Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Real Party Here At Last?

Press release

A group of Jersey residents are planning to set up a Jersey branch of Lib Dems Abroad. A new States is in place. We recognise that Jersey needs policies that face up to the scale of the economic, environmental and social challenges facing the island. To help to draw up these policies, Lib Dems Abroad in Jersey can look at the work of the UK Liberal Democrat party and can consider how far they apply in a local context. We feel that their strong emphasis on local community issues alongside an outward looking international agenda fits well with the best of Jersey traditions.
While we endorse open debate and fairly placed criticism we do not collectively associate with the views of any particular Lib Dem MP or spokesperson on matters affecting Jersey.. However a grouping of people, proud of traditional Jersey values, who wish to see them continue to flourish in the best interests of all Jersey people, not just in finance, can help to promote positive new policies here.
An initial meeting has been planned for 5.30 pm on Wednesday, December 7th at Hautlieu School to form a committee and receive ideas from everyone interested in the proposal. Later there will be a vote on a constitution for the Jersey branch, using a draft provided by Lib. Dems Abroad.
We are supported by two candidates in the recent Senatorial elections, Rose Colley and Mark Forskitt, both of whom have served as Lib Dem councillors in the UK in the past.
We hope to involve both young and not so young. Maureen Lakeman, studying the International Bacclaureate at Hautlieu, has already attended two Lib Dem conferences in UK. Ed Le Quesne was a member of the SDP and then joined the Lib Dems when it first formed and through the Amos Group of Christians Together in Jersey has long taken a close interest in local affairs.
If you can’t attend the initial meeting, please register your interest by e-mailing one of us. It is not necessary to be a member of the Lib Dems to attend.
Maureen Lakeman Maureenlakeman@hotmail.com 07797 920606
Ed Le Quesne edleq@jerseymail.co.uk 730131
November 2011

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bad Echoes From A Bad Thing

The big story where I live, in Jersey, this month, has been the horrific mass murder of a couple of Polish families on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. To inflict on anyone the fear and then agony of a knife attack is a great wrong, and to give them many extra years of empty death, when they should still have been in the fullness of life, is by far the greatest wrong of all, and even more so when stealing almost the whole life expectancy of a small child. Multiply that by six and it is enough to shock even so smug a place as Jersey.

In fact, many people are so shocked that they are blurting out quite intemperate comments. While I would hate to be misunderstood as condoning such repugnant wickedness, I feel that I cannot agree with altogether everything that is being said by some of those who share my outrage at the crime, and my sadness for the victims.

While subsequent news releases imply that the sole survivor of the incident was indeed the aggressor, there was no indication in the first few, that the wounded man had not heroically fought for his life in self-defence and won. And yet complete strangers were already pouring their hate on this potentially innocent man, without waiting to find out whether he deserved it or not. This time nobody is having to eat their words, but it might behove them to consider the age-old procedure of evidence first, judgement afterwards in future.

Another ill-considered reaction the atrocity has provoked is calls for the return of the death penalty. Two cases alone are enough show why that one is best left in the history books: Compare the horrible story of Timothy Evans, who was framed for the murder of his beloved wife, only for his landlord to be unmasked as a serial killer some time after poor Evans ended his days dangling from a gallows, with the Guildford Four, who were framed for a terrorist bombing outrage; the judge bemoaned that he could no longer sentence them to hang, but when the real culprits were caught some years later, they were released to pick up the broken threads of their lives. In both these instances, the juries were under a duty to only convict if they found the accused's guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and both times they were subsequently shown to have been wrong, but at the cost of only one innocent life. Never again, I say.

But it is not only the public who have overreacted: The States of Jersey Police Force have really gone overboard in making a large and expensive fuss. Although the consequences of a knife being used were so much more evil and horrible, the crime was essentially a simple domestic fight getting exceptionally far out of control. From a policing point of view there is no more complexity than had the killer struck with an empty hand, although, of course, that would have been a far less serious crime. They had the suspect under guard in the hospital, so what were all the closed roads and armed patrols about? Just grandstanding, and probably milking the overtime into the bargain. Visible activity, plus fomenting public insecurity has to help with getting police budget increases passed, too.

And one last grumble has to be aimed at the washed-up ex-politician who spouted off about how he thought that it was all about the terrible pressure Jersey life imposes on ordinary people. I don't buy the paper he was interviewed by, and the second-hand summaries I have seen of his opinions may not have been quite accurate, but he has had conspicuous mental health problems for some years now, and they don't seem to be getting any better. Time he discreetly withdrew to deal with his demons in private.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Neo-liberal Economics - the New Astrology

Economics is often nicknamed “the dismal science”. However, although the “dismal” part may be well earned, much of mainstream contemporary economics has a pretty tenuous claim to be science.
Unless one defines the term broadly enough to include the likes of astrology, too.

Astrologers work from a bizarre starting point. First, they take the twelve constellations that mark the ecliptic, the plane the solar system orbits in, and assert that then Sun being in front of them, as seen from Earth, magically endows people and events with characteristics relating to the items and creatures those constellations coincidentally make rather contrived join-the-dots pictures of.. Then, they even out the differences in sizes to make twelve approximately equal signs. A bit of a fudge, that. Next, for an even bigger fudge, they wind back two millennia of precession, a very slow wobbling-top type secondary rotation of the Earth's own axis of rotation, and count the Sun as being where it would have seemed to be at a given season two thousand years ago. Then, they proceed to calculate horoscopes with great care and accuracy. For all their skill and expertise, though, on top of the very deep doubts any educated and thinking person must have about how the stars and planets could influence human affairs anyway, there is that total disconnect introduced by the fudges that completely vitiates the final results. Yet many people still put a lot of faith in the astrologers' conclusions and predictions.

Neo-liberal economists seem to have a remarkably similar approach. First, they take some of the ways in which buyers and sellers could act in a market and then they assume that everyone will always follow those behaviours; it would get too complex to calculate, if they did not. Then, to distinguish each expert's theory from all the other similar ones, they take a particularly random factor to emphasise. Then they create elaborate mathematical formulae with which they can make predictions with great care and accuracy. Once again, the fudging of the input data disconnects the calculations from the deeply unconvincing mechanisms they purport to measure, and the predictions fail as often as random guesses would. And, like astrology, the soothsayers' clients are far too impressed by the care and skill put into it all to question the fundamental validity of the process.

Now, internationally, we have elected a whole generation of credulous fools into power, nearly all of whom gullibly lap up the advice churned out by the naked emperors in the right-wing think-tanks. With their fancy formulae and opaque jargon, the latter bamboozle both hapless politicians and even themselves into believing their recommendations must work out in the forecast manner. Yet, the crucial questions about how they will actually work are casually swept aside, and discreetly covered over with the blanketing assurance that free markets theistically deliver miracles of perfection, if they are only left to get on with working their magic. Of course, the markets do not deliver their miracles, except by occasional pieces of random good luck, and why should they anyway?

