Wednesday, 12 May 2010
GOVERNANCE IN JERSEY -
AND ITS MANY FAILURES.
PUBLIC MEETING – MONDAY 17TH MAY.
7.30 p.m - TOWN HALL.
Everything is changed.
Those were amongst the thoughts which occurred to me during my first week back in Jersey after six months of investigative journalism that could not have been conducted in the island.
Both my perception, and my knowledge of the true nature of power in Jersey had changed – giving me an entire different understanding of the real magnitude of just what it is we're up against. So much so that I now occasionally fear for my life.
But, on the other hand, Jersey is sunny, beautiful and the people great. I didn't expect to, but I felt happier than I had done in months. A fact made all the more intense by the numbers of people who have stopped me in the street and welcomed me back.
Amongst the things that have been said to me are many greetings, the usual words of advice about trying to be a little more diplomatic, questions about what I've been up to in London and why I had to go, encouragements to contest the by-election, and, most interestingly, a request from one gentleman, who asked towards the end of our conversation, if I knew anyone who might be able to help him obtain a rocker-box cover for a 1970 Morris Minor. Unfortunately I wasn't able to assist.
There are just too many issues to cover in one posting, so during the coming days and weeks I will be writing in greater detail about what I believe to be the fundamental failings with the traditional approach to politics in Jersey, and answering some of those questions; though, I confess, probably not the one about classic car parts.
But of all the issues I have been working on, the one which is most important, will be the subject of a public meeting.
'Why – and how – has all of Jersey's very expensive public administration so badly failed – to protect so many vulnerable children – over a period of so many decades?'
And – though even I found this very surprising when thinking about it – it will actually be the first public meeting - during the entire controversy of the last three years – at which we will be discussing how and why the States of Jersey failed, so badly and for so long, to protect vulnerable children.
As a community, we have yet to have that discussion.
FAILURES OF GOVERNANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
WITHIN JERSEY'S PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION.
PUBLIC MEETING -
MONDAY, 17TH MAY
7.30 PM – TOWN HALL.
I and one or two other people will be explaining the facts – and some of the evidence that you will not have heard about in the local media.
As well as answering your questions, we can discuss why the States of Jersey failed – and what we need to do to make sure our government consistently works for the public good in future.
It is actually quite remarkable in many ways, that notwithstanding the events of the last three years - the gross failures of politics and governance that have characterised the establishment’s response to the child abuse crises – the attempted cover-ups that have generated such controversy – there has not been as much as one, single public meeting at which people could consider the underlying Political dimensions of the child protection failures.
Not one meeting – to discuss the Politics of the situation - in the whole three years.
Well – on the evening of Monday 17th May, we will address that absence.
Perhaps I was naïve in imagining during the last two years at least, that Jersey's politicians – elected and unelected – would actually come to their senses – sooner or later - and stop shaming the community with their refusals to face the hard truths. But sadly, not only have they failed to do that – they have, instead, compounded their many serious errors of judgement by continuing to heap folly upon folly.
Contemplating the conduct of the Jersey establishment during these last three years has been akin to witnessing a group of men trying to douse outbreaks of fire – with buckets of petrol.
And there is no indication - at all – that the madness is going to end any-time soon.
On the contrary – the Jersey oligarchy persist in the insanity of refusing to see that David Warcup, their place-man as acting Chief of Police, is simply finished.
And he is finished.
So finished – than even some of the more sensible establishment States members will not vote to appoint him as permanent Police Chief, because they can see the Political contaminations of Warcup and the controversies that embroil him, make his position simply untenable.
There is real doubt that the proposition would even secure a majority in the House.
But even if it did – it is almost a certainty that around twenty of the 53 members will vote against him.
Contrast that outcome of the vote – with that which would be achieved by a man of Graham Power's stature – or, for that matter, any non-politicised, professional Police Chief. You may always get two or three States members voting against them – but such is the cross-spectrum appeal of a non-Political, professional police officer, they would always secure an overwhelming vote of support from all shades of opinion in the chamber.
Is it even vaguely credible for Jersey – for the reputation of the island – to have a Police Chief who is – essentially – a party-political figure? An individual so mired in serious controversy, he can barely secure a majority vote in the island's parliament?
The very prospect is madness.
Yet – the Jersey establishment’s approach to this disastrous state of affairs, is the same kind of refusal to face reality we see in the child abuse disaster – and the same absurd belief that if they can just hang-on long enough – it will all blow-over and be forgotten. But – for all kinds of reasons – that is not going to happen. Not this time.
And we have to ask the question – can a Jersey parliament still so dominated by men who believe that things can be covered-up – as though this was 1970 – not 2010 – really be expected to pilot Jersey through the looming financial crises?
Can a political establishment so insular, parochial and out-of-touch with the reality of unceasing close scrutiny in the international arena, lead Jersey through the necessary engagement with the international community – when they can't even deal with the child protection failures of the past – and are happy to allow senior civil servants to conceal child abuse?
I pose those questions – because as central and as serious as the child protection failures are – they can also be viewed as a symptom.
