Saturday, 15 December 2012
A Rebuttal to JEP Propaganda 3 Re Plémont
I listened intently and followed all of the online coverage as the battle for Plémont took place in the States earlier this week. Once the result had been called and the proposition to buy Plémont had been lost, it was time for members of the various classes of States Members to give their Christmas addresses to the assembly to reflect on their performance over the past year. Ignoring the slightly irritating fact that no-one saw fit at any point to thank the electorate, one thing that all members (including the Dean and Bailiff) did mention was how well the last debate had been carried out and how it was a credit to the assembly to have been able to debate something that was so divisive across the usual political lines but (with a few exceptions) conduct it in a well mannered way that produced a result that no-one could cry foul play on.
All in all, I would have to agree with all of that. As I said, there were a few exceptions but I've heard a lot worse. However, reading the JEP you would not have even vaguely gathered any of that.
The worst of all was this astounding opinion piece - http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/comment/2012/12/14/a-sad-day-for-jersey-in-the-states/
I'm going to wager that whoever wrote this pathetic piece didn't even listen to the debate. They just can't have. It is so far from being an even vaguely accurate representation of what happened that no reasonable sound minded person could have sincerely come to the conclusions that are arrived at in this article. They just can't be serious.
But before I dissect it bit by bit, my own position on the matter -
I made my views on Plémont clear before the debate in a previous post and then happily published an alternative point of view from Daniel Wimberley. As with all things, when you read more on a subject, listen to debates and hear points of view from all sides of an argument, you gradually become more informed and aware of the criticisms of your point of view, and so you have to refine your position taking all of that into account. Sometimes you can even be totally swayed and find yourself on the other side of the argument after evaluating it all. Throughout the debate I honestly found myself wavering on aspects of my original views on Plémont.
Senator Bailhaches opening speech on the proposition can only be described as brilliant, by far the best speech I've ever heard him give. It was passionately delivered, it used all the right language and used all the sorts of persuasive tools that make a great speech. That's not to say that I agreed with everything he said, much of it I strongly disagreed with, but simply how he delivered it was wonderful. I've given a few speeches in my day and know that there is a real art to it, and he must have spent a good amount of time in a room by himself practising delivering it rather than just writing something down and reading it out aloud on the day.
Most importantly, what his speech did was make me conjure up images and feelings towards Plémont that was exactly what he wanted people to feel when they made up their mind on how they would vote.
I'm flying back to Jersey on Sunday after having been at uni for a few months and I know that I'm going to do what I can't help but do every time I go back which is look out the window at Jersey as it approaches on the horizon and look forward to that feeling I'm sure we all get as we walk down the stairs from the plane and think "I'm home". And I remembered the very first time I came back to Jersey after the development at Portlet had been finished. I came back by ferry from England and remember the sinking feeling I had in my stomach as we sailed around the corner and I looked up at what had once been one of the most beautiful parts of the island now in the shadow of what can only be described as a monstrosity. All of this made me think a lot harder about how valuable that site at Plémont really is and how maybe it is actually worth spending the money on.
But despite all that, as with all States propositions, the devil is in the detail and you have to put emotion aside and think pragmatically on whether the specifics of what is being proposed are actually right.
It became very obvious in the debate that there was actually a clear majority in favour of saving Plémont, the problem they had was with this specific proposition. Some members had a staunch principled opposition to compulsory purchase. Senator Ferguson objected on the basis that compulsory purchase is only acceptable during times of war and any other time it is just theft. Some members felt they could not possibly sign up to a proposition that didn't have a definitive price on it which they were being asked to pay. Some felt it was wrong to have just concluded a debate on the Medium Term Financial Plan and then focus on something that they didn't believe fitted in that context and should have been dealt with before those commitments were made. Some felt that the developer had not been treated appropriately by the politicians and had he been treated better it may have been possible to come up with a settlement that benefited all parties and avoided a compulsory purchase and potentially high costs. And then there were those that thought the best option was to loan the NTJ the money to buy the whole site, rather than let them buy it from the States after they had made a loss.
All of these were legitimate worries that the proposition made no attempt to settle and on balance of it from that it was, in my and most members view, a poorly constructed proposition. It was made worse by what I think was a very poor decision from the Treasury Minister who only spoke in the debate at the very last minute rather than getting their early to frame the debate. Since he is the person that signs the cheques, it wasn't right for him to let the majority of the debate go on without a statement from his perspective on the funding implications, which is what much of the opposition was about. Contrast that with his Assistant Minister who spoke quite early on and in opposition to the purchase.