I would not go so far as to claim that there is no use for the study of economics, and the application to practical politics. What I would contend, though, is that there is an urgent need for a resurgence of the old Keynesian school of economics, that starts with sound analysis of what really goes on, and demands that governments actively manipulate the economy to maximise desirable activity. As I write from the perspective of a small offshore island, with external trade dwarfing internal activity, I have to concede that little of the established Keynesian theory is properly applicable locally; Keynes and his followers having concerned themselves with the workings of Great Powers with immense domestic economies. However, we would benefit from the removal or re-education of the free-marketeers currently dominating our Council of Ministers, and should stand to gain from Keynesian reflation of the UK economy we are just a little side-loop on. I had to write “should”, not “would”, as one of the measures many of the leading Keynesians campaign for is a massive clampdown on tax leakage, and rather a lot of our local economic product is effectively commission on making tax leakage happen there, which would obviously backfire on us.

Anyway, neo-liberal economists are just the latest generation of the same kind of charlatans who were court astrologers for millenia, and no more deserving attention. Do not vote for any politician who seems to believe what he reads in their runes.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Hope for the Best, by All Means, but Prepare for the Worst, too.

A couple of years ago, I tried to start a discussion on cuts on another, more popular blog, to a disappointing lack of response. Here I get a good quality of comment, though, despite my small readership, so I shall revisit the topic, with a bit of copy and paste from last time, but some updates, too, and hope that we can create a really good thread between us.

Anyone with intentions to stand for Election this year should have been looking through their 2008 policies, if they had any then, and scrapping the many things that have been overtaken by events, and then shaping a new raft of policies for the 2011 elections, to carry us towards 2014.

The hard thing with looking three years and more ahead though, is that the short-term future is looking exceptionally unpredictable right now. Will our economy return to growth? Will it continue to gently decline? Will something spook the finance industry and leave our economy with bricks where the wheels were? All three possibilities are still two-figure percentage chances from where I am looking.

If it were certain that growth will return, then it would be easy to write a nice manifesto. There is probably still a need for some alternative taxation to fill the “Black Hole” that is Terry le Sueur's legacy, despite the GST hike, but with more money about, it would not need to bite too hard.
The tougher parts will be to prepare for further decline and outright crash. Many left-leaning people will probably be appalled that I even mention cuts, but if the money is not appearing in the income column of the ledger, it should not be in the expenditure column, either.

The only eager votes for a manifesto of cut this, slash that and snatch the other are going to come from the hard-right wingers I, and probably most of my readers, oppose, so we can't be shouting too loudly about intentions to do it. However, if things are still grim by the end of 2011, and the old guard are the scapegoats in the General election, then the erstwhile opposition are going to be faced with a dirty job that someone has got to do, and we really ought to have a clear idea of how we are going to go about it.

The latest figures show that States revenues are still buoyant, so there has maybe been a less pressing need for spending cuts and tax hikes than we have been led to believe. However, there is a lag of a year or two in the full effects of the recession filtering through to taxation, so it may be that something awful is about to emerge from the pipeline. And we need to be prepared to deal with it, if we aspire to replace the current government.

A fall of a few percent in revenue can largely be made up in the traditional manner, by corresponding rises in the rates of existing taxes and duties. However, these have already been jacked up faster than many people can easily adjust to in recent years, and any government doing much more of that will rapidly lose public confidence. The lost opportunity to lose the Social Security cap will have to keep on being revisited until there is a result. The diminishing progressivity of the Income Tax system is somewhat perverse, and also will have to be tackled by a new regime. I thought the way government budgets work is that they cost the activities and purchases they consider necessary to run the state in their chosen manner and then work out how much tax they need to raise. Jersey, with its love of quaintly different ways of doing things, currently goes for a different strategy of deciding how much tax to ask for, and then seeing what it buys. And, between falling profits in a global downturn and tax breaks for those rich enough not to need them very much, the tax yield is not likely to buy as much in the near future as it did in the near past. So, the C-word does have to be bandied about: CUTS!

In a diverse career, I have been an established officer in the UK Civil Service for a spell, and I get a little irritated at attacks made on a stereotype sixty years or more gone in real life. I think the popular image of the idle and arrogant man in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat leisurely making arbitrary decisions about the affairs only applies to the Bill Ogley/Mike Pollard type of senior manager, not at the levels that commonly interact with the general public. I don't think for a moment that large-scale redundancies in the public sector would do anything other than serious social and economic harm.

However, any organisation will tend to gather dead wood over a few decades, and a thorough audit, once in a generation, on the principles Leslie Chapman laid down in the 1960's, will inevitably show up a few jobs that are there because they have been done, rather than because they still need to be done. I know that the States of Jersey do already have an Audit Department that does these kind of surveys, due to a small quango that I used to be involved with receiving their attention, but they don't get the publicity they deserve.

So, the first level of cutting should be a rolling out of this thinking on a broad front. If a few percent of public sector jobs can be identified as dispensable, then their holders can be transferred to other more essential posts as they fall vacant through natural wastage, and the overall size reduced. A key factor will have to be the independence of the audit, though. If senior management are challenged to produce plans for reducing their own empires, then, humans being human, they tend to select those who would be most sorely missed as the priority for cuts, so making the plans unacceptable.

The big challenge, though, is how we would cope with a big fall in the size of Jersey's economy, say a quarter or a third? When even John Boothman, the avuncular ex-banker the finance industry often trots out to give it a human face, famously admitted that the finance industry could “leave at the click of a mouse”, there is no case for assuming it will continue to dominate our future as it has our present. There would need to be expenditure on helping the unexpectedly destitute, on top of all the usual business, so even more of the latter would have to be stopped. Law and order, and sanitation infrastructure would remain essential, and nobody would want to see medical care or education shaved too closely. But what of the rest? Opinions will be shaped by individual circumstances, but where would the consensus be found? No more roadworks, save essential utility repairs? Close the States Communication Unit, that just produces derided propaganda, and the Statistics Unit that only publishes useless and misleading “information”? Refreeze the Town Park, and halve the gardening in the existing parks? Across-the-board culls of Civil Servants? Whatever you look at, there would be more losers,than winners, but don't forget I am not asking how do we want Jersey 2014 to be, but how would we cope if the bottom had fallen out by 2013?

Depending on whether I get worthwhile feedback, I may make this the first of a little series, also taking a look at the options in less disastrous situations, and maybe following up any interesting tangents from the reader comments.

I am writing this to open a debate, not have a rant, so I beg you to consider what your idea of the “least-worst” cuts in a collapsing economy would be, and submit them by clicking the Comments option. (Tip: If you have never commented on a website before; if your answer is more than a few words, then draft in a word processor, copy and paste, because blogs don't reliably save at the first try.)

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Puppets or Leaders?

Puppet or leader? Generally, most politicians are one or the other, and it is very much a matter of taste which you prefer to have in office.

