Thursday, 27 September 2012

Jersey Reform Day

Just a short post to draw attention to something.

Some of you might know that I'm very much involved in the music scene in Jersey. I play in a rock band and organise the "Jersey Dead" festival each year to provide an alternative to Jersey Live. That combined with an interest in politics and history means I want to do my part to spread the word about the Corn Riot Knees Up! event.

Tomorrow (that's Friday 28th September) in the Royal Square at 5pm is a free concert to commemorate the corn riots in 1769. It will start with a few acts from La Motte Street Youth Centre, which is an organisation I was involved in for several years (even as chairman of their studio management group) and I think the world of them for the great work they do, so it's always worth being there to support them. Following that local band the Badlabecques are releasing an album in Jerriais. I've not had a chance to see them live yet, but I've seen some footage and they seem like a good laugh.

To be perfectly honest, I've always had a bit of contempt for Jerriais as something that I saw as a waste of time and certainly not worth wasting money on. But I think a group like the Badlabecques will do a lot more for the language and make it more relevant than any compulsory school lessons that I believe are being tried in some primary schools at the moment.

Were I in Jersey I'd certainly be down there at the front row.

But more importantly, the 28th of September was the date in 1769 in which the people of Jersey rose up against their oppressors and posed their biggest challenge to their authority. So much so, they couldn't ignore all of their demands, and had to implement some reforms in the way Jersey was governed to make it more accountable. Clearly a lot more still needs to be done and Jersey desperately needs another 28th September.

Events like 1769, along with the revolutions that began to happen in France and America show that there is no greater force for democracy than an organised mass of people who have the courage to demand their rights. Those in power will not grant those rights easily out of generosity, they need to be coerced.

The Tom Gruchy blog has done a lot of posts about the mini-Jersey revolution and is in fact named after the man who led the protests. It makes for fascinating reading and is definitely worth having a look at.


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Populist posturing on benefits or a worthy crackdown on the undeserving?

A post today on something non-electoral reform related, just to prove I'm not a one trick pony!

We have the news that the Social Security department, led by Minister Senator Le Gresley, is contemplating tougher crackdowns on people who do not actively seek out work whilst claiming benefits.

I recently volunteered for a year at a Citizens Advice Bureau in a poor part of London where a large part of what I did was benefits casework. This meant helping people with their problems claiming benefits, appealing against decisions to cut their benefits and sometimes working on ways to get people off relying on the state. So I have some understanding of the sorts of issues that affect people on benefits, what they are like and how the system works (albeit the UK system, not the Jersey system).

Most will know that Senator Le Gresley made his name as the manager of the CAB in Jersey and so I would like to presume that he is someone with a good knowledge of the benefits system in Jersey, someone who has had lots of contact with the sorts of people that go on benefits and so he would be well placed to lead any reforms on the system whilst hopefully being compassionate and understanding. But being involved in an organisation that Senator Le Gresley was involved with, I do have some issues with what he is saying.

When I see articles like the one in the JEP with the rather ominous picture of the minister with a headline like "Benefits threat for jobless who don’t try to find work" I do worry about populist posturing and scapegoating. I want to be convinced that the minister is genuinely making sensible attempts to improve the islands welfare system, in line with the values of a modern social democratic society and not just trying to appease the more right-wing of his colleagues and try and score some cheap votes from the public.

Benefits are an easy target. All you have to do is check any online message board to see the comments using words like "spongers", "lazy" and all sorts of misguided statements about foreigners claiming benefits (which, by the way they can't do until they have lived and worked here for 5 years). People get wound up (sometimes very understandably) when they see people who they believe have a cushy lifestyle that is paid for by their hard earned tax pounds.

But this is exactly why it is so important for people to be well informed and understand the realities and the implications. As a socialist, I just don't like the idea of kicking someone that is already down. I believe in siding with the oppressed, and if you are unemployed you are oppressed.

