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


Other Exile said...

Dear Ugh,

The description 'swivel-eyed and frothy-mouthed' was a reference to the tone of your article with lots of things written in capital letters, and absolutely no reflection on, I am sure, your perfect eye and saliva control.

So, the JDA Council took a democratic decision that Geoff should stand and you were in a small minority who disagreed. Understood perfectly - any member of a democratic organisation should respect the right of the majority to choose tactics. I am also glad to see that the JDA respects a minority's right to dissent.

So then - maybe it would be interesting to explore the thinking behind your majority's decision.

The last few years the JDA has been campaigning for more economic fairness in Jersey,and your interventions on such issues have gained the JDA support, or if not support, at least grudging respect.

On the other hand you have been less vocal on, for want of a better term, civil liberties issues. For example: a gerrymandered electoral system that overrepresents the privileged sections of society, historical child abuse and the inability of victims to obtain redress within the system, political interference in policing, ending in a Kafkaesque 'neutral' suspension of a Chief Police Officer for nearly two years, a three year suspension of an innocent hospital consultant and so on and so on. And of course the hounding of opposition politicians reminiscent of the East European Regimes during their death throes. No bullets in the back of the neck, but police harassment, continuous abuse of process by Data Protection Officer who thinks she is the Supreme State Censor and a States Privileges Committee that thinks its job is to intimidate States Members who are 'impolite.'

That's quite a catalogue of abuse, but the JDA, whilst I'm sure opposed to all of these things, did not see these as issues to 'run with.' Maybe you did not see that Jersey has many more people these days who are well informed and not prepared to tug their forelocks to their betters any more.

So to a certain extent you've been outflanked to your 'left' on civil liberties issues by people who may be to your right on economic issues. (There is an interesting parallel with the troubles of New Labour recently, perhaps.)

The most popular and successful of these is perhaps Stuart. I am not sure whether he is more right wing on economic issues. And now he wants to form a party and he does not want to work with you. As far as I can tell, he sees you as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition - not that bothered by the Kafka going around you, maybe justifying your inaction as a Party by saying that your core supporters don't read the Guardian...

So faced with this, there's always two ways to jump:

embrace these issues as your own, extend the good work that Trevor has been doing - and in this election support Stuart (as critically as you want...)


Do a Life of Brian -

There's one thing we hate more than the Establishment and that's Stuart Syvret and his Alliance of Jersey Democrats - splitters!

or in other words:

We are the pure selected few
And all the rest are damned
There’s room enough in hell for you
We don’t want heaven crammed.

Anonymous said...

Will Jersey remember Geoff Southern as the world remembers Ralph Nada, that good chap who siphoned off just enough winning votes to cost Al Gore the US election? That, and some Republican establishment vote theft in Florida brought the planet 8 years of Bushworld.

Anonymous said...


Ugh, It's Him! said...

Traitors to whom?
Even if we thought Syvret were King, (I assume you mean traitors to him) he abdicated last year, so the deal is broken at his end.
Only Syvret never would join forces with the others on our side, so we never owed him any loyalty in return anyway.
The Syvret fan club are like the soldier's mother in the old joke: "Did you see my boy in the parade? - He was the only one marching in step."

Anonymous said...

Syvret flogs the same dead horse at every election. The public are bored, weary, fed up of the same non directional rubbish he spouts. So I agree with Urg.

Anonymous said...

I will vote for syvret because he tells the truth.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

And I won't because that is not all he tells, and because the trouble with him is not that the plot is against him, but that he has lost it.

Anonymous said...

UGH what rubbish you talk

Anonymous said...

"Ugh, It's Him! said...

And I won't because that is not all he tells, and because the trouble with him is not that the plot is against him, but that he has lost it."

Could you expand upon that please?

One thing I've noticed common to people who rubbish Syvret, and it gets very boring very quickly, is a tendency to to cast forth derogatory one-liner assertions without giving any explanation to their reasoning.

Such as you have just done.

I would seriously be interested to hear why you believe he has lost the plot. I know you're more than intelligent enough to be capable of justifying your comment.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

Why do I feel he has lost the plot?
For one thing, the impression that I get from reading his blog that he sees every manifestation of systemic weakness as another link in a grand plot. Probably some bits do join up, but I think parallel failures are a far more credible explanation.
For another, his consistent bad judgement in his conduct over the last three years. He has not made effective use of his powers as a States Member. He has wilfully derelicted his duty. He has turned on all allies of sufficient status not to play a totally subordinate role. He has mocked the rule of law. Gossip about his personal habits, and he and I have many mutual friends and acquaintances, resonates with an eye-opening meal he and I had with some of those mutual friends many years ago, at which he reminisced about surprisingly louche behaviour for a man of such a priggish demeanour. He has been generally reckless and irresponsible. As an ex-supporter of his, I now feel let down to the point of disgust by his antics.