By puppet, I mean that many candidates are put up by their backers to be mouthpieces for their backers' views. In the Jersey context I mostly concern myself with, that usually means cronyism amongst lawyers, accountants and those businessmen who move in the same social circles. You may have a superficial democratic choice between, for instance, the Freemason, the yachtsman and the United Club regular, but they all sing off the same sheet when it comes down to it. Once in a while, they may give a personal hobby-horse a little push, but mostly they are there to make up the numbers to vote the way the real leaders order.

A different slant on puppet politicians is that of left-wing parties and factions. In the name of expressing the will of the people, or bottom-up democracy, their politicians are expected to push the policies and cast the votes that their backers have themselves voted to instruct them to.

You may have guessed, from my choice of the pejorative term “puppet”, that, despite being an avowed democrat, and a left-winger by Jersey's skewed standards, I am none too keen on this model of representation, myself. I see two big flaws: Firstly, a matter of principle. The real decisions this type of politician implements are made by others behind them, unchosen by the public vote. This seems profoundly undemocratic to me. Secondly, the practical consequence is that the parliamentary process is completely vitiated if any significant number of members are turning up under previous orders to vote a particular way. Ben Shenton has already claimed that the debates no longer matter, because everything has been sewn up behind closed doors. The more that members are mandated by their backers, the worse this problem becomes.

Reading and listening to the news and the odd opinion piece may give us all a few shallow ideas about what is going on and what should be done. The purpose of a professional political class, though, is to read the reports and listen to the debates on behalf of those of us who haven't the time, and make better informed judgements than we can for ourselves. Asking people to read, listen, think and decide for us is a far bigger task than just asking them to do what we tell them, so we must choose who carefully to make it work. There are Members of the States of Jersey who do work in this way of course, although, unfortunately, too many of them seem to end up as backbenchers rather than ministers.

The other kind of politician is the leader. Instead of being a front for others, they recruit supporters to give backing to their principles and judgement. This can easily end in tears, as history, and even current affairs, are full of examples of unsavoury dictators finding the wrong kind of supporters to impose the wrong kind of ideas on the rest of their nation. However, it is also the only way to have a properly valid public mandate in a functional democracy. If more people have said “I trust you best to make the calls.” than did so for anyone else, then you can get on with the job without serious challenge.

The really perplexing scenario would be for the candidates with the best manifestos to be pledged to dance to party tunes and those with minds of their own all to be hellbent on paddling us further up the creek. Then it would be really hard to choose. I think I would go for the best manifesto, but I would not really have a lot of confidence in their personal ability, if they needed others in the shadows to tell them what to do.

The big problem with pre-mandated politicians is that, instead of them making their decisions on the strength of the facts in the detailed reports, and the arguments made in public parliamentary debate, their decisions are made for them by amateurs who don't have have the time to study all the facts, on the strength of news reports, gossip, prejudice and caprice, without any effective scrutiny or input by the voting public at large. This may well be commonplace reality, but it is also a failure of democratic principle, not an expression of it.

To summarise; although other ways can and do exist, the optimum model for party politics is for the parties to get behind their leaders, not to put them up as front men. Party hacks are even less desirable than chaotic independents.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Schoool Milk and Priorities

When I responded to a call to comment on the school milk fiasco last week, I was taken to task by one of Jersey's leading bloggers for not directly linking the matter to the even bigger fiasco of the mandarins' payoffs. However, I think that they are galls growing on different branches, and you have to go back nearer to the trunk to find the connection.

Free school milk was of immense nutritional value in harder and poorer times than we now live. But starving paupers have, for our era at least, been eliminated. Should you ever have cause to drive down La Motte Street on a weekday morning, and see the Income Support queue, it is striking how an overwhelming majority are conspicuously overweight. However, milk's own advantages, and drawbacks, as a food supplement do not disappear just because there is plenty else available as well or instead. Risky though a high dairy consumption may be for the middle-aged, it is the natural staple for all young and growing mammals, humans included. Therefore, it is still a good thing to make it available for children, and a better thing than most alternatives that they may wish to drink in school instead. (Except for the minority who outgrow their ability to digest milk by puberty.)

Farmers do not produce milk just out of an altruistic desire to nourish the public, of course, but to earn their own livings, and the processing and distribution are also business propositions in pursuit of profit. So “free” milk has to be paid for by somebody. Once, there was a clear case for that somebody to be the States. Now, when every family's food budget will buy rather more calories than it takes to lead an active life on, that case is no longer so clear. It would still be reasonable and practical for the state to facilitate the provision, and some level of subsidy may help to encourage takeup and stabilise supply. However, it would not be an outrageous burden on the vast majority of parents to divert a small part of their children's weekly sweet money to a milk subscription, and certainly no burden on those children's health. When we have a need to be very careful how we spend public money, 100% funding of school milk is hard to justify in the context of 2011 Jersey.

“When we have a need to be very careful how we spend public money...” I can work back towards that along another branch altogether:-

The previous rant was not enough to satisfy my anger at the ridiculous payoffs made to rid us of a couple of failed mandarins. When a man is hired to provide high level management skills in a politically sensitive environment, blundering through with respect for neither due process nor public opinion can only be viewed as gross incompetence. Gross incompetence has always been a deal-breaker in any job, and urgent departure has always been the remedy. It is ridiculous to suggest that massive inducements should be necessary to persuade the failed incumbent to pre-emptively resign. The ignominy of the alternative is generally enough. If the sky-high payments were a bribe to keep the departing staff from blowing the whistle on orders from above that made their jobs impossible to carry out competently, then they would be at least understandable, although still inexcusable. But, although there are allegations that the beneficiaries of these jackpots were involved in untoward conspiracies with certain politicians, their downfall has been very much due to their own failings in how they played their parts.

Had it been insufficient to just point out that their positions were becoming untenable, to make them step down, it should have been possible to remove them by disciplinary procedures. In fact, there is some circumstantial evidence that Ogley's departure is closely connected with the disciplining of an unidentified civil servant, the details being much too sensitive and confidential for public consumption. Unless they could produce some very embarrassing evidence in their own defence, though, it is hard to see why it would not have been better to simply remove them. It may be a bit of a fuss, and leave a bad taste in a few mouths, but it would take even more mismanagement to run up a six-figure bill on the sackings.

I would contend therefore that buying the delinquents off instead of sacking them was not so much a necessity as a luxury. Only, we have a need to be very careful how we spend public money, and this is not a careful use of it. This is a quite different matter to school milk, but it touches on the same issue: How do we prioritise the claims on the public purse? There are several aspects to consider: How good is something? How desirable? How necessary? How important? How valuable? How expensive? All the same kind of question, but not exactly the same things, and certainly not all the same answer.

Even if there are objective answers to at least some of that list of questions, others have inherently subjective answers, and weighting or ranking those answers is more subjective still, which is where the politics come in. The idea of a representative democracy is that you vote for the candidate whom you expect to make the judgements that seem most right to you. If you squander your vote by choosing on spurious grounds like having a nice glossy poster, then tough luck, if you dislike the consequences. If you are outvoted by those who think priorities should be different to you, that is tough, too. All you can do is try to persuade them that they would like your ideas better, if they tried them next time.

