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.