Big Frank & Co -
You are the weakest link.
So, the people have spoken.
In my blog post of the 20th May I added a polling widget and asked the question ‘should Frank Walker face a vote of no-confidence?’ And notwithstanding several failed attempts to fiddle the poll – including by me, just in the interests of experimentation you understand – the Blogger poll seems to have been very robust.
So – what’s the verdict?
A total of 530 people voted.
There were 470 in favour of the proposition.
And there were 60 against.
Doesn’t look too good for Frank & Co, does it?
And it is increasingly clear that the Jersey oligarchy know that the game is up.
Before going on to provide a snap-shot of the Jersey political situation, I’ll take a moment to examine our statistics.
88.68% of people voted in favour of the proposition against Frank.
That’s a pretty decisive margin – but how reliable is it?
Taking the 88.68% vote we can be 95% confident that the underlying population estimate – that being an extrapolation of opinion to the population as a whole – has a confidence interval between 86% and 91%.
Now – let us not make like politicians with our statistics. Readers of this blog expect honesty.
These poll figures could be utter crap.
There are several reasons why the figures might not be accurate. For example, it could be argued that the people who read my blog regularly would be heavily biased against Frank.
Questions could also be raised as to how many of the voters were based in Jersey?
Not that this point is of any consequence, as I – as I hope would most readers of this blog – regard myself as a citizen of the world. I would, for example, certainly use an opportunity to vote on a question posited in the USA to the effect: “Should Americans stop electing retards as Presidents?”
It could also be argued that the sample of opinion represented by the vote was ‘self-selecting’.
Nevertheless – it would be unwise to discount our poll. Not least because – as anyone even faintly familiar with the grass-roots opinions of Jersey people will tell you – 88% of the population wanting to be rid of Frank & Co. is about the right figure when assessed against word-of-mouth opinions.
So – a vote of no-confidence it is then.
I should get the report and proposition tabled sometime next week.
The procedures of the assembly – its standing orders – require that such a vote is tabled against the Chief Minister or the Council of Ministers as a whole.
Although this means that one must choose one target - or the other – in practice the different wording would produce the same effect. If a no-confidence vote were to succeed against Big Frank – the whole Council of Ministers falls. And, obviously, if the vote were to be carried against the Council- it falls – along with Walker.
So which wording to choose? Ah - decisions, decisions.
Actually – it isn’t a particularly taxing question.
The vote will be targeted against the Council of Ministers as a whole.
Because pretty much all of them deserve it.
And this is an important point – the no-confidence vote will not focus only on their catastrophic handling of the Jersey child abuse disaster – although, clearly, that will be an element.
It will focus upon the generality of the performance of this Council - and on the individual performances of the specific Ministers.
Pretty much all of which have been deficient – to a lesser or greater extent.
I won’t bore you with the details of these deficiencies right now – that can wait until the debate.
But what is the general diagnosis, right now, so far as the political landscape in Jersey is concerned?
Firstly – the reputation, standing and “popularity” of the political establishment of Jersey has never been lower.
Politicians in general are never popular at the best of times. But in Jersey today the political classes are beset with woes – most of them of their own making.
Let’s consider just a few.
There is, of course, the Jersey child abuse disaster – or, to quote Phil Bailhache, the “so-called child abuse scandal”.
Got that? “So-called.” And remember – this man is head of the Jersey judiciary – the judiciary which – in theory – will be dealing with all criminal and civil legal matters arising from this episode.
The vast majority of the clear and unambiguous child abuses – and gross failings of the system are historic. But not all.
And it is the handling of this issue and the response by the Jersey authorities to it which has been so catastrophically disastrous as to be beyond parody.
But as I said – it isn’t only the child abuse disaster which has finally caught up with the Jersey oligarchy.
The consequences of at least three decades of misrule are so numerous as to require a book to itemise. But just to briefly describe some of the problems.
Jersey has a cost-base at least equal to that of central London.
Over 10% of the population live in relative poverty according to EU definitions.
This is in an island which possesses the second-highest GDP per capita in Europe. A rich community then, at first glance. But one in which wealth distribution is appallingly deficient – to an extent that would make Margaret Thatcher’s Britain appear positively socialist by comparison.
Even a majority of ordinary people above that poverty threshold struggle desperately to make ends meet here.