The problem with attacking unemployed people is that for the vast majority of them it is not their fault.

If every job vacancy in Jersey were filled tomorrow by local unemployed people, there would still be hundreds left on the dole queues, because there just aren't enough jobs and the economy is not doing well. The idea that people should be penalised for not having jobs that don't exist just seems perverse to me. Cutting unemployment benefits (which the minister isn't suggesting yet) will not incentivise people into work, because lack of incentive is not the problem. The problem is the lack of opportunities.

I've been lucky as a student to not experience unemployment (by definition, it's impossible for me to be unemployed) but I have a lot of friends that I have witnessed really struggle both financially and emotionally with unemployment. I saw close friends be made redundant several times in the space of a few months, some spent months unemployed even though they were up every day applying for whatever job they could find (many minimum waged unskilled jobs) yet still got turned away. These were not lazy people who were abusing an overly generous system. These were people who were desperate to find jobs but just couldn't do it.

These people went on benefits during that time because without the money they would have lost their livelihood. They would have become social recluses, lost further motivation and that would have done nobody any favours. So making conditions worse for the unemployed will not help us.

But I'm not actually sure exactly what the minister is planning to do to crack down on this. As it stands, each person on unemployment benefits is given a little log book which they have to fill out every time they apply for a job and have it verified otherwise they don't get their benefits. What more could they do to ensure they aren't giving money to those that aren't seeking work? If anything, some people who have failed time and time again to secure work should be encouraged maybe to give it a bit of a rest and instead focus on volunteering for a worthy organisation, just to keep them in the swing of a work based routine and involved with society.

But don't mistake my sympathy for the unemployed as in anyway condoning people who deliberately play the system. I believe in being a good community that looks after those less well off and those that have run into trouble, but the other side to that is that people must be willing to engage with that community and not exploit that generosity. I say to everyone, if you are aware of people that are cheating the system, instead of going online to moan about it, pick up your telephone and call the police. Cheating the system is a crime and those that commit it should be prosecuted and demanded to pay the money back. Whilst I don't want changes in the system to hurt unemployed people, I equally don't want to reward genuinely lazy people.

The overall point I am making here is that the solutions to these problems do not lie in a rearrangement of our welfare system. The solutions lie in fixing our deeper economic problems.

I've often been accused (unfairly in my unbiased opinion) of focusing too much on things like electoral reform which do not directly impact on peoples living standards and that I'd be better off spending my time talking about the issues that really matter.

So here is the Sam Mézec 5 point plan to get us out of this mess -

  1. The government should invest in projects that will encourage economic growth in the sectors likely to create employment opportunities suitable for local unemployed people.

  2. At the same time as investing in worthwhile projects, the government should cease unnecessary and wasteful spending on projects that are not value for money and do not help government finances (e.g. fee paying schools subsidies should be halved). The money should be reallocated to better schemes.

  3. A temporary GST "holiday" by reducing the rate to 0% will let shops lower their prices and boost consumption in the island which will stimulate some economic activity. At the same time, a way must be found to stop non-local businesses charging VAT to islanders. We are not a part of the UK and it is harmful to our economy to have prices artificially increased by UK companies not taking off VAT.

  4. The government should introduce serious incentives for businesses to employ locally based people, and train those that are already employed here rather than importing people from outside the island to do jobs that local people could do, or could be trained to do.

  5. Lastly, and perhaps most vaguely, Jersey has become too reliant on one industry that a vast amount of Jersey people are just not suitable to work in and so we need diversification. 

Now, some will criticise that as something Jersey can't afford. But I say Jersey can't afford not to do it. Yesterday was the BBC2 documentary on John Maynard Keynes, perhaps one of the top 3 most influential economists of all time (along with my heroes Adam Smith and Karl Marx). Keynes broke the consensus that existed up until the great depression that the "invisible hand" in economics would guide everything to it's natural equilibrium and economic crises would solve themselves, but instead what was important in tough economic times was for the state to actively intervene to fix the crisis.