Anyway, to return to the examples in hand: School milk I would categorise as good, myself, but see Tom Gruchy's comment two posts back for another viewpoint. But does it score enough for necessity and importance to balance out the high score for expense? VFC says it does, I say not quite, and Phil Ozouf says not at all. Paying the ministers' right-hand men vast sums just to go away is certainly not good, desirable, important or valuable. However I can imagine circumstances where it is necessary from the viewpoint of those who can authorise such payments, not that such circumstances would be to anybody's credit; like knowing too much about cases of gross maladministration or corruption, for instance. (Imaginary and hypothetical circumstances of course.)

To sum up, both cases are matters of priorities, and priorities of democratic governments are matters of voter preferences. So, if you don't like the current incumbents' priorities, drag yourselves away from the TV for a few minutes, next election day, and vote for someone else.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

I wish I was so bad at my job they paid me that much not to come again!

Just when it seemed that the States of Jersey were exhausting their power to shock the island's citizenry, along comes a new and bigger scandal.

Nobody could take issue with two senior civil servants, who had failed to manage their responsibilities successfully, choosing to resign before they incurred formal dismissal. In fact, it is a shame that they did not depart even sooner. And I suppose that it is a kind of constructive dismissal to warn them that a disciplinary dismissal would be the outcome of any ill-judged attempt to cling to office, so inviting their resignations..

On the other hand, it is hard to see how anybody could not take issue with paying enough to have funded some well-appreciated service such as school milk for a couple of years as an inducement to resign. At that level of management, remuneration already reflects the risk that the boss will be expected to take the responsibility for failure by moving aside. Ogley and Pollard both failed to run their areas of responsibility to the standard the public expected from them for their money, and both should have simply gone. To offer them hundreds of thousands of pounds not to come into work anymore, just to save the bother of firing them is an utter absurdity and obscenity.

It is not hard to think of reasons why they should have left under clouds. Whatever one thinks of Stuart Syvret, in days of better mental health he exposed totally unacceptable management failings at the Health Department, that Pollard must be held responsible for continuing, even if they pre-date his watch originally. Ogley is up to his neck in malfeasances involving Syvret and Graham Power, and has been at the heart of every unsatisfactory piece of government policy of the last few years. I seem to remember that his reference was leading the implementation of hardline Tory cuts in Hertfordshire. Through the worst years of of Thatcher and Major, Jersey used to take pride in its wealth enabling it to do things that little bit better on the whole, but now our leaders want to catch up in their race to the bottom, and Ogley was seen as the man to do it.

Although it is rumoured that Jersey appears as a major producer in the accounts of a famous banana trading firm, it is not really a banana republic. Some would have it that The Jersey Way is just like one, but, in fact, very British attitudes predominate. Messrs Pollard and Ogley were sadly misled, if they were given the expectation that they were going to enjoy the levels of licence and impunity needed to get away with their style of doing things. And who so misled them?

Even if they had been induced to take up their posts by false pretences, the compensation given for their departure seems altogether disproportionate. And who saw fit to be so generous with our money, and, moreover, why?

The answers are of course that The Council of Ministers, and maybe a few close advisers, were who, and to induce them to take the rap for those behind them was why. However much initiative these men were supposed to exercise in carrying out their orders, and however much advice they gave as to what those orders should be, there can be no doubt which way the chain of command actually runs.

The whole sorry scandal is a sign that we have elected some unworthy leaders to the highest offices, if they will hire help to do such things, and need to buy their silence so expensively, when they fail to get away with them. We must choose more carefully next time: Although so much damage has already been done now, that nobody could fix it all in a term or two, we must stop adding to it.

I wish I was so bad at my job they paid me that much not to come again!

Just when it seemed that the States of Jersey were exhausting their power to shock the island's citizenry, along comes a new and bigger scandal.

Nobody could take issue with two senior civil servants, who had failed to manage their responsibilities successfully, choosing to resign before they incurred formal dismissal. In fact, it is a shame that they did not depart even sooner. And I suppose that it is a kind of constructive dismissal to warn them that a disciplinary dismissal would be the outcome of any ill-judged attempt to cling to office, so inviting their resignations..

On the other hand, it is hard to see how anybody could not take issue with paying enough to have funded some well-appreciated service such as school milk for a couple of years as an inducement to resign. At that level of management, remuneration already reflects the risk that the boss will be expected to take the responsibility for failure by moving aside. Ogley and Pollard both failed to run their areas of responsibility to the standard the public expected from them for their money, and both should have simply gone. To offer them hundreds of thousands of pounds not to come into work anymore, just to save the bother of firing them is an utter absurdity and obscenity.

It is not hard to think of reasons why they should have left under clouds. Whatever one thinks of Stuart Syvret, in days of better mental health he exposed totally unacceptable management failings at the Health Department, that Pollard must be held responsible for continuing, even if they pre-date his watch originally. Ogley is up to his neck in malfeasances involving Syvret and Graham Power, and has been at the heart of every unsatisfactory piece of government policy of the last few years. I seem to remember that his reference was leading the implementation of hardline Tory cuts in Hertfordshire. Through the worst years of of Thatcher and Major, Jersey used to take pride in its wealth enabling it to do things that little bit better on the whole, but now our leaders want to catch up in their race to the bottom, and Ogley was seen as the man to do it.

Although it is rumoured that Jersey appears as a major producer in the accounts of a famous banana trading firm, it is not really a banana republic. Some would have it that The Jersey Way is just like one, but, in fact, very British attitudes predominate. Messrs Pollard and Ogley were sadly misled, if they were given the expectation that they were going to enjoy the levels of licence and impunity needed to get away with their style of doing things. And who so misled them?

Even if they had been induced to take up their posts by false pretences, the compensation given for their departure seems altogether disproportionate. And who saw fit to be so generous with our money, and, moreover, why?

The answers are of course that The Council of Ministers, and maybe a few close advisers, were who, and to induce them to take the rap for those behind them was why. However much initiative these men were supposed to exercise in carrying out their orders, and however much advice they gave as to what those orders should be, there can be no doubt which way the chain of command actually runs.

The whole sorry scandal is a sign that we have elected some unworthy leaders to the highest offices, if they will hire help to do such things, and need to buy their silence so expensively, when they fail to get away with them. We must choose more carefully next time: Although so much damage has already been done now, that nobody could fix it all in a term or two, we must stop adding to it.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Kings and Things

One of the big events of 2011 so far has been the wedding of Prince William, second in line to the British monarchy. It inspired a huge upwelling of popular affection for our Royal Family, that I must respect as a democrat, even if I am deeply disappointed in my compatriots as a republican. So, the opinion of the British people, and most certainly of Her Majesty's Government, is that a hereditary Head of State, to whom all mere elected officials are constitutionally answerable, is a Very Good Thing indeed.