The cost of the average family starter-home is now – astonishingly – over £500,000.
Our economy is essentially a mono-economy – with at least 80% of our GDP arising from the off-shore finance sector. We are, therefore, immensely vulnerable to economic melt-down.
Jersey’s ‘strategic reserve’ - our equivalent to a Sovereign Wealth Fund – if one could describe it as such – is not even equivalent to one year’s public sector expenditure.
We are burdened with manifestly un-payable pension scheme debts, running to hundreds of millions of pounds.
To the anger of most of the population we are still destroying the island’s environment with over-development.
And then we come to taxation. Where to begin?
The Jersey oligarchy has introduced a range of radical changes to the islands’ tax system; this as a result of EU pressure.
But – hey! Wouldn’t you know it – the changes brought in just so happen – by remarkable co-incidence – to make tax-dodging even easier for the local rich – like most States members now I come to mention it – and are even more regressive and burdensome upon ordinary people.
The flagship component of these policies being a Goods and Services Tax.
A tax not based upon the ability to pay – essentially, a kind of poll-tax which applies at full rate - even to such essentials as basic foodstuffs.
So, in pretty much every way, the anger of the public and the mood for change has never been greater.
The first round of Jersey’s general election is a mere five months away. These elections are – inevitably - going to be a night-of-the-long-knives as far as many existing members are concerned.
Any honest assessment of Jersey politics right now would have to conclude that at least two-thirds of the existing members are vulnerable to defeat.
Now, the average States member isn’t terribly bright. But as elections approach, a discernable animal survival instinct kicks-in. This is to be observed in the sudden welter of parliamentary questions, propositions and amendments from members who have been pretty somnolent for the previous two-and-a-half years.
Members who vanished days after getting elected - as inscrutably as Lord Lucan -suddenly reappear – manifested as radical and rebellious back-benchers.
But even this approach - clearly - isn’t going to save a number of them this time around, such is the public mood at present.
Now – against this already very grim backdrop – what do you think might be the worst conceivable – the most nightmarish – the most dreadful decision - the average member could be asked to make right now?
The vote in the island’s parliament that they would most hate to be confronted with?
The decision, the making of which causes them to wake at night in cold sweats?
Yep – you got it.
Who said politics isn’t fun?
The vote of no-confidence against Frank & his Council will be won by him, decisively; my proposition will be defeated.
But – Oh dear – those poor States members. For as well as already facing a metaphorical chain-sawing in the forthcoming elections in any event – they can now enter the political abattoir freighted with the terminal, crushing burden of having recently voted to keep in post the most hated political leader Jersey has ever had.
Doesn’t the prospect just give you a nice warm glow inside?
But setting aside the entertainment value – which one has to find in politics occasionally, or you’d go mad - there is a serious reason for proceeding in this way.
The condition of the polity in Jersey is even worse than one might imagine.
Even beset with a variety of profound and intractable problems as Jersey is – even having failed so publicly in something as fundamental as child protection – things are actually worse than this.
Even at times of crisis, politicians and governments strive to maintain the appearance of control; of governance; of actually having a grip on the destiny of the society they govern. Politics – especially in democratic societies – is a ‘confidence game’.
Every political leader knows that they must assume the cloak of authority, wisdom and serenity – no matter how cataclysmic the crisis erupting behind them.
The instant that façade of control is swept aside – the very moment the politicians are revealed to be thrashing around in blind panic – they’re finished.
So for all the confidence-man projections of people like Frank & Co – in reality a roiling mass of chaos underlies the veneer of good government.
And I will provide you with a striking and profound example of that at the end of this post.
I called this blog ‘Thoughts on the Microcosm’ because Jersey can be seen as just that – a microcosm of the industrialised world. And – as we all know – that world is imperilled in so many ways – just as is Jersey.
The great poet, W. B. Yeats wrote a poem ‘The Second Coming’ - from which I select a few lines here -
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”
“Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
I’m not religious – but one doesn’t need to be.
The metaphor is striking.
“The centre cannot hold”.
It cannot hold in the industrialised world – and, with Jersey being ahead of the curve – it most certainly cannot hold here. Dispassionate observers might wish to watch Jersey – and take lessons from the errors, lack of wisdom, short-termism and hubris of its leaders.