The neoliberal understanding of economics (which for some inexplicable reason still persists as a large part of mainstream politics in the 21st century) was that in a recession, the free market would naturally adjust itself to the conditions and, crucially, prices would inevitably come down because of a lack of consumption and that would solve everything. But the problem was very simple, it just didn't happen. Governments didn't understand economics well enough in those days to realise, like Keynes later pointed out, that the state is the only thing that can put the economy back on track, by doing what the free market wasn't naturally doing and kick starting growth. This mistake led to the great depression which saw mass unemployment, inflation and the rise of the Nazis.

It is worrying today to see how governments have not learnt the lesson from history. In the UK we have a government blinded by an out of date and out of touch ideology based on economics textbooks from the 1920s and has consequently made a bad situation even worse. The people of France have already rejected that view and Jersey does not have to follow what our counterparts in the UK are doing.

Our attitude to economics needs to change and the post Thatcher/ Reagen consensus needs to be smashed.

Thanks folks,


Slightly off topic, but those that care about democracy and the freedom of journalists to work unharassed by the authorities would do well to sign Deputy Pitmans petition to allow Leah McGrath Goodman back into the UK and Jersey.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A rebuttal to JEP propaganda - Re the Constables.

Since I don't get the JEP I had to have it pointed out to me the, frankly, astounding opinion piece from the JEPs editor Chris Bright on Monday.

It can be viewed online here -

It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that this sort of rubbish is capable of being published unchecked, because we only have one newspaper!

Aside from the obvious questions to be asked about why Senator Bailhache is leaking bits and pieces like this presumably before the commission has agreed it's final proposition, someone has to produce a counter argument.

[EDIT - Senator Bailhache has posted a statement on the Electoral Commission website saying that despite media speculation, the commission has not yet decided on any of it's recommendations.]

So lets de-construct this bit by bit.

"Despite the insistence of a vociferous minority, there is no evidence of any public demand for the removal of the Constables and no compelling reason why there should be."

Surely the fact there is a "vociferous minority" is evidence that there is some public demand, it's just not a majority, so this quote doesn't even make sense.

But what is unique about the cause for the removal of the Constables (which if Bright took the time to read the ECs submissions he would see is actually a MAJORITY held view!) is how broad a spectrum of people hold that view!

It's often said that because the Constables are generally conservative that opposition to their position comes only from pesky self interested lefties (which is an argument I don't accept because there is nothing stopping a left-wing Constable from being elected), but this is not the case at all.

By no stretch of the English language could people like Constable Len Norman or former Senator Pierre Horsfall be considered left-wingers and lumped in with this "vociferous minority" group. And what does he mean by "vociferous" anyway? If he means people that have put forward articulate, intelligent and logical propositions that have clear links to philosophical principles of democracy, then yes they certainly have been "vociferous" but that can't be a bad thing. But anyway, the argument isn't about numbers, it's about the argument and who puts forward the better case, and the anti-Constable side wins clearly on both counts.

Pierre Horsfall even used his submission to put forward his idea of a "democracy test" which, by his own admission, led him to believe with a heavy heart that the Constables had to leave the States. Constable Norman said that his fundamental principle was that people should have a "choice" and it was all about "democratic principle" (which I told him afterwards was a phrase that virtually all States Members that have submitted something have not used). These comments are not ones that can be shunned aside with a "vociferous minority". These are the thoughts of sensible people (whom I and my comrades have many political disagreements with) who have put a clear, coherent and principled position forward that resonates with many people on the island.

All you need to do is have a read through some of the submissions that have recommended keeping the Constables and see what democratic reasons they give for that position. You won't find any. People like our Chief Minister didn't even talk about democracy and how the Constables provide it. Then we had people like Deputy Sean Power who's submission was just laughable (I quote "I can't understand why people think having the Constables in the States is undemocratic", try looking at the numbers Sean...). Their argument for keeping the Constables in the States is NOT based on democracy. And why should our Electoral Commission even be considering arguments that aren't based on democracy?

