries they have proudly clung to a semi-feudal local government, in which only the 40 principal landowners were eligible to vote. In the late 20th Century a pair of Scottish newspaper magnates, the Barclay twins, bought an islet just off Sark's coast, and within its jurisdiction, and built a magnificent palace for themselves upon it. However, their islet did not come with a seat in the local parliament, [correction: only one seat]so denying them the power that their wealth would have bought them in most tax havens. The magnates did not get so rich by being quitters, though, and they mounted a campaign to push the mainland government into forcing reform in Sark.

So, at long last, the first fully democratic election has been held. The contrasts with neighbouring Jersey are enough to be another article in their own right( coming soon). In the expectation of taking power in due course, the Barclays bought up many local businesses and properties, with a view to transforming the island into a hive of intensive commercialism. In the run-up to the election they let it be known that their continued commitment depended on votes for their puppets. Or blackmail, in plain English. The Sercquois, however, saw sacrificing all that currently makes Sark a lovely place to live or visit, to be ruled by a bunch of blackmailers, as a double whammy, and a massive majority of the tiny population backed the old guard instead.

And so, the true colours of those stalwart defenders of democracy, the Barclay brothers, were finally unfurled. No gracious congratulations to the victors. No reflections on their failure to convince the voters this time, nor vows to present a stronger case next time. Instead, in an enormous [in both the modern and archaic senses] tantrum, these petulant senile delinquents instantly closed all their investments on the island, thus throwing a quarter of the population out of work.

One can hardly deny the right of a businessman to close an unsatisfactory enterprise at any time and for any reason: Even if one tried to make it illegal to do so for an unapproved reason, an appearance of legitimate grounds could always be contrived with suitable economies of truth. The closure of a quarter of Sark at this time and for this reason, though, reflects nothing but shame and disgrace upon these wicked old men.

In contrast, the brave decision of the Sercquois, not to sell their communal soul, even in the face of serious blackmail, is admirably heroic. Here are people who value the exceptionally high quality life that they enjoy, and would not sacrifice it for mere greed. That the Barclays see fit to destroy them, because they could not buy them, is an immense moral crime, despite the impossibility of making it a legal one.

I hope that strenuous efforts to assist the Sercquois are made by the still-prosperous islands around them. The Barclays, though deserve nothing but ostracism from decent society. Let them fly back to their palace in the sea with their tails between their legs, and rot there forever.
( I shall follow this piece up with another on the comparisons with Jersey)

No comments: