Thursday, 28 October 2010

Oops! Ben 's Let The Cat Out Of The Bag

I have been so disgruntled with what has been going on in the States of Jersey in the last few weeks that I have been lost for words. However, Ben Shenton said something in Tuesday's paper that quite shocked me. Not the content, everybody who follows local politics suspects there is too much of that about, but that he openly said so.

I have dashed off a letter to the JEP about it, but, on consideration, I have decided to blog it as well:-

Senator Ben Shenton(JEP, 26th October) has really hit the nail on the head, as to why there is so much dissatisfaction with our government amongst the general public. Two telling phrases, that were worth banner headlines rather than quietly tucking away on page 9: “The States Assembly is becoming more and more irrelevant as the seat of government” and “the real decisions are made outside of the States”.

There, at last, we have it admitted by one who should know; it all gets sewn up in behind the scene fixes. For decades, the number one excuse of the politically disengaged has been that it is a waste of time, because the real power is, they believe, exercised at the Yacht Club, Golf Club or Masonic Temple. Indeed, it does often seem as if votes are cast in accordance with a prior plan, rather than on the merits of the arguments raised in debate, and the “opposition”, such as it is ,seems just as guilty in this regard.

Yet the essence of a functional parliamentary democracy is that the debates do matter, and that the members cast their votes in good faith on the strength of the points made, and the background reports read. The worldly wise may harbour suspicions that sometimes the motions are gone through for show, while the real negotiations happen in private, but it is those motions that carry the actual authority; the backroom dealing only subverts that authority, not overrules it.

Now the players are starting to admit that it is just a show, the basis of the States' authority, as the democratic representatives in a real process, is vitiated. Our centuries old tradition of governing ourselves has been shown to have broken down. Now we need real and urgent change to repair it, or else we shall have to admit that it has failed us, and throw in our lot with Westminster, instead. Downgraded to borough council status, the States would have to toe a much straighter line.

However, it would be better, if we could contrive to set our own house in order. Senator Shenton's idea of external decision making is just a recipe for corruption, and a hazard to Jersey's viability in a world where the ethical expectations for financial centres is rising ever higher.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

An Empty Pot at the End of the Rainbow

At long last we have the Napier Report, that was going to resolve all the disputation about the removal of Jersey's Chief Constable, Graham Power. And it didn't.

The bottom line was a very carefully worded conclusion that Mr Napier could find no independent evidence of a conspiracy. Not that he was confident that there was no conspiracy, mind you, he just had a lack of independent evidence. As though any potentially incriminating notes had been carefully shredded, or something.

In a court of law, in most jurisdictions including Jersey, if someone can not be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, then they must be acquitted without stain on their character, presumed in the eyes of the law to be wholly innocent. Mr Power's many enemies, therefore took Mr Napier's conclusion to be a complete exoneration of the officials who removed him.

But, the Napier Report was not a trial, just an independent investigation, with no more power to acquit than it had to convict. And, the Napier Report did cite most of the circumstantial evidence that most neutral or pro-Power observers took as indications of a conspiracy, and made trenchant criticism of the way things were done. Not being a judicial verdict, but being an officially authorised opinion, these criticisms do reflect shame on their objects, and, worse, doubt on the competence of our present government. As if there were not enough of that, already.

So, in fact the Napier Report does rather more to support the view that there was something untoward about Mr Power's removal, than it does to clear the names of his superiors. Of course, it remains a matter of speculation as to why there was such a desperate rush to get rid of him. The idea that the child abuse investigation was going to eventually lead into embarrassingly high places remains tenable, but perhaps a little far-fetched. The Curtis Warren case happened on his watch, too, and HMP La Moye is not the standard of accommodation that Jersey usually likes to offer millionaire immigrants, so that might have upset somebody. The anti-corruption drive in the States of Jersey Police certainly trod on some well-connected toes, and owed favours may have been called in to pay him back. Power may simply have rubbed people, who thought they should have been sucked up to more, up the wrong way, so they looked for a more agreeable replacement. And what must now be the front-runner, in the absence of the clinching evidence that Napier failed to find, is that the higher powers were genuinely concerned that, despite the approval of the UK police organisations called in for expert advice, the Haut de la Garenne case had been conducted with gross incompetence, so they simply exercised some gross incompetence of their own in how they went about sacking him for it.

Not one of those possibilities reassures me that I am under sound government. Napier may have implied that there was no case for any more heads to roll, but there are now some thoroughly discredited men clinging to office.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Did the Biggest Billy Goat Gruff Kill Him?

Jersey's online community seems to have a missing person. OK, maybe we miss him like an aching tooth, but the poor man has not only vanished, but his tracks are being erased.

I am, of course, discussing my old sparring partner from various websites, Jason “the Maverick” Roberts. Jason used to appear to be a stereotypical internet troll, lonely, angry and snide, defending the Jersey establishment's corner against all those who dared suggest that there were some serious but curable blemishes in our island's approach to certain social and ethical issues.

Jason has gone, though. His memberships of the forum sites have been closed. His Facebook account has been closed, although I still have a message from it to show that it was not a figment of my memory. Remarkably, Jersey's newest blog followers are even starting to question whether the legendary Jason ever existed. Very curiously, the blog that hosted those questions refuses to likewise host answers to them, as if they have a vested interest in erasing poor Jason. And another forum site, once linked to Jason, but supposedly now free of him, has erased reference to that discussion, and even banned one of the members that mentioned it.

Nevertheless, from a hint here and a snippet there I now have a sort of picture of Jason, albeit like a view through a Venetian blind, when you can't be quite sure that the gaps are necessarily consistent with the bits you can see, but those bits are consistent with each other.

So, what do I know, or at least have read, about him? Jason Roberts once published the following details about himself, although in a context where deliberate inaccuracy was wholly appropriate: FULL NAME - JASON ROBERTS
TELEPHONE - 07797122444
AGE - 39
However, in his usual trolling guise, he claimed to be a financial services manager, with comprehensive inside knowledge of the industry, busily arranging offshore vehicles for a burgeoning list of squeaky-clean overseas clients.
Stuart Syvret's Blog, an interesting, but not altogether trustworthy source, identified Jason as really being one Jon Haworth. More recently, someone claiming to be Jon Haworth, told me he used to co-write Jason's stuff, but not any more. Very recently, Jon told fellow blogger Rico Sorda that he co-wrote it with a partner now dead.
When I first started blogging, I was warned, by an ex-blogger who had inspired me, to beware of Jason Roberts, a physically intimidating man from the Spectrum Apartments.
The JEP reported the unfortunate death of a certain Yann Roberts, then of Spectrum but formerly of Beach Road, from the after-effects of a scuffle with doorstaff, who had found him physically intimidating enough to need rough handling on the way out.
Gary Cummins, the author of the Haut de la Garenne Farce blog has a similar style and attitude to Jason, is just as evasive when it comes to evidence of his own real-life existence, and gets very hot under the collar at any mention of Jason other than to doubt that he ever was.

I reckon this is becoming enough to start trying to construct some sort of narrative. Doubtless, some of the guesses that bridge the gaps won't be quite right, but I think Jon is smart enough to realise that being guessed about is the price of not letting people know about you. Anyway, here goes:-

Once upon a time, (as stories about trolls should begin) a couple of grumpy young men took a sour look at the burgeoning local blog and forum scene, and decided to brighten their own bleak lives up with a little mischief making. So, they put their heads together to create a mythic anti-hero combining the surly aggression of one creator with the snide argumentativeness of the other. So, from the early triumph of getting their puppet appointed Gay Rights Advisor (sarcastically, I think) by Why Guernsey, they spread Jason The Maverick's presence around all the other local discussion sites as they opened. Forever scorning, forever challenging, and forever ducking counter challenges. Although, Jon as Jason did once engage properly with something I wrote, and it turned out that we weren't all that far apart in our views, when he was being serious, even if we came to them by different routes.

The zenith of Jason The Maverick's success was when Adrian Walsh launched Planet Jersey, and Jason was invited to be one of the original moderators. This gave “him”, or them, more power than responsibility, and they revelled in the scope it gave them to skew the debates. However, they overdid things, damaging the site by driving users away and undermining its credibility by adding further bogus identities to either agree with Jason or disagree with deliberately embarrassing inanity. Eventually Planet Jersey had to declare that Jason had been banned. Curiously, he seems to retain access to the restricted areas of the site, and the committed loyalty of the remaining PJ team. It would be completely unsurprising, if it were to be revealed one day that Jon actually remains an integral part of that team, merely with a lower profile than before.

However, after the public shamings of PJ's repudiation and Stuart Syvret's characteristically nasty exposé, and the unexpected sticky end of the man who gave him half his name, “Jason” lost his appetite for trolling and flaming and faded away over the next few months.

Without “Jason's” scripts to write, poor Jon found his life a little empty, and eventually resolved to take his revenge by creating a new online persona for a more sophisticated project. So, he became Gary “Gazza” Cummins, possibly with a new co-writer, possibly with a fictional one. The partner being “Andy”, perhaps named after Jersey's other prolific troll, Andy “Spartacus” Hurley, perhaps a namesake, quite possibly the man himself. [edit: not the man himself, according to a comment received]

The new project was a blog combining well-written, serious articles taking a heterodox look at Jersey's child abuse scandals, thus cutting his tormentor Syvret down to size, grumpy opinion pieces allegedly by an anonymous, but more likely a fictitious, local politician, and woefully badly written pieces credibly attributed to English-as-second-language Jerriais politician Terry le Main. The articles are finer work than anything that ever went out over Jason the Maverick's byline, but the very lightly moderated comments are for the most part appallingly crass, and strikingly reminiscent of the discussions JTM used to conduct with his own alternative logins on Planet Jersey. There is a link on the left to the HDLGF blog; it is an interesting read for the open minded, but don't look at the comments if you are the sensitive type.

So it seems to me that, after the Biggest Billy Goat Gruff got him, Jason just swam downstream to another bridge, and went back into his old business. We need not mourn his loss, after all.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Salute to a Veteran

I had the privilege of attending the 98th Birthday party thrown for Emile Collins at the Town Hall this afternoon. He is physically somewhat bowed by age, but this remarkable and inspirational man's brain and wit remain as sharp as ever. He is well into his seventh decade of political activism, but he is still standing up to be counted at every opportunity, and standing behind those who campaign for Jersey's ordinary people. If I am lucky enough to still be alive and in my right mind at his age, I shall remember him, and owe it to his memory to keep on standing up for my beliefs and my fellow islanders, too. For now though, he is still a presence, not a memory, and still talks good sense on Jersey politics. Let us treasure him.
Check out Voice for Jersey blog if you don't know who I am on about; they currently have a good article on him running.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Ugh, It's .....!

It seems that the restrictions on exercising dogs on beaches are still not strict enough.

The other day my family and I were just leaving the sand at St Brelade's Bay, when one of my daughters pointed out a fine specimen of a dog, that had just arrived. However, after we had admired it for a few seconds, it squatted with an arched back. Its walker promptly came over, and I naively remarked “That's good – he is going to scoop it up.” Alas, I had sadly overestimated the man. Instead of removing the pollution, he dug it a couple of inches into the surface of the sand with a few deft sweeps of his shoe. And it did not occur to him that my shout of “That will be a nice surprise for some lucky kid, tomorrow!” might have been addressed to him.

So, if we have a situation where dog owners cannot tell prime family leisure beaches from giant litter trays, then we need to defend our beaches by not allowing our poor, confused cynophiles to bring their pets at all, at any time of day or night, or at least banishing them to a few remote locations that can be designated Dog Beaches and shunned by the rest of us.

The nature of dogs' metabolisms and digestions makes their droppings more harmful than those of other common domestic animals, as well as more disgusting. If dog owners will not respect their fellow humans of their own free will, then we must compel their respect by curtailing the freedoms that they abuse.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A Really Batty Blog!