But anyway, what does it matter if there is majority public support for or against the Constables remaining in the States? That's not the point. There are plenty of things that there is probably majority public support for (e.g. capital punishment, banning burqas, etc), but we don't accept those things because they are not compatible with the broader principles of democracy. Democracy isn't about just doing what the majority wants every time, because that leads to a dictatorship of the majority against the minority. Democracy is about everyone being equal and nobody being oppressed.

The fact is, having Constables is undemocratic and oppressive. The worst part of Brights comments is "and no compelling reason why there should be." Obviously Bright doesn't consider democracy to be a compelling reason. After all, it's not like hundreds of thousands of men and woman have fought and died for our freedom and democracy, hardly compelling at all!

All sarcasm aside, it really does not take a genius to realise that Jerseys system is far from democratic in a way that would be considered acceptable in the western world. It is undemocratic for a Constable who represents 1,600 people to have the same say as one who represents 30,000 people. One of those fundamental principles of democracy is the concept that everyone's vote should be equal and that is just not possible with the Constables in the States because their mandates vary too much. That is a compelling reason for their removal, and it would take a very strong counter-argument to that point to necessitate it's compromise.

So what arguments does he offer?

"Each of the 12 parish heads is uniquely well placed to understand and act upon the views and needs of the local communities he or she serves."

Well no, there is nothing "unique" about it because each Parish also has a Deputy. And that Deputies primary job is to reflect the views of their constituents in the States Chamber, whereas that is the Constables secondary job. So it's not a unique position, and anyway, who says they do that effectively? The Constables have constantly voted in favour of GST and against exemptions etc. If they were listening to their communities they would have voted the opposite way because it is a tax that hurts the least well off amongst us. The main opposition to things like GST comes from the ranks of the Deputies who will do the bulk of constituent work.

"Moreover, the life experience and general common sense of the Constables provide an important balancing factor"

Whether the Constables have general common sense is entirely debatable and to proclaim it as some sort of accepted orthodoxy is just ridiculous. The Constables are mere mortals like anyone else and are totally capable of being utter morons (not saying they are of course!). They're not exempt by virtue of their office.

"their removal would probably deal an ultimately fatal blow to the parish structure on which so much of Jersey’s special identity and community spirit depends."

I just don't get this point. If the Parish system is so fragile that it can't exist without being put on life support by the States, how can it be something that's worth keeping?

My answer to that is that it isn't fragile and people like Bright clearly have no faith in the Parish system, whereas I have tonnes of it. The Parish system will exist as long as people want it to. Do they honestly think that people are going to say "oh, my Constable isn't in the States any more? Well now I can't be bothered to go help volunteer with our Battle of Flowers float!". Of course the Parish system will survive. It will survive because the system itself has significant merit.

In fact, there is everything to suggest that the Parish system would be strengthened by that cut from central government. It would fundamentally change the role of the Constable into a non-political one, which would do wonders for the position! More people would come forward for the role and they wouldn't split opinions by having to vote on controversial States matters.

Okay, it's an honorary position without pay, but maybe we should get over that and let them take remuneration from the Parish rates? That seems only fair to me.

And finally -

"If the key question, then, is how well the Constables serve and reflect their electorates, the answer must be: very."


Last week former Deputy Daniel Wimberly published his research that he had done into the work that each category of States Member does (remember that? That's the research that you and I asked the EC to do, but they said no). The media has, in my opinion, done a poor job at reporting it and has given significant time to his opposers whom haven't actually read his research and have been caricaturing his position in their rebuttals without those interviewing them catching them up on it.

His research was dynamite.

It proved what we all knew from the start - the Constables do very little in the States.

In terms of contributions to debates, questions asked, propositions lodged etc, the Constables do very little. This is irrefutable fact ( that cannot be denied.

