Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Jersey and our low calibre parliamentarians

Today the Jersey Evening Post ran with a front page story concerning me and comments I have made about the quality of Jersey's parliamentarians.

I have copied the entire article here for those who weren't able to catch the full thing.

My comments were triggered by my experience over the weekend when I attended a protest in Guernsey (called 'Enough is Enough') and witnessed some of their politicians in action, as well as a 2,000 strong crowd out in force to demonstrate and have their voice heard.

Naturally I stand by every word I said and believe that my comments represent what the majority of Islanders really think. But those comments will no doubt have offended some and intrigued others, so I want to expand upon them very slightly and dig down a bit deeper to analyse Jersey politics and why it is so uninspiring.

The article states Reform Jersey supported the protest, which it should clarify is not strictly true. I attended as I happened to be in the island at the time and was impressed by the turn out and organisation. That doesn't necessarily mean I supported the cause, when I should actually probably remain neutral on it.

I'll also take questions on specific points and elaborate if asked.

Here is the JEP article unedited -

Jersey politicians are 'bland, low calibre and have no backbone'

The leader of Jersey's only political party has launched a scathing attack on the Island's politicians, accusing some of 'lacking a backbone'.

St Helier Deputy Sam Mézec, who is the chairman of Reform Jersey, said the calibre of politicians serving the Island was very low compared to the likes of Guernsey and Gibraltar.

It comes as Deputy Mézec's party voiced their support for the Enough is Enough Rally at North Beach in Guernsey over the weekend that attracted over 2,000 islanders who turned out to voice their opposition to the idea of GST and incoming car taxes.

Reform Jersey posted praise on its Facebook page for Guernsey's politicians - including two ministers - for standing up and confronting the crowd, saying: 'Could you imagine our politicians having the guts to face the people like that?'
Deputy Mézec added: 'I think if we compare Jersey to Guernsey and even Gibraltar the calibre of politicans here is very low.
'There is no better example than the Chief Minister [Ian Gorst]. In Gibraltar their Cheif Minister is one of the best - he is up there with some of the best UK MPs. If Ian Gorst turns up to give a speech, people do not [care]. He is good at speaking to managers, that is it.

'In Jersey our politicians are not very charismatic. Most of their faces blend into one, they are so bland and dull. Even in Guernsey they have a man called [Deputy] John Gollop and everyone knows who he is. I travel there quite regularly for heavy metal gigs and when people find out what I do they ask: "Do you know John Gollop?" People know him even at heavy metal gigs.'

Asked if he felt it was right to make such sweeping comments about the Island's politicians, considering they were elected by the public, Deputy Mézec replied: 'But they did not vote for them, our election turnout was appalling. Gibraltar has one of the best turn-outs in the world. Our democratic system in Jersey is broken. None of our politicans have mandates, myself included. The Chief Minister can say he topped the poll but it means very little.'

Following the Enough is Enough rally, Reform Jersey said they 'hoped it inspired something here in Jersey too' but Deputy Mézec said his party had nothing in the pipeline.

'I do not think we would be able to do something like that here in Jersey - they were addressing multiple issues in Guernsey and the feelings were a lot stronger. But I think something will happen in the future and it is likely to be about GST,' he said.

'What we can say is that next year when the legislation eventually comes in for gay marriage Reform Jersey want to do another rally and we are hoping a large number of people will attend.'

My favourite comment that I've seen online about this article has got to be - "Does anyone else think Sam Mézec looks like a young Meatloaf?"

Well, since I'm all revved up with no place to go, I'll explain why I've made the comments I have -

This is the context in which I'm speaking -

  • The last Annual Social Survey showed that 70% of Islanders were not satisfied with the States of Jersey.
  • We have just had an election where only 32% of people eligible to vote did so.
  • The majority of our politicians seem to believe there is nothing concerning about the above two facts.

When 68% of the public do not vote, you have a crisis of democracy. The government that has emerged from this election has no mandate at all to govern. It does not have popular support and the mechanism which should be used to convey popular support (elections) is completely broken.

On Sunday I witnessed 2,000 ordinary Guernsey residents gather in a carpark to protest against various tax measures being proposed in Guernsey and to hear from some of their Deputies.

This included Deputy Yvonne Burford (whom I respect and admire) who is the person who has proposed some of the most unpopular measures. She got up in front of all these people to boos and heckles, yet ploughed on with her speech and even took questions from the organisers of the protest.

I don't care what anyone says, it takes guts to do that.

And I couldn't help but think - which Jersey politicians would have the guts to face 2,000 hostile people to try and justify unpopular tax measures like Deputy Burford did? I can't think of any who would.

She wasn't the only one. Deputy Stewart and Deputy Fallaize went up there too and got given a pretty uncomfortable time by the host who really did press them and try to take apart what they had said in their speeches.

I looked around and saw probably over half of the members of the Guernsey States of Diliberation there, including the Chief Minister Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq. They were there to witness the public anger and try and learn from it.