Human affairs are obviously of paramount importance to we humans, but it is good to spend a little time and attention on the lives of other creatures that share our planet. Nature programmes on the television are a good start, but there is more joy to be had in observing wildlife at first hand, even little stuff. Thus, I make little effort to rid my garden of insect life, bar ants in the house walls and wasps in the shed, and it is surprising how much you can find by simply looking closely. An hour's bug-watching will show you a greater selection of interesting creatures than a day of chasing big cats on the African savannah, albeit smaller and less scary ones, and all for free.

Last night, though, our insect-friendly garden paid off in a big way, with one of the most spectacular displays we have ever seen, of any sort. I like to see bats hunting in the evening twilight, and often glance out of the window at sunset to see whether I can see one. This time I got an impression that there were two or three right in front of our house. My wife, elder daughter and I all fancied a closer look, so we went outside and took one. There turned out to be half-a-dozen bats, probably pipistrelles, zooming around a little patch centring on our garden. For about a quarter of an hour, we were enthralled by a wonderful aerobatic display as the bats swooped and swerved to gather invisibly tiny flies, dodging between each other with supreme skill, and at times just three feet in front of our faces. With their broad wings and tiny momentum, they can perform astonishingly tight manoeuvres. Sadly, they were too quick for my camera, and all I could take were a few brown blurs.

If you, too have the good fortune to live in a low enough density settlement to sustain bats, which is most places, then it is worth looking out for them at sunset on fine summer evenings. I can't promise a free air show like we have just had every time, but, in order to get one, you have to start by looking.

Friday, 2 July 2010

England Used To Expect...

Although my home is Jersey, I am one of the many English people here, not a French-descended Jérriais. So, although I am not as dedicated a follower of football as many I know, I do like to watch the occasional big match, especially if it involves the England team.

Some of Britain's proudest contributions to the rest of the world have been our sports: Most international sports are either of British origin, or are the British versions of ancient sports. The most successful of all our sporting exports is soccer.

As a boy, I spent hundreds of school breaks playing in informal games, like billions of other boys all around the world. So I have a pretty firm idea of what the game is about.

International football provides an interesting medium for the expression of national cultures or characters. Eastern European teams are usually rather dour, African teams are passionate and fiery, Asian teams are disciplined and short of big stars and South Americans dominate everyone with their dazzling mixtures of individual skill, smart teamwork and ferocious will to win. And England, not only the home of soccer, but former motherland of an empire that spanned the globe and perennial winner of a millennium of wars expects its team to match them all with sharp tactics and indomitable spirit. Like many other nations, our soccer team is an emblem of our national pride, and we look for fine displays of heroic attack and defence linked up by shrewd midfield play and backed up by solid goalkeeping.

So, the 2010 World Cup has been a shocking experience for my country. The schadenfreude we should have felt at two of football's other great powers making ignominious exits in the group stages – France and Italy - was tempered by our own boys scraping a lucky draw against a team from humble Algeria, who totally outplayed our side. England's team did not even look as good as an amateur Sunday team in that match, and yet there was far, far worse to come.

Sunday's Big Match against our traditional foes, on football field and battlefield alike, was to be the cue for England's team to finally show what they were made of. Well, we found out, all right. At least David James, the goalkeeper, lived up to the country's reputation for top-grade goalkeeping. It is not often that a goalie wins praise for conceding four goals, but, in the circumstances, only letting in four of the long series of sitters the “team”, if that is the word for such an unco-ordinated rabble, gifted to the delighted German strikers was a brilliant performance. Even my ten-year-old daughter could see what was wrong with our defence. These extremely rich, extremely famous young men showed no appetite whatsoever for doing what earned them the riches and fame, and most of the time stood back and let the Germans get on with it.

Scandal after scandal has shown our pampered stars to be dire husbands, but their redeeming grace was supposed to be their sporting talent. Put to the test on the greatest stage, the talent, and even the spirit were totally absent, without excuse. If this team are the symbol of our nation, what sort of nation have we become? Idle, unco-operative, afraid of challenge and full of unconvincing excuses? Or just betrayed by unworthy representatives? I do hope it is the latter, but there is this worrying little worm of doubt that England 2010 was truly and fairly reflected in its footballers.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Mayonnaise Jar & Two Beers..

A wise parable I was emailed:

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 Beers.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him..

When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar He shook the jar lightly.

The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.

Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.

The students laughed..

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things---your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff.

'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.

The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you..

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children.

Spend time with your parents.

Visit with grandparents..

Take time to get medical checkups.

Take your spouse out to dinner.

Play another 18.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter.

Set your priorities.

The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented.

The professor smiled and said, 'I'm glad you asked.'

The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

Please share this with someone you care about. I JUST DID!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Relief and Disappointment

The by-election result has given me plenty of food for thought, and not all of it as gloomy as the campaign made me feel.

Four or five weeks ago, I would have said Francis le Gresley was very likely to win by a country mile, on the strength of his CV being so much better than anybody else's. But, when he did in fact do so, I was actually quite surprised. He did not have a particularly good campaign, and his lacklustre hustings performances were well reported on the local blog scene.

So, I think my first lesson is that campaigning counts for less than it should – a decisive proportion of voters are going to vote according to their preconceptions of the candidates, and Francis le Gresley's public standing has been very high for a very long time. And a second lesson is that we bloggers are taken much less notice of by the general public than we like to think.

The upside of impotent blogging is that the vociferous clamour of the Syvret loyalists did not translate into enough votes to let him take any more long holidays at our expense. Now he can put his abject failure as a politician behind him, I hope he can make something of his journalistic career. Although he is an unpleasant man and a crushing disappointment to meet in person, he does have some real abilities, and could make the world a better place if he could only find an effective channel for them. By Election Day, I thought, from all the noise of his fans, that he was going to win, and I am glad to be wrong.

And on the subject of abject failures, I am upset to be proved right about the utter folly of Geoff Southern's campaign. Now it is too late, even he realises that people were not going to like the idea of voting for him when he is already in the States. He campaigned far better than Francis, but, as I said above, campaigning counts for less than preconceptions. And on the other hand, forcing Syvret voters, who had been JDA voters too, to choose has alienated a hefty chunk of the JDA's core vote. For the next couple of elections, the JDA may have to be a behind-the-scenes alliance again, as it was in the Deputies' round of the 2005 Election, until it has lived down this fiasco. Having put years of hard work into the JDA, I am most displeased by this setback.

Two more good things were that the turnout was far higher then I expected, and the lightweight candidates all did far worse than I thought they would. In particular, I thought Peter Remon-Whorral's cheeky charm was striking a chord with the public. However when it came to casting their votes, his lack of serious policy was overwhelmingly rejected. He may be well-liked, but almost nobody made the mistake of making that a reason to vote him into office.

I had better not be too dogmatic about campaigning not counting for much. Patrick Ryan was as good as Geoff Southern on the stage at Trinity hustings, and he managed to run Syvret a close third. I think he could be a Senator and Minister come 2012.

All in all, a lot better than I dared to hope for.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Depressing Guessing

Having been to my parish hustings, and followed the buzz on the internet and a bit of good old-fashioned word of mouth, I am starting to get an idea where the Jersey by-election is heading. And I want to be wrong!

I reckon that there will be quite a low turnout, except amongst committed Syvret supporters, who will make sure that they endorse their man. All the rest will split each other's meagre votes.

So my prediction is:-
Syvret to win with about 3,500 votes
le Gresley runner up with about 2,500
Southern 3rd with about 2,000
Ryan 4th with about 1,500
Whorall, everybody's favourite dark horse, with about 1,000
Baudains, capable but lacking charm, with about 900
le Cornu maybe 700
Risoli perhaps 500
and Maguire, clever and thoughtful, but selling himself badly, with just 200 odd.

I want Syvret out, but I don't believe it will happen.

Roll on Thursday morning! Let us see how much better than this reality turns out to be.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

I Never Said It Was All Lies, Although I Wish I Didn't Believe This One

While my commentators still have not convinced me that I should ever vote for Stuart Syvret again, I do continue to keep up with his blog. It needs a sceptical approach, as I am sure that not all of is true, but I am equally sure that over half of it is. And this morning, on the current comment thread
he revealed a new take on the outrageous police raid on the home he used to share with Deputy Carolyn Labey. Maybe just another plausible lie, but this one has a horrible believability about it. Not proven beyond all reasonable doubt, but certainly reasonable grounds for suspicion and a case to answer.

The gist, is that Deputy Labey had gathered evidence of corruption involving someone who was a minister until very recently, and a police officer whom Syvret regularly accuses of also being grossly corrupt used Syvret as an excuse to try and snatch Deputy Labey's evidence and dispose of it. Go read Syvret's own version.

I think investigative journalism is a much apter vocation for him than politics ever was. I do not see voting for him as part of the answer to this kind of problem, but he is doing a fine job in raising the questions. It will be interesting to see whether anyone, who has not been silly enough to throw their seat in the States away, picks this ball up and runs with it. I hope so.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Democracy, Principles and Sacrifices

This week's “swivel-eyed, frothy-mouthed rant”(Thanks, Other Exile) is going to be more introspective. Although, I am going to keep to my self-set brief that this blog is about content, not me, and draw some general conclusions from my musings.

I have been an active member of the Jersey Democratic Alliance for some years. Although I am temperamentally inclined to stand up for myself and be counted, irrespective of who is with me, I understand the importance of collective action and teamwork, both pragmatically, as a means of achieving ends, and morally, by fulfilling my human nature as a member of a social species. Thus, I have embraced the opportunity to work with like-minded people on trying to influence the development of Jersey into a better place, or at least defend against its decline into a worse one. It can be frustrating to actually achieve so little, for so much effort invested, but one never knows when one will cross a tipping point,and it all start to come good.

Because, by and large, the JDA is a team of fairly like minds, there is a lot of consensus on how we do what. However, we are not realistically going to all agree about everything all of the time. If somebody is having frequent disagreements with the majority of other members about big issues of principle, there comes a point where it has to be admitted that they are out of sympathy with the party generally, and it would be hypocrisy to cling on when the decent course would be resignation. Occasional differences of opinion are inevitable, though, and are the fuel on which meetings and discussions run. Sometimes one can be really disappointed with a particular decision, but the disappointment has to be weighed against one's commitment to the larger long-term project of the party. Were it obligatory to quit any time one did not get one's own way, the party would soon dwindle to nothing. They show must go on, even if you have to sing a song you don't really like, now and then.

I have been having to keep those priorities in the front of my mind this week. Neither myself, nor the party's other main spin-doctor, liked the principle of putting up a sitting States Member in a by-election. For one thing, it seemed a waste of time and effort to run a campaign, when the inevitable result, win or lose, will be that same person in the States after the election. Beyond that, it is an abuse of process: Because our member is in the States anyway, voting for him is tantamount to spoiling your paper with the message “none of the above”, when the ostensible purpose of the election is to choose a new member to fill the vacancy. However, the will of our colleagues was almost unanimous, that Geoff must run, so we had to accept it, or flounce out in a sulk.

I mentioned the ostensible purpose. What changes things is, that it is becoming very clear that many of the public want to project other purposes onto this election; to make it an opinion poll or unofficial referendum on some of the candidates' pet issues, rather than just selecting them for their fitness for the office. In my last article, I argued that it was about choosing the best candidate, and that Stuart Syvret was no longer up to the job for numerous reasons. I never knew who, if anyone, reads this blog, but I suddenly found out that I have intelligent and articulate readers, who retain complete confidence in, and loyalty to Mr Syvret, and put up a forceful defence of his position. The best comment thread I have ever seen on any blog, to be honest. And their conclusion was that no, it was very much about the pet issues.

If a voter wants to keep things as they are, then it is clear that the establishment's man is Francis le Gresley. I think he has the background and ability to make a good politician, but the taint of Rod Bryans' endorsement rings alarm bells about his true sympathies. Or, if they want a right-winger from outside the clique, there is always Patrick Ryan. If the voter wants protest and rebellion, then it is equally clear that Stuart Syvret is flying that flag for them to rally to. But suppose the voter wants orderly and constitutional progress. Nick le Cornu has awesome intellectual capacity and a tenacious commitment to his very left-wing ideals, but most people are daunted by his cleverness, out of sympathy with his aims, or both, so he is an unlikely candidate to succeed. So, there is a gap for a serious progressive candidate in this by-election. Despite the absurdity of fighting for a place he already has, Geoff can be that serious progressive, and now that their private falling out has released him from any loyalties towards Syvret, he has stepped into the breach.

As a democrat, I have had to accept firstly, the will of the party, to put Geoff up, and secondly, the will of the public, that it is about more than who gets the job. So I have been typing with gritted teeth to call for a vote for Southern. I am not happy to sacrifice my vote on who the new States Member is , just to send a message, but it is now obvious that sending a message is really what this by-election is about, in the eyes of my fellow islanders. So, I shall have to put my democratic principles ahead of my desire to vote for the new member, and vote Southern. If you want serious progress, I invite you to send that message too, even if, in your heart, you would have liked to vote for Syvret because he is a rebel, or Maguire or Risoli because they are nice men

Sunday, 16 May 2010

He's Just A Very Naughty Boy

“Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me!” This quote from a classic British comedy film serves as a succinct paraphrase of Stuart Syvret's verbose blog. (Link on the left, if you have got the patience for it.) Of course, another clichéd witticism is “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't really out to get you!”, and in his case, given the number of important (and unimportant) people Syvret has taken pains to deliberately offend over the years, they very probably are really out to get him.

Now Syvret is seeking to renew his mandate as Senator in a by-election. I have voted for him in every election he has stood in, in the past, but this time I have lost confidence in him as a political representative, and shall not do so. I shall explain why not, in the hope that none (neither?) of my readers do so, either.

Mr. Syvret is a magnificent orator able to imbue the many home truths he tells with immense depth and gravity. He is also bold in lifting stones to show the creatures of darkness lurking beneath them. That much I admire, and am happy to praise. Indeed, were that the whole story, I would be writing a different blog canvassing for him. However, the first reason that I have lost my trust in him is that he will tell untruths, be they malicious lies or merely reckless errors, with the same gravity, and identify the wrong people as the creatures he found under the stones. If he will do this where I know he is wrong, how many of the other claims, that I have only his word for, are also false? A very occasional mistake, promptly and apologetically retracted might be forgiveable, but Syvret has launched a plethora of disputed accusations, and stubbornly stood by every word.

(I lost faith in his veracity when he selected local blogger “Tom Gruchy” as his Victim of the Week. Syvret confidently asserted that “Tom” was a certain mutual acquaintance of ours, who has a very distinctive writing style quite unlike “Tom's”, and went on to make plausible but very private and personal revelations about long-past romantic rivalries. It took me until some time afterwards to work out who “Tom Gruchy” really is, but Syvret's readiness to denounce him, for what was plainly another man's scandal, gave me the measure of his own credibility.)

Syvret's long and ineffectual reign over Jersey's Health department ended when he unveiled severe failings in our Children's Service, despite his own senior civil servants denials. His accusations of a conspiracy to conceal the truth from him may or may not be true, but they are at least in accordance with public perceptions of how the upper levels of administration work, here and throughout the English-speaking world, in public and corporate sectors alike. Those who worked on the front line of his Department, however, say that they remember him as taking no direct interest in them, and being content to rule entirely through his allegedly treacherous mandarins. Anyway, once the relationship broke down, Syvret was forced from office in a way that cast a very bad light on Jersey's Civil Service and Council of Ministers, and gave him a large and genuine grievance. THE BY-ELECTION IS NOT ABOUT HIS SACKING AS HEALTH MINISTER. Even if, like me, you think he was wronged by it, that is not the proposition we shall be voting on.

The aggrieved ex-minister then turned to justifying himself on the internet. He has given publicity to various serious and credible people who have also had careers crash apparently as a result of revealing or disputing deficiencies in Jersey's Children's Services. It is a tenable theory that they have all been let down by the same flaws in the system, but Syvret and his disciples would go further, and conclude that they are all victims of one overarching conspiracy. The improbability of this is the second reason I have lost trust in him. THE BY-ELECTION IS NOT ABOUT WHETHER YOU BELIEVE THE SYSTEM TO BE DEFECTIVE, NOR WHETHER YOU BELIEVE IN A GRAND CONSPIRACY. Tentatively, I would say “Yes” and “No” respectively, but there is evidence against both views, too. Whichever, we shall not be voting on it.

Other serious and credible people, elsewhere, are casting doubts on some of Syvret's star witnesses. This muddies the waters. I would contend that each and every claim or accusation, of crime, or conspiracy, or incompetence, or corruption, needs to stand or fall on its own merit, and nothing can either be proved by its proponent being right about something else, nor disproved by its proponent being wrong about something else. There is clearly not enough information in the public domain for anyone to have more than a gut feeling that something is wrong, or that things are all right really, if only the troublemakers would shut up. So, justice has not been seen to be done for or to anybody caught in the linked webs of the Children's Service and Haut de la Garenne scandals. Neither the alleged criminals, nor the alleged concealers of their crimes, nor the supposedly incompetent investigators, nor the alleged victims of abuse themselves. THE BY-ELECTION CANNOT GIVE JUSTICE TO ANY OF THOSE DENIED IT. You cannot vindicate anybody by your vote, so don't let it distort your judgement.

Another reason for losing trust in Syvret as a politician is his disinclination to work constructively with anyone else. Parliamentary politics needs teamwork, and instead he turns viciously on all those he should be working with. His disloyalty and rebelliousness as a minister could be justified by open differences of policy and principle, but then he extends the same enmity to the progressive cause, too. He has publicly vowed to destroy the JDA, for instance. He started by claiming that he knew for a fact that two known paedophiles were JDA members, although he shut up when challenged about how he found out they were paedophiles or how he obtained the JDA membership list. No doubt he will be back with more lies when he gets around to it, though. In the meantime, he has just been generally unsupportive. Even so he pulled strings with his few friends in the party to censor mention of him on a JDA web page. None of the independent progressives ever get any backing from him, either. A VOTE FOR SYVRET IS A VOTE AGAINST PROGRESS AND REFORM.