I had a small part in helping Daniel compile his research and statistics and it became very apparent to me very quickly as I was going through States records that I was very rarely scrolling up to put a tick next to a Constables name when I found a proposition one had put forward.

Now this isn't actually a criticism of the Constables. Who am I to tell them they don't work hard? It isn't my place to suggest such a thing. I'm sure they do work very hard. But if they do, it's in their Parishes, not the States Chamber (and that is entirely appropriate). All the more reason for us to sever the link and allow them to focus on their important Parish work.

In terms of value for money as States Members, we do not get our moneys worth from the Constables.

Do they represent their electorates? Well in each Parish, they may well do. But for the island, by definition they can't, because the level of representation is skewed. So it is just factually inaccurate to say they are representative of Jersey. And since it is the Parliament of Jersey we are talking about, it is Jersey we should be focusing on, not a collection of 12 Parishes.

So please folks, don't fall for the propaganda of the JEP. Read alternative points of view (Deputy Tadiers video statement), read the facts (Daniels research) and make up your own mind!

I'll end with sharing something that I found really interesting. Did you know that in the States of Guernsey only 4 members were elected with less than 1,000 votes, and not a single one was elected without fighting an election? In our States, 28 (that's more than half!) were elected with less than 1,000 votes, 11 of them without facing an election at all.

I think that says enough.

Also, I recently hit a landmark in my "view counts" since starting this blog which has made me reflect on how this whole experiment has gone this year. I just want to make the point that I really am grateful for all the support that many of you offer me, for all the people that stop me in the street to say nice things, and also for those that offer genuine and thoughtful constructive criticism which I do try to take on board!

It really means a lot!

Cheers :)

Daniels research -

Plus two excel spreadsheets that can be downloaded by scrolling to 25th August. They're appendixes 2,3 and 5. -

Also, I wrote to the JEP based on this blog post -

I write following the astounding article by Chris Bright on the 3rd September (ironically titled "Democracy, not just efficiency") in which the editor informed us of some things we can expect to see in the Electoral Commissions proposition. Since Senator Bailhache (on the Electoral Commission website) and Colin Storm (at an Electoral Commission hearing) have both dismissed the article and said that nothing has been discussed by the commission yet, does the editor wish to apologise to the public of Jersey for writing a misleading article on a false premise, or would he instead defend his article and condemn Senator Bailhache and Colin Storm for being untruthful?

But on the subject of the article itself, the assertion that opposition to the Constables comes from a vociferous minority is simply untrue. If one takes the time to examine the submissions on the Electoral Commissions website, you will very quickly find that actually a clear majority of submitters wish for the Constables to leave the States. And those arguments saying such, are distinct from all other submissions in that they are the most articulate, the most considered and uniquely led by a clear philosophy of thought and principle of democracy (unlike our Chief Ministers submission).

The article also said there was no "compelling reason" for the removal of the Constables. But I think most in the island would consider Democracy to be a compelling reason, given the fact countless brave men and women have fought and died for democracy, which includes the fundamental principle of each vote being equal (something that is impossible if the Constables remain in the States).

It's often said (by those with an agenda) that the opposition to the Constables just comes from self interested "Lefties". But what is quite unusual about the cause for the removal of the Constables is that support actually comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Former Senator Horsfall and current Constable Norman have both put excellent and principled arguments against the Constables in the States, and neither of them can possibly be dismissed as part of a "vociferous minority" with the Left. Horsfall talked about a "democracy test" and Constable Norman repeatedly used the phrase "democratic principle". And they are joined in their view by Ed Le Quesne and John Hemming, who are both staunch supporters of the Parish system (thus doing away with the argument that somehow it would be the end of the Parish system if the Constables weren't distracted from their Parishes by the States).

Instead of propagandistically dismissing these people's legitimate opinions, can we not have a media that does it's job by effectively by putting both arguments across properly?

Sam Mézec