A symptom of a fundamental political illness.
The child abuse disaster – and the frankly corrupt indecency with which the 'old-guard' have tried to conceal it – whilst by far the worst failure – is just one failure amongst many.
Consider some of the others -
Poor decisions leading to an incinerator that is both around 15 years too late as a replacement for the filthy old plant – and grossly excessive in size.
Atrocious economic mismanagement.
A “zero/10” fiscal strategy which many of us said would not work – and it hasn’t.
Growing inequalities - with significant numbers of people in our rich community living in relative poverty.
Many young families unable to purchase a three-bedroom starter home – because they can't hope to pay the average price - of over half-a-million pounds.
A St. Helier Waterfront that is, essentially, a vast, sea-porous toxic waste dump.
A decade-long failure to deliver the Town Park - the island's “millennium project” – and the on-going political attempts to destroy it by building across half of the site - whilst lying to the public by claiming the resultant fragmented bits of lawn will still be the Town Park.
£49 million of capital project over-spends during the 1990's.
Failures to protect our environment.
Perilous vulnerabilities to public-sector employee pensions because of a failure to properly address the deficits of the schemes.
No energy strategy.
And – notwithstanding the last four 'gold-rush' decades – Jersey has no sovereign wealth fund worthy of the name – instead, merely a 'strategic-reserve' – that is so inadequate – it could not fund one year's worth of current public-sector expenditure.
Symptoms – all are symptoms of a fundamental political problem.
The Jersey establishment has too much power – concentrated into too few hands – and that same narrow grouping control all arms of the state and of public administration; the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the prosecution system, the senior civil service.
Too much power – too little accountability.
No effective checks and balances – and all of the complacency and stagnation that flows from having a political power-structure grown far too used to simply always getting its way – and never being held to account.
That is the fundamental problem that the community of Jersey is presented with, when considering our obsolete polity.
And only by addressing that central problem will we succeed in ending the succession of governance failures that have so blighted the public interest.
Of course – no miracle cures exist – the island faces many serious challenges. Anyone who tells you our problems can be addressed easily - or quickly – is either a fool or a liar.
But – to address those problems, we do have to make a start.
And what subject could be more deserving of our most urgent and serious attention – than the protections of vulnerable children?
If a society cannot protect its children – then it can't protect anything – including itself.
It is for that reason I decided to cause this by-election.
It would not be honest of me to say that I had not seriously considered other possible ways of pursuing the necessary political changes.
But, no matter what permutations of strategies and tactics I considered, there were always two inescapable and dominant factors – which always pointed to the forcing of a by-election.
The first – and less important – is my own personal weariness – after twenty hard years in politics.
There is a limit to just how many decades of constant obstructions and denigrations any person can tolerate. So – in many ways – deciding to give up my seat was no sacrifice.
Frankly – from my personal perspective – if I don't get re-elected, it would, in many ways, be a relief.
But, having said that, I still want to try and drive the necessary political improvements for my home island. And the most effective means of doing that – was the second, and more important of those two factors that drove my decision.
That factor is this.
I believe the public need to be confronted – to be challenged – with their own responsibility for how it is their government behaves.
I explained in detail my philosophical reasoning for this view in a recent posting – 'Letter from Exile # 22' – published on the 30th April. It's there to be read in my archive – so I won't repeat those thoughts now.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I believe there is a lot of truth in that old saying – 'people get the government they deserve.'
I was reminded of that saying when I spent a couple of hours this Tuesday morning in the public gallery of the States chamber – watching question time.
There are honourable exceptions.
But broadly, what was on display was a roiling toxic soup of presumption, egos, privilege, ignorance, bumbling incompetence, directionless political wallowing, unaccountability, out-right dishonesty, inarticulacy and a stultifying absence of wisdom.
I have always believed in political honesty. But perhaps it is the absence of honesty in politics that excuses the public from being to blame for so many examples of bad political representation. Maybe it isn't entirely fair to blame the public for the standards of government?
Perhaps because existing politicians and other candidates are often not honest with the voting public concerning their real political views – the public can be excused from being associated with the actions of politicians once they are in power?
That may be so.
Therefore – in this by-election, I want the public to understand clearly the significance – of the choice they make when deciding where to place their cross on the ballot-paper.
No doubt, in the by-election, there will be a range of good, bad, and indifferent candidates. Who knows – there might even be twenty – perhaps more? I've certainly heard mentioned the names of at least twelve. But if twenty - around sixteen will be using the election process to boost their public recognition prior to next year's elections. And there might be four serious candidates – in with a real chance of getting elected to the single Senatorial seat on offer.
Why the possibility of so many candidates for a single Senatorial seat? Because unlike previous Senatorial and Deputorial elections – the system has been changed – and the two sets of elections that would usually be held perhaps five weeks apart, will, next year – both be held on the same day.
Which means potential candidates will have to choose one election - or the other. The ability to run in the island-wide Senatorial election to garner publicity – and lose without worry – as they can then just run in the Deputies election a few weeks later, will be gone.