Even worse than his refusal to work constructively, for six months, he refused to make himself available for the political work he was being paid well for, at all. The charges he fled from facing were for relatively minor offences, and the more serious one was eminently defensible, so his flight was a grave error of judgement, as well as disappointing cowardice from a man who offered himself as our brave champion. So, he shamelessly claimed £20k of public money to be deliberately useless. Now he claims it was to force a by-election, costing another £50k or so of public money. But he could have resigned back then and saved the wasted £20k, had the by-election been the real objective. Putting everyone to the trouble and expense of a by-election in the hope of being re-elected, when he already had the seat do what political work he would from, is an irresponsible sacrifice of the public interest to his personal vanity, anyway, be it part of the plan or mere consequence of the flight. A VOTE FOR SYVRET IS A VOTE FOR PUTTING VANITY BEFORE THE PUBLIC INTEREST. Discourage others from following his silliness, by punishing him with votes for anyone else but him.

Syvret's own excuse for his dereliction is that he has been doing some “investigative journalism”. True, wild accusations continue to appear on his blog. Every action of the officials on his hate list gets interpreted as another piece of the Grand Conspiracy. However, given that this man will shamelessly lie about others on the progressive side of Jersey politics he ostensibly is part of himself, can he be trusted to tell the truth about establishment figures, when not backed by quotes from more reliable sources? Or is he simply blackening the names of everybody he doesn't like, and he is an unfriendly man who doesn't like many people, out of sheer spite? He seems to believe that anyone who cannot afford to bring a defamation action against a respondent who manifestly cannot repay even the court costs must automatically be guilty of anything. This is the old idea of trial by ordeal revived in a more urbane style, not truth or justice. A VOTE FOR SYVRET IS A VOTE FOR PUTTING GOSSIP BEFORE JUSTICE.

The thing that disgusts and annoys myself and others most about Syvret, though is his sheer hypocrisy. He started from the widely shared position that political interference in criminal justice is wrong and inherently corrupt. He was right to question the apparent pressure on the police not to pursue certain corruption and malfeasance cases. However, he has then gone on to rage at the police and allege corruption, because they have not prosecuted anyone on the strength of his hearsay allegations. He is another politician who should be keeping a discreet separation from the judicial process, not trying to call the shots as to who is and is not charged. Instead he calls for the heads of all who stand in the way of his hate campaigns. A VOTE FOR SYVRET IS A VOTE FOR HYPOCRISY.

What the by-election is really about is to put a competent politician, who commands the support of more of the public than the alternatives, into the States to do a job for us for a year or so. I expect that there will be a good choice of old hands and promising newcomers, but, I fear, also a fringe of fruitloops. Stuart Syvret has earned his place amongst the last, by his consistent lack of judgement in the last year or two. Once, he looked like tomorrow's man. Now, having dismally failed to fulfil that apparent potential, he is not even yesterday's man. We must all send this noxious ball of narcissism and spite the message that Jersey wants better from our politicians, by voting for others.

There are a little band of loyal disciples who have been overjoyed at the second coming of their beloved ex-carpenter. Another classic British comedy film sums up their error, though: “He's not the Messiah, he's just a very naughty boy!”

Friday, 14 May 2010

Strong Democracy, not Strong Government

The traditional British disrespect for our politicians being what it is, most people probably start trying to imagine what 650 nooses look like, when they hear the term “hung parliament”. On the other hand, many politicians and political journalists see it as a different kind of nightmare. Partisans of an affiliation with a hope of power get very enthusiastic about “strong government”, as they would. The hung parliament, of course, does not deliver that. So, we have to read and hear all the cant about weak government and market uncertainty and The End Of Civilisation As We Know It and all the rest.

Anyway, my home is in semi-autonomous Jersey, and although the goings-on in Westminster still matter here, their effects are a little more indirect. We have our own little parliament to worry about, instead. For any outsiders who may have stumbled across this blog, Jersey has one small formal party and a mass of nominally independent politicians dividing into about two-thirds in an informal Tory grouping holding power and one third in a slightly more openly organised Liberal grouping in opposition. The complex electoral system discourages voting and frustrates change, so the unofficial Tories have been entrenched in government since time immemorial. Recent reforms have aggravated the problem by marginalising most politicians. There used to be a Committee based system that put almost every politician to work in government, irrespective of their leanings, but that has been replaced by a select group of ministers and an impotent squad of backbenchers. I don't think it works half as well, personally.

Jersey and mainland Britain do share widespread feelings that their respective parliaments do not represent, nor even listen to their publics. Moreover, the two party system, official there and unofficial here, corrupts the houses by inducing members to vote against measures that they would have supported on their own merits, or for ones they would have opposed, just to spite the other party and boost their own.

I would suggest that the optimum would, therefore, be a four party system. Four parties each gaining 20% to 30% of the votes in a left, centre-left, centre right, right spectrum would always have to cooperate to form viable coalitions, and would be discouraged from veering into extremism. Mainland Britain already potentially has the four in Labour, Liberal, Conservative and UKIP. These days, there is not much centre-right about the Conservatives, but having to compromise with the Liberal Democrats will force them to modify the policies they actually govern with, even if they dream of a harsher style in their hearts. Had there been a Labour-Liberal coalition instead, there would have been a different set of compromises, but once again they would have forced each other to keep to ideas likely to command wide support.

