A Big Boy Did It...
Senator Stuart Syvret has been conducting a bold and astonishing battle with the forces of the Jersey establishment for the past couple of years.
He had seemed a somewhat ineffectual Health Minister, but, once forced from office, he revealed, or at least alleged, an outrageous power struggle between himself and his theoretically subordinate executive officers. Assuming his anecdotes to be as true as they are plausible, Syvret was insulated from the matters that should have commanded his attention and action by his staff, and once he became aware of some grave problems through alternative channels, strings were pulled to ensure his swift replacement by a more amenable figurehead. There is a link to his blog on the left – it is a juicier read than this one, so if you don't already read it, I recommend taking a few hours catching up on it.
So, he then proceeded with a flanking tactic, telling all on his “Quite Vile” blog – I think everyone can agree on that description, it is just that some of us think it is the tales that are vile, while others think it is the telling – and daring those he accused of serious crimes of abuse and corruption to sue him if they thought their denials would stand up in court. To date, no-one has. This could be because all his accusations are just and well-founded. Or it could be that he has been smearing people with no confidence in the efficacy of defamation suits in restoring reputations. This was certainly a brave and bold course, for losing such a case would ruin him, not only financially, but reputationally. The latter would doubtless be the greater personal loss for him.
Although one can only admire the courage shown in blowing the whistle on such terrible things, the ethics are more complex and harder to assess. Quite a lot of the material for the revelations on his blog came into his possession in confidence and in his official capacity. To publish it as a private citizen is undeniably wrong and criminal. However, he has weighed that wrongness and criminality against the wrongness and criminality of the crimes he alleges, and of keeping quiet about them, and decided publication to be the lesser evil. A tenable position that I personally am inclined to support.
Yet, having a tenable and defensible moral position does not and should not put anybody above the law. There is undoubtedly a case for Syvret to answer on data protection issues, and I, along with thousands of others, thought he was indeed going to answer the case. The improper police action he suffered, when ambushed in a dawn raid like a gangster, must have been a terrible experience for him, but it was also prime ammunition for him to throw back at his enemies. And so we all looked forward to the establishment breaking its teeth on our man of iron.
...And Then He Ran Away.
It is one thing to admire a man for having the courage to pick a fight that I think I would have chickened out of. It would be another to continue admiring him when, having blustered for so long, he turns tail and flees when it is time for the real action to start. When it comes to the crunch, Stuart Syvret is no braver or more heroic than me after all; he just talks a better fight beforehand.
I still read his blog from his London bolt-hole, and still worry about his revelations, accusations, paranoid ravings or whatever they may really be. I am naturally of a sceptical disposition, though, and I am finding that I need to take him with ever larger pinches of salt.
He does have a defensible case to answer on the data protection charges, and an indefensible one on the driving licence charge. Neither of which would have landed him in life-wrecking amounts of trouble, if convicted. To instead bring upon himself the more serious consequences of wilful and calculated contempt of court is his own silly fault. Syvret is probably right about the unsatisfactory nature of Jersey's judicial system. He is very wrong to attempt to put himself above it, though. If the law is not to be respected by the overwhelming majority, and punishment meted out to the transgressive minority, then anarchy and disaster must follow. And after that a new repressive order, as the desire for restored stability and security becomes paramount for the survivors.
After all, his very point has been that people in high places have been wrongly escaping prosecution. For he, as another man in a high place, to expect a blind eye to be turned to his own intentional flouting of the law is illogical and hypocritical. Undoubtedly, he has been wronged by the establishment in his ousting as Health Minister, and again in the ludicrous dawn raid. This cannot excuse his own minor crimes, though. The rule of law depends on holding people responsible for what they themselves choose to do, not on looking at what they have had done to them.
An interesting contrast to Syvret's case is the recent one where an accountant operating outside the clique of big firms was sacrificed as an example of Jersey getting tough with financial crime. The Privy Council quashed his conviction, because, despite the rock-solid case against him, the Royal Court did not bother to conduct the trial in a fair manner. So there is effective recourse for being unfairly tried in Jersey. However, unlike Jersey politics' other bad boys, such as Terry le Main and Geoff Southern, Stuart Syvret has not got the balls to face the music.
We all know that thing are not quite as they should be in Jersey, but we now need a new leader for the long campaign to improve matters. Syvret has been tested and failed,but hopefully another will emerge soon.