Jersey's last public protest was the Equal Rights Parade that Reform Jersey organised in protest at the States decision to kick equal marriage into the long grass. No politician who had supported that move turned up to try to justify it and there were only two non-Reform Jersey States Members there at all (Senator Ozouf and Deputy Macon).

But since we're on the topic of gay marraige, let's compare the attitudes of Jersey and Guernsey's Chief Ministers on this.

Both are religious and both are conservative. Senator Gorst refused to answer the questions I asked him in the States on what his personal belief on equal marriage was (no matter how bluntly I phrased the question) and then voted for a wrecking motion to my equal marriage proposition because he did not want to upset his religious support base before an election. Deputy Le Tocq effectively said that his religious views should have no impact on who should be entitled to get married and he is now proposing that there be a complete separation of Church and state for marriage so that gay and lesbian couples would be treated equally.

See how Deputy Le Tocq showed courage and leadership when gay marriage was brought up, whereas Senator Gorst completely fluffed it.

Deputy Le Tocq has now also recently come out in support of party politics, on the basis that you can't really claim to be a proper democracy if the public don't have the ability to choose their government. Our Chief Minister remains completely dishonest about the effective Conservative Party that he leads and refuses to publicly accept that our system is broken and in need of reform. Instead we just get the usual platitudes.

It is clear to me that some of Guernsey's leading politicians have courage and backbones to stand up and say what they believe in and are setting a far better example than our politicians in Jersey.

So let's now compare our Chief Minister with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar.

Here is a speech he gave on Gibraltars 'National Day' -

Now, the speech is a bit too Rev. Ian Paisley for my liking, but just watch how he has the whole audience in the palm of his hand, screaming in support for what he is saying.

Can you imagine Ian Gorst doing this?

Gorst can do a speech that will go down well for the Institute of Directors, but nobody else really cares or would be captivated if he tried giving a rallying speech like this

Don't get me wrong, being a good politician is about a lot more than public speaking, but inspiring confidence in your leadership is fundamentally important to carrying the public along with you and Gorst is totally incapable of that.

It's no wonder that Gibraltar can get an 81% turn out in their elections when our abstention rates almost match that!

Almost none of our MPs compare to UK MPs in terms of charisma, vision or principle.

Look at Douglas Carswell MP. He is UKIPs first elected MP. I despise UKIP and everything it stands for, but Carswell resigned his safe Tory seat to take a stand on principle and risked his career to fight for it because it was what he believed in. He did so, I think, with dignity and his approach was exemplary.

Which of our politicians would do that? None I think.

But to be fair, we do have a small handful of politicians who deserve a shout out.

Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Senator Philip Ozouf is incredibly effective, a good public speaker and has a very important set of skills that make him good at his job. He also very admirably spoke out in the gay marriage debate and rally, which was probably his finest moment in his previous term.

I believe that Deputy Russell Labey could well be a politician to look out for, in terms of his charisma and ability to hopefully get people interested in politics by making it more accessible.

Others like Deputy Jacky Hilton, Constable Simon Crowcroft, Deputy Mike Higgins etc are all parliamentarians that play an important part in Jersey politics and are very capable at what they do.

And in defence of myself (because no one else will!) nobody can claim that I just blend into the crowd. I've rejected a million calls for me to get my hair cut because it would make me an unprincipled hypocrite if I did it. I also forced the debate on gay marriage, despite knowing how controversial it would be, because I believed in it. That is what politics should be about.

But it's not enough.

When so many of our politicians don't even face a contest to get to their positions and when so many don't have the guts to actually produce manifestos that go beyond "I'm a good bloke, I'll be good to have in there eh" we can never hope to have a political system that even comes close to engaging with people and instigating public discussions and debates about how we move our island forward.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Press Release - Save the Co-op warehouses!

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Press Release - For immediate release
Political Party Backs “Keep It Locale” Campaign to Save Co-op Warehouses

Jersey’s only political party, Reform Jersey, is backing the campaign to prevent the closure of the Channel Islands’ Co-operative Society’s local warehouse.
On Tuesday 18th November at 7:30pm at the Radisson Hotel, Co-op shareholders will be meeting to discuss and vote on the proposal by the board of directors to close the Channel Islands’ warehouse operations and relocate them to the UK.
The meeting has been initiated by Jasen Cronin and Philip Johnson who collected 50 signatures from local shareholders to force the Co-op to hold the meeting.
Reform Jersey Chairman Sam Mézec said - “It is really positive to see this grassroots action to protect local jobs and food security for islanders. Reform Jersey shares the concerns that have been raised by Mr Cronin and Mr Johnson about potential job losses and the impact losing a locally based warehouse will have during bad weather conditions when it is difficult to import produce into the island.
In these tough economic times we should be doing everything we can to keep people in work. The Co-op is meant to be a mutual society that is not just about maximising profits but is concerned about the public good. Every vote counts and the fate of these jobs and warehouses lies with the Co-op’s ordinary membership.”
Reform Jersey members have been volunteering over the past week handing out leaflets to raise awareness about the issues and to encourage Co-op members to attend the meeting and speak out against this proposed move.