What can have been so special about these peoples ancestors, that simply being their distant descendants is proof of fitness to rule? Just this; that the ultimate founder of every Royal House, seems to have been a charismatic soldier, able to both inspire their troops and terrify their subjects. Thus, the British monarchy bases its claim on putative descent from Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror, both of whom strongarmed their way to the English throne at the heads of bloodthirsty armies. (A team fronted by Tony Robinson spotted a glitch in the line of descent, for a TV show a few years ago, but the rightful heir they identified had renounced his peerage and settled in Australia as a common working man of republican views, and was not impressed by the news.) It therefore seems a reasonable deduction, that the establishment of monarchic dynasties by charismatic but terrifying soldiers should also be a Very Good Thing in the eyes of both the British people and their Government.

Another of 2011's big events is that when Libya's state stability suffered one of its occasional wobbles, several major Western Powers who should have known better pitched in to stave off defeat for the losing side.
The Arab region has just a clear idea of what a king should be as the West, and without the liberal traditions of post-Christian secularism to soften their thinking, generally expect and accept levels of good and bad behaviour from those who fill the role of king, that have long been relegated to children's fiction North of the Mediterranean Sea.

Muammar Ghaddafi is enough of a Twentieth Century Boy not to consider crowning himself, but he has shown all the hallmarks of a Great King in the way he has risen from his military background to put himself at the front of Libya's popular revolution and rule with a capricious mixture of genuine concern for the well-being of his subjects, savage disregard for the well-being of his enemies and sometimes wise, sometimes strange ideas for the bossing around of everybody. And he has been grooming his sons to carry on the family business.

Now, I can see how America or France could find a fig-leaf of moral principle, to dress a cynical attempt to put in a Libyan government that owes them a big favour, when it is time to sort out oil deals. But how, oh how can Her Majesty's government send Her Majesty's Forces to depose Colonel Ghaddafi for ruling in the very style Her Majesty's own authority derives from?

I must admit that I would not care to live in Ghaddafi's Libya, myself, but then I have not been raised with a head full of traditional Arab values, and I would be a sad misfit residing in any Arab country under any regime. My points are that Ghaddafi is not so bad by the values of his own civilisation, which is a neighbour of our own, not an extension of it, and that he embodies the very qualities our own nation sees as lying at its heart. Our pursuit of an unnecessary war against him is wasting resources and sacrificing lives in a grand act of arrogance and hypocrisy. His hands may be even less clean than the average long-serving statesman, but we really cannot indict him and justly leave our own aggressors, like Blair and now Cameron to go free.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

School Milk Petition

Another off-topic comment on another thread worth starting a new one with:
Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Any observations on the schools milk petition ?


26 May 2011 12:40
Blogger Ugh, It's Him! said...

Anonymous #11:

In the first place, I believe school milk is a good thing, but, in today's affluent and overfed society, a much less important good thing than it was at the time of its original introduction. I think they should have kept it, but asked parents to chip in towards the cost, but that option has never been on the table.
Regarding the petition; it is the kind of stunt that stops me regretting baling out of the JDA, and the undignified squabble between Geoff and Ted about whose petition it is diminishes both men. It is the 2,000 signatories' petition, if it is anybody's, and the front men owe it to the 2,000 to get on with presenting it, not drag it into their own quarrel.

26 May 2011 16:34

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Sporting Hero ?

Last year, I had a little grumble about the current crop of English professional football players. So, as a rest from all the scandals of Rooney and Cole and Terry and Lampard and whoever CTB may be, and so on, maybe I should give some praise to a model pro instead.

Strictly, I think he is Welsh rather than English, but Ryan Giggs has had an illustrious career in the English Premier League. He has loyally stuck with Manchester United throughout his career, too. I suppose that is easier when the only way out is down, but there are plenty of other players who have churned through United and other clubs of similar standing in pursuit of the fastest buck. He has looked after himself physically in a way that all professional sportsmen ought to but too few actually do, and remains an international grade outfield player at an age that only goalkeepers usually go on to.

What must be especially admired though, is that you never read of any scandal about him in the papers, only praise for his performances and the mighty haul of trophies those performances have brought. When our vigilantly investigative tabloids can not find any sordid tales they can print to enliven our Sundays, despite almost two decades in one of the most sleaze-ridden trades around, our hero Ryan must really be something special.

Unless, of course, he is just as bad of the rest of them, and all that is special is that he is canny enough to hire scarier lawyers than the others, so the tabloids have found sordid tales they can't print. Just a hypothetical possibility, naturally: A hero like him wouldn't really be like that, now would he?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

"Tom Gruchy" on Disorganised Progressives

"Tom Gruchy" submitted this as a comment on another thread, but it is enough of a change of subject to deserve being a thread in its own right, too.

TOM GRUCHY says...
I too seem to be falling into Deputy T. Pitman's spam box and I raised similar sentiments to your well reasoned comment from anonymous.

It's the usual tittle tattle brigade who seem to take up so much space on Pitman's blog and the endless discussion about trolls - but so little discussion of important political and social issues. Not to mention the never ending failure to form a co-ordinated and effective opposition or even a viable alternative government.

The deplorable fact is that there are already more than enough so called "progressives" in the States to run rings around the likes of Le Sueur & Co if only they were prepared to bury their own egos for a few months. Preferably the few months left before Jersey's first ever General Election.

The history of "progressive representation" in Jersey really is a disgrce. The electorate can hardly be blamed - they have returned so called "progressives" to the States since Norman Le Brocq broke the mould - by the bus-load. But always the electorate has been let down.

Just do some counting and consider the likes of Joan Du Feu, Jimmy Johns, Jerry Dorey, Stuart Syvret, Imogen Nichols, Wendy Kinnard, Ted Vibert- but where is their political legacy now? They did not get elected solely through self effort - they were supported by groups of people who raised funds, leafleted, campaigned etc etc without any public recognition or reward. Why did they bother?

Soon, the usual solo prima donnas will be touting for support in the October beauty parade - but how many "progressives" do we need? If we had 27 in the States would they still be fighting amongst themselves and refusing to present agreed policies that have been agreed by the public?

As the "apathetic" public say - what is the point in voting for these people if they fail to deliver. Blame the system, blame the weather, blame whatever you want - but at the end of the day sometime in October - what is the point in voting?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Big Trev's New Website

My old JDA friend and colleague, Deputy Trevor Pitman now has his new personal website up and running at http://www.thebaldtruthjersey.co.uk in addition to a linked blog at http://www.thebaldtruth.blogspot.com

Go visit!!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Human Resources Are Too Precious To Scrap Before Time

The recent announcement, that the States intend to make most people wait a little longer to become Old Age Pensioners, is a necessary consequence of the way that most people are getting old more slowly in this time of unprecedentedly good public health. More years of pension being drawn must need either higher deductions or a longer period of them, if not both, to remain affordable.

However, I hope that they are going to join up the thinking on this. 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. Unless they couple the change with a move to outlaw compulsory retirement of employees before state pension age, they are going to accumulate a pile of very mature unemployed, too old to appeal to most “Human Resources” or Personnel Managers, who are just drawing Income Support instead of Old Age Pension, and still putting no more into the pot. The need is for people to work for longer, not merely wait for their pensions for longer.