Jersey only has the centre-left JDA for now, however. Thus, Jersey voters, unless they are really sure they want to support the JDA, vote for independents, who mostly turn out to be conservatives in practice. Plenty of voters are disappointed in how their choices turn out, but without the clear indication of general direction provided by formal parties, those choices can only be more guesswork than anything. Clear party allegiances would make what policies they could vote for or against much clearer to voters, and especially the potential voters who are too overwhelmed by the difficulty of deciding, and make abstentions the poll-topper in most electoral districts,. In a multi-party democracy, where the expectation is for a coalition, and a government can fall by throwing away the support of its junior partner, each party would have to pitch for the backing of its rivals, as well as the voters, and so would have to refrain from plans that were not moderate and serious.

When Jersey had its committee system government, it effectively functioned as a coalition of everyone, and, although it occasionally vacillated irritatingly on difficult dilemmas, it generally had legendary stability. It is unlikely to return, however, so we must look forward to getting what we now have, instead, right. Drawing the Council of Ministers from a wider base may cramp individual styles a little, but it would probably result in a concern for leading the public where they actually wanted to go replacing the current arrogance and hubris; If so, this would be a huge improvement. The only way to drive the creation of a more diverse government, though, is parties and party coalitions.

So, let us have strong democracy instead of strong government, and create the parties by which we can be counted when we stand up for what we believe in.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

March and Rally 24th April

There will be a March and Rally in St Helier on 24th April 2010, led by Jersey's teachers, and supported by other public sector workers and their families, to protest at the abrogation of normal pay negotiation by the Council of Ministers and the States of Jersey Employment Board.

The March will begin at Howard Davis Park, gathering at 11am for a 12 noon start, and proceed to a Rally at The Opera House, with a possible secondary Rally in Parade Gardens, should the crowd exceed The Opera House's capacity.

Below is an abridged version of the final confirmation document from the organisers' legal advisors to the organisers and authorities, to clarify arrangements.


Stewards will be present at the entrances of Howard Davis Park to count the number of participants entering the park. Once the march starts, stewards will count the number of  participants  leaving the park

Announcements will be made in respect of the contingency plan in Howard Davis Park prior to the march starting. Participants are not to walk more than 4 persons abreast along the march route, particularly through the centre of town (Queen Street / King Street). Stewards will monitor this and direct people along the route as necessary. Announcements will also be made about safe dispersal from either the Opera House / Parade Gardens.

The march is to begin at approximately 12 noon. Local Radio Stations have been advised to warn road users and the public to stay clear of Howard Davis Park around this time.

Howard Davis Park MUST be vacated by 1.30pm at the latest.

The March
Honorary Police will be located along the march route closing roads / diverting traffic. An officer will be available to spearhead the march. …
Stewards will be located at key points along the march, directing participants to keep a smooth flow.  Stewards will be positioned at Snow Hill to carry out a further people count. Once approximately 650 people have passed, a steward will form a marker to alert the stewards at the junction of York Street / Seale street to direct any overflow toward Parade Gardens.

Stewards will be located along the march route with megaphones to direct participants and make sure there are no blockages, or disturbances. ...
Stewards will be at the spearhead of the march and at the rear of the march, and as discussed above, at key points along the march.

Contingency Plan
In the event of the contingency plan i.e. that more than approximately 650 participants are in attendance, provision is made to direct any overflow at the junction of York Street / Seale Street to Parade Gardens

Stewards / Legal Observers
The NASUWT / NUT are to provide approximately 20 stewards (hopefully more) comprising of locals and non-locals.

There will also be 4 legal advisors present from Viberts, with a contingency plan of more should there be larger numbers than expected.

A full briefing will be given to the stewards at 10am regarding health and safety, and the march route and contingency plan.

Vacating Opera House / Parade Gardens
Stewards and Honorary Police will be positioned at the Opera House / Parade Gardens to ensure a smooth dispersal of people and to ensure the public traffic and road users are not overly disrupted. Special provision will be made outside of The Opera House to ensure the participants / public are not forced onto the actual road. There will be a States Police attendance also.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Inequality is Inevitable, but Useable

This morning I turned on the radio, to hear an interviewee on the news complaining about Britain's growing inequality. However, I felt his case came across rather weakly. He did set me to thinking about what I already know on the subject, though.

Social and economic inequality is another of the many things in life that look different, according to which angle you approach them from. Polemics can be more focussed and passionate by ignoring other aspects, but they are also less credible; so much less that it can rob them of their persuasive force.

The most fundamental basic fact is what is sometimes called Pareto's Law. This is that the pattern of personal wealth in a society tends towards a “power-law distribution”, in which small amounts are commonplace, and ever-larger amounts are ever-rarer. Thus we read of various studies estimating that 10% or so of people have 90% or so of the wealth in nations, or even 5% having 95% of the world's wealth. There is a simple mathematical underpinning to Pareto's Law, and I have seen it shown that it would rapidly and inevitably re-emerge, were the whole world somehow to be be transformed to a perfect “level playing field” as a starting condition. The asymmetry arises mathematically from the insight that someone on a random lucky streak can go on getting richer and richer, but someone on a random unlucky streak can not get broker than broke.

Pareto's Law is a fact of life we have to deal with. Doing so is complicated by human nature being shaped for other purposes. I sometimes think that evolutionary psychologists push their ideas too far, and forget that we have already had several hundred generations of something like civilisation as we now know it, to temper our primeval instincts. Even so, I cannot reject the truth, that we got to where we are from where we have been. Our distant ancestors were troops of monkeys, and then apes, with no property and flat, mobile hierarchies in which the alpha-male got to be boss for a spell in his prime. Our more recent ancestors were tribes of nomads with scant possessions and flat hierarchies usually respecting the wisdom of elders and sometimes the strength of bullies. In neither case would tolerating the unfair hoarding of resources by certain individuals particularly enhance the groups long-term survival overall. So, instead, we share with other primates innate tendencies toward envy and covetousness, when we see others flaunting more than we have ourselves.
Unlike a baboon or chimpanzee, though, we have the ability to cognitively control our behaviour, according to concepts our minds can hold and communicate through the software of language. We learn from infancy that we cannot just act on whatever instinct comes to the top of our minds, but we must measure our desires against social values. Of course, there are those who, by brain pathology or plain negligent upbringing, lack the full set of social values, and do indulge themselves without respect for their fellows. These are criminals, and it would be a grave error if we were to look to them for our moral leadership. For the rest of us, respect for society's other members is an essential value for social animals like ourselves, and respect means curbing those dark envious instincts and substituting more positive ones, like admiration, aspiration and ambition.