Fascinatingly – even businessmen in Jersey can see this, to some extent, at least – and are profoundly worried.
Several of the people I know with serious business interests in Jersey have candidly said to me that Frank Walker is finished – that he should go – that he is an embarrassment to Jersey and a liability to its economy.
OK – the same people have also said to me they wouldn’t want me taking over in his place. But don’t worry boys – I wouldn’t touch it with the proverbial s**t house broom – now that all there is to assume responsibility for is a mangled heap of smoking wreckage.
But what is plain from these discussions is the degree of despair they feel when surveying the political landscape in Jersey – and trying to imagine who, from the conservative Right, could possibly take over?
They used to tremble in fear at the prospect of Phillip Ozouf becoming top-dog – a man who, in his rabid and juvenile market-fundamentalism could have been lifted straight from the Young Conservatives circa 1983.
But as is plain now – he has about as much chance of getting re-elected as Mike Vibert.
Which is to say – not a lot.
Terry Le Sueur, who will assume the mantel of Our Glorious Leader when Frank goes, is also seen as a profound liability. Deeply unpopular – and thus likely to foment even more political dissent amongst the usually quiescent Jersey population.
So who is left as possible candidates as Supreme Leader of the Jersey oligarchy?
There are the three up-and-coming Golden Boys of the Jersey establishment – Freddy Cohen, Ian Gorst and Alan MacLean.
Each three of these Jersey politicians comes with baggage – not least that when the next elections occur, they will have served only three years in office; not a great measure of experience or credibility, then.
Looking briefly at each:
Freddie Cohen has lost substantial amounts of popularity because of his decisions as Planning Minister – not to mention his predilection for Ozymandian over-development projects.
But being a shrewd operator, he is already laying the groundwork for his exit from Frank’s Council. During a TV interview just the other night, he said that if his master-plan for St. Helier’s Waterfront didn’t get approved by the States, he would resign as Minister.
Three birds with one stone.
He sheds the unpopular Planning portfolio – in order to attempt to rebuild some popularity; he gets out of a Council of Ministers which is manifestly in a state of utter chaos and disrepute – and he has an excuse to go - rather than being seen as a traitor to Frank.
So what of Ian Gorst? A man palpably struggling to reconcile his supposed Christianity with his allegiance to the-devil-take-the-hindmost rabid materialism of Ozouf’s de facto political party – to which he is supposed to be loyal.
Then we have Alan – vote-for-me-for-GST-exemptions – MacLean; a man who made such a brazen betrayal of election promises as to be truly startling – even by Jersey standards. He is going to try his hand in the island-wide Senatorial election – in the hope that Jersey voters in general won’t notice his betrayal of his constituents in St. Helier number 2 district.
Perhaps, when writing his manifesto, he was gripped by a particularly severe form of the Orwellian parapraxia which seems to afflict Jersey politicians so frequently?
So there you have the Jersey establishment’s three Golden Boys.
Hardly confidence-inspiring is it?
So what, alas, do the money-men and oligarchs do to keep their show on the road?
You know – I’m really not sure there is anything to be done.
It had to happen sooner or later – after decades and decades of unopposed power – of greed – of shallow materialism – of naked self-interest – fate had to finally catch up with the Jersey oligarchy.
And so it has.
The Jersey establishment assert that my assessment of the present condition of politics here is exaggerated, over-blown and somehow extremist.
As I have so often in this blog, I invite readers to make their own assessment; come to their own conclusions.
I said earlier that I would supply you with a striking and profound example of the chaos – the dissolution – the “mere anarchy” - which Jersey politics has finally arrived at.
And I say – don’t take my word for it; think about this example – and judge for yourselves.
The Jersey Health & Social Services Minister, Senator Ben Shenton is the politician in Jersey with legal and political responsibly for child protection.
His assistant Minister, Senator Jimmy Perchard, has been given specific responsibility for Social Services – and its attendant child protection brief.
Both men have repeatedly – and pro-actively – and publicly - attacked the Police investigation into the Jersey child abuse disaster.
Now – ask yourselves a simple question:
In how many respectable democratic societies would you find THE politicians with political and legal responsibility for child protection – openly attacking a police investigation into child abuse?
You really just couldn’t make it up – tragically.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”.