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.

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 can currently 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.

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.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A Credible Opposition

I think that most of my readers will be familiar with Jersey politics. If you aren't, it has a dominant clique with real power and some backbenchers, who get a modest salary for achieving more or less nothing, however hard they work. This inability of the backbenchers to achieve useful input is a fairly new problem, arising from the “reform” of introducing ministerial government. Previously, almost everybody sat in on the committees that formerly controlled departments.

This removal of any effective check or influence on ministerial power is a matter of concern to those who follow local politics, other than supporters of incumbent ministers, of course. Soon there will be a campaign launching, to call for the creation of a credible opposition.

I wonder, though, what the promoters of this campaign foresee as the fruit of the project. I presume that the first step is to find more high-calibre candidates with left-wing or centre-left views. However, that particular talent pool may well prove rather shallow. It would not surprise me if the best are not either already backbench States members, or well-known activists, whom everyone expects to stand in due course. Then there is the matter of forming a coherent opposition, unlike the current situation, where the same third of the House usually vote against the ministerial line, but are united more by their rejection of the other side than any shared vision.

All over the world, coherence is the product of parties. I think, therefore that the way forward will have to be yet another attempt to found a party, building on the ruins of past failures such as the fast-fading JDA and the long gone and forgotten Rainbow Alliance. But, it is hard to sell to good candidates the discipline of party politics, when they know they are facing an electorate with a proven track records for liking colourful mavericks.

Suppose we do get Jersey's Next Party established though. Unless the JNP have enough members and allies in office, that they need only persuade a handful of ministerial acolytes to change sides on a particular vote, they can still do no more than talk. And even the talking is being reined in, as there has been a reaction to the habit one particularly intellectual backbencher has, of speaking over the bony heads of the less clever but more powerful members for literally hours on end.

The only time an opposition can be strong, is when it is a government-in-waiting. If all it does is to get on with the job of opposing, it is reduced to protest and gesture. Those may garner support, as they articulate public dissatisfaction, but they do not in themselves give any very reassuring answer to the question “So, can you do any better, then?”. Thus, a credible opposition must focus its effort not on opposition itself, but on developing alternative policies that will inherently be in opposition to the ministerial ones. And, the trick that Labour and Conservative in Westminster, and Democrat and Republican in Washington so often miss, is to give principled and ungrudging support to the incumbent government when they do what their opposition wanted to do, too. Nothing, apart from bribery and corruption, makes politicians look sleazier than objecting to a good thing for selfish tactical reasons: The public want good government, not petty point-scoring.

While having a Plan B for being the opposition is prudent, it should not be the prime objective of the JNP anyway. Those alternative policies must be blueprints for government, not just pie-in-the-sky dreams to blame the establishment for not adopting. If the JNP is going to develop sound and attractive policies, and field enough electable candidates to carry some weight in the next House, then it becomes at least possible, although not odds-on, that it could end up being or dominating the government. Then we could look forward to a very credible opposition with the likes of Messrs Ozouf, Gorst and Routier. I quite like the idea of that kind of talent packing the opposition benches, and would be happy to see them as a government-in-waiting that waits a very long time indeed.

Good Article

The economist and thinker, Richard Murphy has a very interesting piece that would appeal to the kind of people who read this blog at here

Friday, 18 March 2011

Try to be Hard in the Cold, and You May Well End up Stiff, Instead

Recently, the usually pampered lives of professional soccer players have seen the banning of snood scarves, particularly popular with immigrant players from warm countries in British or European winter weather. Moreover, there has been some nostalgic harping on about how much tougher players used to be when they did not dress so warmly.

I doubt that, myself. There is a tradition in the colder parts of England that only weaklings are “nesh”, or sensitive to cold, but those who would challenge the might of the weather with courage alone often end up paying the highest price. The UK sees a five figure surplus mortality over the summer months each winter. Yet most of Europe has harsher winters without this effect.

So, why? Because everywhere else, they respect the cold and dress against it. Even without actually developing hypothermia, the thickened blood, restricted circulation and impaired breathing of the thoroughly chilled impose heavy and adverse loads on the body, that can escalate underlying problems from the trivial to the fatal.

But apart from the health hazards, that are probably minimal to professional athletes in their prime, there is the performance loading that sub-lethal hypothermia brings. Getting severely cold not only saps strength but dulls mental performance too: It slows reactions and little by little turns common sense to a pseudo-drunken irrationality. Far from pouring scorn on those wise enough to try to avoid or mitigate these problems, the bravely cold should learn and imitate. My employer recently added snoods to the kit they issue us for working in the cold, and they work.

We cannot go on heating our homes quite as lavishly as we have been doing in the last quarter-century, but we need to be sensible about keeping ourselves warm, indoors and out. Half a million or so Britons sacrificed to misplaced pride in their toughness every decade is far too high a toll. A footballer in a snood is not a big cissy, he is the future, one large step ahead of his detractors and a fine example to follow. This ill-considered reaction should be rescinded, and soon.

As a lot of my two dozen or so readers are political types, there is another angle worth mentioning: Although I started by considering elite professional sportsmen, the real damage from cold weather is borne mainly by the old and infirm. However tight welfare gets in a crashed economy, the next most important thing to sufficient food to provide for the needy is the means or access to at least one warm room. Save in high summer, fuel is an essential, not a luxury in Britain's climate.

Friday, 11 February 2011


Emille’s Funeral will be held on Wednesday at 10.45 am at the Crematorium followed by a meeting at the Old Magistrates Court (back of Town Hall) from 1145am.Family, friends and former colleagues are welcome to attend.
By voiceforchildren

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

An Even Smaller World

Jersey online politics is a very small world. Last week it got even smaller with the sudden loss of the Haut de la Garenne Farce Blog. If you read this you probably used to read that too, but in case anyone didn't, it was a rather unpredictable and uneven blog by a couple of people calling themselves Gazza and Andy, with guest articles by Senators Perchard and le Main and, they claimed, some anonymous others. It occupied a unique and important niche as the only independent right-wing local website known to the little clique of Jersey bloggers and forum posters, apart from a handful of one-or-two-posts-a-year personal blogs. Sometimes it sailed very close to the wind with posting things that seemed to defy copyright and data protection law with the same insolent disregard as they defied good taste, when publishing material aimed at embarrassing people it saw as threats. And it seems that somebody tipped the owners off about trouble brewing, because its disappearance seems to have a link to the latest political bombshell to hit Jersey.

Deputy Sean Power has been obliged to resign as Housing Minister for copying and leaking an email from a former politician that had been forwarded from one fellow States Member to another. Mr Power himself feels that this was merely a pretext to get rid of him, but I think most people would consider such gross invasion of privacy a resigning matter. We must of course take his word that it was not his copy, but another, that found its way onto the internet. However, it is fair to reflect on how unfortunate for him it was that the blog that published the stolen email, to the mortification of its proper recipient, was one he had reputed links with. For it was HdlGFarce Blog. Mr Power's close colleague, Terry le Main was a contributor, and the consensus used to be that if the “anonymous States Member” was not Gazza pretending to false credentials, then they were most likely to be Sean Power. They certainly gave the impression of being a “source close to him” as the cliché goes. Real offence, embarrassment and damage to reputation was caused by the email Mr Power handled without authority being published by the blog he had at least an indirect association with. Even if it was truly coincidental that the blog got hold of the same email, Mr Power was still in an untenable position, and had to go.