And yet, despite believing that one should respect the right of others to have more than oneself, I find that those dark instincts eventually get unlocked when having more becomes so egregious that it itself constitutes a disrespecting of the rest of society. I can live with entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or Kevin Leech reaping their rewards for providing work for their employees and goods and services for their customers. I can live with creators like JK Rowling or Paul McCartney receiving tangible thanks for the hundreds of millions of hours of pleasure they have given the world. I hit a personal sticking point at Victoria Beckham mincing through Heathrow airport with yet another £2,000 bag and a thunderous expression suggesting she is still not satisfied. I am pushed way beyond it by Fred the Shred Goodwin trousering a king's ransom for catastrophically ruining a multi-billion pound bank.Your sticking point may lie somewhere else. I expect you have one, though. So, I would contend that it can be generally agreed that the right to property does not bear extension to a right to appropriate an unfair share of society's resources. How much is unfair is a matter of subjective opinion, of course. The best way to achieve a working consensus is to have democratic elections between candidates with different opinions, and see who the most people agree with.
It is not only the top of the power-law curve that needs artificial constraint for social justice. More important than a few people having excess wealth are the many having insufficient. Even Adam Smith, hero of the cynical hard-right, had strong words to say on the obligation to keep people above a threshold income on which they can not only subsist, but take part in life. One of the most essential features of the many that make humans such special creatures is our instinctive drive to look after all members of our community, even and especially those who would not be viable without assistance. Left-wing sociologists sometimes bang on about an absurd concept of “relative poverty”, where if you are comfortably off in a rich place you should count as a pauper for not reaching some arbitrary fraction of the average wage. Much less amusing is real poverty: Not being able to provide oneself and any dependants with adequate food and shelter to survive in good health, or able to provide only that, with minimal quality of life. Unless we deny our own humanity, it is incumbent on us all to share sufficient of our society's resources that even the losers can survive and enjoy, at least, modest and basic comforts.

I have said that some people would not have enough, without help. I have also suggested that others achieve an unfair and unjustifiable share of wealth. The solution to both of these thing lies in progressive taxation. We all need to contribute to the costs of maintaining our civilisation and the fairest and most reasonable way is to extract the largest contribution from those who will have the most left for themselves afterwards. And, as that remainder grows, the amount skimmed by taxation can grow by more, without any hardship for the taxpayer, or appreciably greater injustice than they would themselves have shown society by keeping the surplus to themselves.

Although I believe that inequality is natural and inevitable, it can and should be constrained at the margins by welfare and taxation. All it needs is progressive taxation, and economic inequality becomes the means by which the strong fulfil their human destiny to look after the weak.

To be fair, the man on the radio was also concerned with inequality of opportunity. This is another matter, but if you applied what I have written above to families, rather than individuals you come to the root of it. Some families are winners generation upon generation, rather more get stuck at rock bottom, and most of us have ups and downs in between them. To keep society functional, the hereditary rich have to keep the tradition of noblesse oblige and look after the poor, or else it all falls down.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Gift Aid In Jersey

"Tony the Prof", an online correspondent of mine, and Deputy Monty Tadier are launching a campaign to bring UK-style "Gift Aid" to Jersey charities.
It is a tax relief scheme, that you can find an excellent explanation of at Tony's Musings - link in the Blogs box on the left.
Monty has started a Facebook campaign at . If you can read this, you can visit that. I suppose some sort of argument could be made against it, but I think it is an excellent scheme, and I recommend that you, too, support it.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

End Compulsory Retirement in Jersey, too.

Harriet Harman's call for a ban on compulsory retirement in mainland Britain needs to be echoed here in Jersey. For those whose circumstances permit it, it is a fine thing to be able to devote one's life to leisure and, maybe, voluntary work before one has grown too frail. On the other hand, there are many more who can still work, when they reach nominal retirement age, and would rather continue to earn a real wage than struggle on a pension.

There are a lot of employers who follow good practice in allowing the willing to work on past their official retirement age. Sadly, there also plenty more with no shame in taking an “ageist” approach to their human resources management. There would be benefits both to the individuals concerned and to Jersey as a society and economy, if there were to be legal constraints placed on employers' freedom to put their workers on the street just for exceeding an arbitrary number of birthdays.

For individuals, the fall in income spells at best a sharp reduction in their standard of living, and quite possibly real hardship, especially for those whose employers insist on retiring them before States Pension age.
For Jersey as a whole, maximising the years of work from each person helps to address two perennial problems. Firstly, to fill the job that has been vacated, another worker must be found, and that person may have to be imported, aggravating the overpopulation: Keeping people as economically active instead of replacing them as employees and adding them to the pension burden makes economic sense. Secondly, Social Security and Pension funding has long been difficult. A parallel change to ending compulsory retirement, in which the many who have not spent their entire working life in Jersey could continue to pay contributions to add to their credits beyond their eligible retirement date, instead of claiming the pension, would both help the fund's income, and improve the lot of the workers, when they do decide that they are ready to retire.

I take quite a personal interest in this subject, as my own employer warned me a couple of years ago that I would be terminated at 60, when the company pension scheme matures. However, only having a few years contributions to this scheme will give me nothing like a living income from it, for the five years before I can get state pensions from Jersey and the UK. And 60 year-olds tend not to go to the front of the queue in applying for new jobs. So, already, I am having to look around for lower-paid work, just to be able to stay until I am 65 or more. I am still likely to have dependent children in further education to support then, let alone myself. My wife's career is secure enough, but it is hardly fair to expect her to keep me as a house husband in her own middle age. It would be a weght off my shoulders if I no longer had to worry about the sack for a 60th birthday present.

Perhaps the “establishment” and “anti-establishment” groupings in the States could take a break from the point-scoring and get together on this matter, as something where they could make a positive difference for many islanders, for once.