Therefore – this by-election represents the last chance that many candidates will have to gain some zero-risk publicity – before having to commit to one election – or the other – on the same October general election day in 2011.
And it is, of course, their perfect right to stand as candidates in this contest.
But this is no ordinary by-election.
It very easily need not be happening. But I have brought it about deliberately and voluntarily by triggering the vacancy.
This by-election is – effectively – a referendum.
The people of Jersey are being presented with a chance to decide which political policy they prefer. Accountability, and the proper protection of children – or – the Culture of Concealment.
If the population support the meaningful protection of vulnerable children – I will be re-elected. If the population prefer the traditional concealments of the establishment – then some other person will be elected instead of me.
And – yes.
It is - that simple.
Which is why we can't look at certain of the supposedly more 'caring' and 'progressive' candidates without experiencing a degree of cynicism as to their real motivations: the public good of child protection – or a quick round of free publicity ahead of the general election next year by piggy-backing on the issue?
Of course – on the platform – there will not be one single candidate who will not proclaim from the rooftops their commitment to child protection.
But how do you, as a voting member of the public, decide just how serious and strong is such a generally proclaimed wish to protect children – when every single member of the current States assembly – would make exactly the very same claim – but largely fail to match such easily given words – with real action?
How do you know that the people on the election platform won't all be largely the same as most of the current assembly – once elected?
For example – if many of the current States members were truly serious in their claims to want to stop the child protection failures of the past – the Chief Constable, Graham Power, Queens Police Medal, would, by now, have been restored to the post he was unlawfully suspended from.
And the Chief Executive to the States, Bill Ogley – who unlawfully conspired with other civil servants to conceal child protection failures – would have been sacked.
But no – as those two examples show – talk is cheap.
If you – as an ordinary member of the public – are serious about the need to protect vulnerable children – and you recognise the absolute overriding and fundamental importance of ensuring that such protection is real, and not just make-believe – there will only be one candidate on that platform who has shown absolute commitment.
The first ever States member – in all the post-war years – to recognise, and speak out against the child protection failures. Me.
A subject I feel so strongly about – I have given up my political seat, when I need not have done so – in order to take the matter to the public – for them to vote upon.
And I have a very – very – clear and honest message to voters as they approach the by-election.
That message is this.
If you disagree with me – if you do not support my purpose in bringing about this by-election - I do not want your vote.
Please – do not vote for me.
If you do not agree with me that the many decades of child protection failures – and the disastrous breakdown in responsible governance that permits such things – must finally be faced - and the rot removed – then vote for one of the other candidates.
If you believe – that in the year 2010 – the traditional “Jersey Way” of dealing with scandals – waiting until the dust has settled, then just brushing it all under the carpet when no one is looking – is the correct approach, then do not place your cross next to my name.
I do not want your vote.
If – on the other hand – you share my view that the disgraceful failures to properly protect vulnerable children must be addressed – and that a clear message needs to be sent to those who have failed – then you will vote for me.
I feel I must, in the interests of honesty, state the situation that starkly because unless the people of Jersey share my priorities and endorse my views – then, frankly, there would be no point in me being a States member. That is why I will not be going to the public with any kind of toned-down, diluted message.
On the contrary.
Should I be re-elected – what you will get from me is more of the same – only more so.
I have nothing to be apologetic about.
If – like a lot of Jersey traditionalists – you prefer “politeness” - over the truth – then my advice is cast your vote elsewhere; I'm not your man.
And should the public not want that which it is I bring to the political table – then all well and good. I will be released – to no small personal relief – my conscience satisfied. I will not seek re-election at a future date.
But if islanders want Jersey politics to be given a long overdue clean-out, then I'm prepared to lead that task – beginning with that highest of priorities – proper standards of governance and accountability for our child protection systems.
Given the experiences of the last three years, I will explain what needs doing, and why, in further postings during the coming days and weeks.
Many people reading this blog may be genuinely confused as to the real, underlying issues behind the child protection controversy of the last few years. And it is very easy to understand why that should be – given how little of the evidence that I have uncovered and placed in the public domain, has been reported by the local mainstream media.
To those people, who may be uncertain about the issues – who may not really understand the arguments concerning the States of Jersey's child protection failures – I ask you to come to the public meeting, which is taking place at 7.30 pm on Monday 17th May, at the Town Hall in St. Helier. Anyone with an open mind will gain a new understanding of the issues.
And as grave and as dramatic as the child protection failures are – the same, underlying weaknesses in our systems of governance cause us as a community many other serious problems – be those problems of economics, of unemployment, of public finance, of environmental destruction, of cronyism, of corruption. Of course - there are no miracle cures – but we can make things a great deal better. And if we are to do that – then we have to make a start.
And what more important subject can there be - what higher priority can we, as a decent community have – with which to begin fixing the failures in our systems of governance, than to ensure the proper protections of vulnerable children?
As I wrote above - if a society cannot protect its children – then it cannot protect anything – including itself.
Posted by Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret at 14:38