Gazza and Andy, of course, are as free to close their blog on a whim any time they please as I am to close this one. But, to be honest, they also seemed about as likely to do so. So one wonders what spooked them. For instance, could it have been a warning on the lines of “Hey, Gazza, Data Protection are looking into that email I gave you, to be sure, and they won't be liking that dating agency thing you're running now, either, if they look. I think you'd better be closing the blog down, so I do, before we get into even more trouble.”? No, we must reject that possibility. Even so, it seems to me that there is grounds for a little doubt about whether Mr Power has told the whole truth in as clear a manner as possible.

PS: HdlGF has now reappeared as a public blog, shorn of illicit material. Welcome back to Gazza and Andy, and thanks to Tony for drawing attention to its reappearence.

Cargo Cult Politics

I don't know for sure whether this is truth or just a very plausible urban myth: In the early 1940's the USA were fighting a war against Japan across the Pacific Ocean, amongst other simultaneous and related conflicts. They posted American garrisons on numerous islands, and supplied them at least in part by parachute drops on the makeshift airstrips. The indigenous Polynesians, with a sharp eye for the detail of the process, but no clue about the wider picture, took to marking out their own imitation airstrips in the vain hope of tempting the sky-gods to drop them some free provisions, too. I have no idea whether any confused airman ever did accidentally encourage them in their error by mistaking the native sites for the US Army drop zones, but they allegedly persisted for some years with a “cargo cult”, believing, with more modest theology and vastly more evidence than the world's major religions, that, if they only marked out the ground exactly right, free food would come out of the sky for them.

I shall return to that subject to make a comparison, later, but next I must take a different approach towards my point.

Jersey politics has had a very weak party tradition in recent decades. There have been a handful of minor parties come and go over the years, but in my lifetime they have always been swamped by the independents, in a reversal of the usual order where the major parties compete against one another while the independents constitute the political jungle's undergrowth. Most informed observers agree that there has been a bloc of powerful politicians acting as a de facto party, but the informality of the arrangement saves them from the usual degree of accountability to their activists, let alone their voters.

Many politically interested people would prefer there to be normal party politics, as enjoyed by most of the free world, but it is a weary task to bring it about. I myself have been involved in two attempts to launch a party somewhere to the left of the ruling non-party, one of which soon disintegrated, and the other of which is approaching its fifth anniversary in rather poor shape.

The Jersey Democratic Alliance set out to be a proper, quasi-professional organised party, drawing heavily on founder Ted Vibert's years of experience in the Australian Labour Party, as well as Geoff Southern and Tony Keogh's backgrounds as UK Labour Party supporters in their youth. It has a carefully written formal constitution with fairly clear, but not impracticably restricted aims. It is structured like a real party, and takes pains to present itself like a real party. Jersey needs at least one and preferably three more parties to make party politics work here again, though. And, at present there are none. Should you google the Jersey Conservative Party, you will find an internet presence of sorts, but the party itself really could meet in a telephone box, were the second member a more delicately built man. And there is no longer anything else.

So, we do not have a functional party system, and any hope of developing one is still over the horizon. Worse though, is that, instead of providing a template for its future rivals, the JDA has itself lapsed into profound dysfunctionality.

In its early years, the hope of the JDA was to provide some alternative policies by which the island could be governed. Even if it did not command an actual majority, a bloc holding the balance of power would have had enough leverage to see through at least some of its manifesto. That, to me seemed the fundamental purpose of a political party. However, as the years dragged by with nothing of substance achieved, the attention of the party leadership has gradually shifted to the other things that parties do: Insult and bully their opposite numbers – check. Indulge in rabble-rousing publicity stunts – check. Put out glossy pamphlets of insubstantial spin – check. Get with the 21st Century by putting the pamphlet content and more on a slick professionally run website – check. But all those things are incidental activities, not the core purpose. The PR Quango Jersey Finance can boast of getting laws in double figures passed every year, whereas the JDA, a proper party, achieves little more than an occasional amendment. But legislation and administrative policy are its core purposes. If it is neither providing those, nor substantially influencing those who do for the better, then it is fundamentally failing.

The spin and insults and stunts are cargo-cult politics, the lights along the edge of the strip. If they are not laying them around the real drop zone then they are so much wasted effort. There is enough wisdom gathered in the JDA leadership to know better than what they are now doing, at heart. For party politics to prosper once more here, however, they need to return to a clear focus on alternative policies to the establishment non-party, that challenges the supporters of both the mainstream and other alternative policies to likewise organise and formalise the promotion of their own viewpoints.

Unless the mainland UK parties set up local branches, which is unlikely, given the different priorities and occasional conflicting interests of our island politics, there is not really the scale to operate as if our parties were Westminster or Washington operations. Jersey parties must by necessity be mainly amateur operations, perhaps hiring a freelance expert or contractor for some tasks, but all of them too small to carry any paid staff. Thus, they must take care to distinguish between the trappings of a national party and the core business of any party, and concentrate on the latter. The JDA are failing to do this at present, and so letting down all those voters they would or used to speak for. The General Election is now only a few months away. They need to be living down the futile and embarrassing stunts like putting a sitting member into a by-election or presenting a petition that shows that a minority of people would like to have the Treasury Minister sacked, and, instead, setting the agenda for the Election campaign by laying out clear and credible policy alternatives once again. Promoting a lecture on how the finance industry could survive a global clampdown on tax avoidance by Richard Murphy was a good start; now they need to go down that road in earnest.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Interesting Meeting Next Week

The famous or infamous, according to your perspective, economist Richard Murphy will be in Jersey for a public meeting on the topic “Jersey – Let finance work for you” at Hautlieu on 24th January at 7pm. He is looking forward to debating with his critics, as well as meeting his supporters, so it should be a lively and interesting meeting, wherever your own standpoint is.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Autres Temps, Autres Moeurs

Last week's conviction of the Jordans marks the end of the official action in respect of child abuse at Haut de la Garenne a generation ago, and the final flurry of publicity about it. By coincidence, while the Haut de la Garenne scandal has been refreshed in my mind, I have also been reading “Boy”, the non-fiction reminiscences of his own childhood by the mid 20th Century author Roald Dahl.

Dahl's book sheds light on the inspiration for the various bullies, sadists, ogres and psychopaths that so dominate his fiction. He paints a grim picture of life in upmarket private sector schools in the inter-war years. Boys were frequently beaten savagely with canes for trivial misdemeanors, or even mere unfounded suspicion of them. One incident he recounted was of the Matron filling the mouth of a snoring boy with soap flakes to stop him. Soap in a child's mouth struck me as having a resonance with the tales of the abusive “carers” in Jersey's Children's Service.

The question that has so perturbed us in the pampered 21st Century has been “How could they have allowed such things to go on?”. As I closed the book after reading the chapter about The Matron, I suddenly saw the answer:

The upper-middle class boys Dahl went to school with were being prepared to become officers and gentlemen in manhood. Perhaps they were somewhat damaged as individuals by the process, but the pay-off was that they left school able to submit to harsh and rigid discipline and able to face painful physical injury with calm courage and fortitude. In a time when there were major wars to be fought, their country needed men like these as leaders on the battlefield, and it had them in adequate supply.

But as well as being the officer class in war, they were also the professional class in peace. And they brought their battle-ready public school values to their civilian careers, too. Moreover, most public school boys were proud enough of their education to wish it on their own offspring, in turn.

Dahl's generation would have been the senior lawyers and administrators of Haut de la Garenne's most controversial days. In their own boyhoods, their fathers would have paid good money to have them brutally physically and psychologically abused, and called it giving them a good education. They would also have signed most of their own sons up to more of the same. How could we expect these men to have raised an eyebrow at the regime that prevailed in most children's homes of the day? These poor orphans were being treated to the key features of an expensive public school education for free. It is all very well for us to look back now and say such things have no place in our society in 2011. It wasn't 2011, it was 1965 or 70, and it was their call that such things did have a place in their society, then.

I can fully sympathise with feelings of the care leavers that their sufferings have still not been sufficiently acknowledged, let alone compensated. Dahl wrote his disturbingly vivid account of institutional child abuse nearly sixty years afterwards, and he made it plain that he still seethed with rankling resentment of his experiences. But, to be fair, the only valid context, in which to judge what was done then, is against the values of the time. Thus, I don't think there is much hope of any bigger apologies or gestures coming forth. We must simply be grateful that this is one respect in which the world has changed for the better.

However, in saying that 1965's child care should be judged by 1965 standards, I imply the corollary that 2011's child care should be judged by 2011 standards. This is quite another can of worms. It seems, from the occasional report or investigation, that Jersey's Children's Service has not kept pace, and too much still goes on that would have been all in the game forty years or more ago, but no longer is acceptable in the more enlightened and caring society that we like to think we have become since.. Then may have been then, but now is now. Jersey needs to catch up.

Friday, 7 January 2011

How Appropriate!

The award of the Order of the British Empire to Jersey's controversial former Chief Minister Frank Walker has provoked widespread approbation, but still more widespread anger. Even some fairly apolitical types have been raging that such a man should be so honoured.

However, it seems to me that, if one considers what the British Empire was, that an OBE is a somewhat backhanded compliment, that Mr Walker is in fact quite worthy of.

In its heyday, the British Empire, as all empires, was built by military and economic coercion and maintained by patronage, to the purpose of diverting much of the wealth of the colonies and other subject territories to the élite classes of the Home Countries; the aristocrats and plutocrats. A local suzereign would be allowed his prestige and circumscribed power so long as he oversaw that transfer of riches to the Westminster government, and more importantly, to those who pulled its strings, and all those directly concerned with the repatriation and the upholding of the imperial link gained reflected prestige in turn.

Such empires have ever been unstable things, prone to either wholesale collapse or apical revolution, if not both, and Britain's turn came to have to let go within a few years of reaching its peak. However, there are still many relict institutions from those days, and the Order of the British Empire is one of them.

Jersey is close enough to mainland Britain in every way not to have been an imperial possession in the usual sense, but even so, there seems to be strong parallels with the imperial process in the relationship with the finance industry. Like the Israelites in “The Life Of Brian”, the answer to “What has the finance industry ever done for us?” turns out to be rather a lot, but, like them, the long term price for it will be not far short of complete destruction, and the short term price is some relative discomfort for all those not directly working for the colonising powers.

The finance industry has been nice work while we can get it, although, admittedly, not the most honest living Jersey could have made. However, it was hardly sustainable to opportunistically cash in on unintended defects in other jurisdictions' tax regimes, and it can only be expected that the more successful offshore tax affair management becomes, the more it becomes worthwhile for our victim states to revise their laws to keep their tax at home and turn our money supply off at the mains. Even an insider and stalwart defender memorably admitted that it could all “leave at the click of a mouse” a few years ago, and that was before the 2008 credit crunch destabilised the global finance industry.

Given the obvious lack of future prospects, it was rather perverse of the States to devote a couple of decades to building the finance industry to a size where the formerly sustainable tourism and agricultural industries were crushed and pushed aside. It was a handy sideline, but now it has instead become a harsh master.

The most obvious damage so far has been in the bloated and distorted property market. The past willingness of Jersey banks to lend massive multiples of salary for mortgages has inflated the housing market to a level where few can afford to buy, and few can afford to sell, either. All the interest on these huge loans is creamed off out of our own economy to the UK banks, of course.

Now the governing clique that Mr Walker once fronted has rearranged our economy to be utterly dependent on the revenue, in both salaries to local employees and tax to our government, provided by the finance industry, the trap has sprung: They will not keep paying those vital salaries here unless we forgo a large chunk of the tax they used to also provide. So, now the three-quarters of the workforce who do not have our snouts in the finance trough have moved from having our taxes subsidised by the finance industry, which was the great justification, to having to subsidise their taxes instead, lest the loss of all those jobs takes all ours with them. While that is not the worst thing to happen here in living memory, nor is it exactly good.

So, we are still getting by for now. Offshore finance as we have known it for the last half-century is probably in its sunset years, as the major economies wise up to how much money that they could have done with at home is slipping away from them and seal the loopholes. All too soon, there will be a sharp decline in how much profit can be successfully and safely hidden in tax havens, and a corresponding decline in how much business it pays anybody to put our way. And then, having run down the rest of our economy, we shall face a devastating slump. The flats and offices that so characterise the Walker clique's rule will be left vacant as the staff are withdrawn to the mainland or let go altogether. But they were built on his watch, and symbolise the priority given to the short-term profit of developers and financial institutions from elsewhere in his policies. For all the posturing about tough decisions, making a fast buck for somebody consistently came before building a future for islanders in general.

The combination of upholding the glory of the Crown and its institutions, and helping the powerful elsewhere keep more of their money than they really should, and be paid more of ours than they should, too, is enough to justify Frank Walker being honoured in the name of the British Empire.

There is another angle to this, though. When even sleazy pop singers can earn knighthoods for being successful, what does it say about the official view of how well Mr Walker performed his service, that he only rates a mere second-rung OBE for it? Surely someone so long a senior dignitary could expect to be feeling the flat of Her Majesty's sword on his shoulder for it all. Perhaps it is less an honour than a snub, really. After all, he is widely despised within Jersey and remembered more for handling the Haut de la Garenne affair maladroitly than anything else without.

Frank Walker had a catchphrase, “We are where we are.” with which he used to justify unpopular expediencies. Being fobbed off with this tinpot gong is all he deserves, for we are indeed where we are, and he has left us up there without a paddle.