That is where the failing lies. Had any more assurances been made on any one of those points of objections, the vote would have been won. But it was lost because it just wasn't done well. Senators Bailhache and Gorst were too complacent and clearly thought they would be able to pass it by playing to the emotions of other members. As a result, we as an island a now a poorer place.
When something like this happens, the most important thing is to reflect and come to terms with what went wrong so that lessons are learnt for the future so this sort of thing doesn't happen again. And this is why the JEPs opinion piece is so inappropriate because it does nothing for reconciliation but instead tries to use the issue to make petty political points with no grounding whatsoever. And from a paper in such a position of power as the JEP is, being so widely read, it leaves impressions in people that are not helpful for the island.
So lets look at the article itself.
It starts by making all sorts of comments about how insignificant the amount of money was going to be or the message the move sends out to developers etc, there isn't a huge amount to say about that because it's a legitimate difference of opinion that doesn't particularly fly in the face of the facts as they are.
Then we have this paragraph -
"The intellectual poverty of that argument set the tone for a dispiriting display of this disappointing States Assembly at its worse, with the added irony that the vote was in effect swung by the decision of the spectacularly ill-titled Environment Minister, Deputy Rob Duhamel, whose position on the Council of Ministers is surely now untenable."
I'm not sure he was listening to the same debate as me because I think there were excellent contributions from both sides of the argument and there were plenty of bad arguments from both sides (including the pro side) too. But to single out Deputy Duhamel is totally unfair. The vote was not swung by any particular member because it would have only taken one from any of the 25 to change their mind (or get their ring-binder in the way) and the vote would have gone the other way. But why should his position on the Council of Ministers now be untenable? The Health Minister Deputy Pryke and TTS Minister Deputy Lewis voted against the purchase, and the Economic-Development Minister was against it too. Even the Assistant Treasury Minister was against it! The proposition was specifically brought forward by Senator Gorst as an individual member, rather than with the backing of the Council of Ministers, and so it was a free vote that all ministers were allowed to express a view on either way without breaching collective responsibility. In fact I think that the fact so many ministers were against it shows how poor a proposition it must have been if they could not be convinced by their colleagues that it was feasible.
"The defeat of the Plémont proposal must be a personal disappointment to its lead advocate, Senator Sir Philip Bailhache, who made an apparently irresistible case with skill and eloquence. It must also weaken the position of Senator Gorst, whose first year in office ends not with a decisive assertion of his influence over the House but with an embarrassing failure to win an argument on a major matter of policy direction."
I've acknowledged that he started the debate with a very good speech, there is no doubt about that, but a States Member that falls for a good speech is not a good States Member. We want members who are capable of looking past any spin and going through things like this with a critical eye and be sceptical. But whilst Senator Bailhaches opening speech was good, his closing speech was not. He wasn't particularly convincing and he made a few jokes that didn't go down very well about other members being "amateur valuers" which was meant to belittle them. Not really the best way to win friends and influence people.
I certainly agree that Senator Gorst doesn't have any influence over the House, but that's because the strings are being pulled by the more dominant Senators Ozouf and Bailhache. But by no stretch of the English language can this failure be considered a failure to win an argument on a "major matter of policy direction". It was no such thing. Plémont was not part of a major policy direction, it was a one off case. Had it been part of policy it would have been brought forward by the Council of Ministers with a three line-whip, not an individual in a free vote.
Though isn't it odd how the JEP seems to be far harsher on Senator Gorst than Senator Bailhache, especially given it was more a failure of Bailhache than Gorst?
"It is, meanwhile, difficult to resist reaching the conclusion that some who voted against the proposition did so merely because it was brought by the former Bailiff, perceived by them as the embodiment of the so-called establishment."
Of course it is only really difficult to resist reaching that conclusion if you didn't actually listen to the debate and hear the arguments that were being made. No personal attacks against Senator Bailhache were made by any member. Though, the article is wrong, it was not brought by Senator Bailhache, it was brought by Senator Gorst who nominated Senator Bailhache to speak in favour of it. Why he couldn't bring it in his own name isn't clear. Maybe it has something to do with his core complaint in his election campaign against members who bring up matters for debate that have already been discussed.
But here comes the most pathetic part -
"Indeed, the spectacle of dyed-in-the-wool left-wingers flying in the face of the public good and supporting a development which will be of benefit to an extremely wealthy developer and those with the very substantial means required to buy property on the site’s projected luxury estate was an exercise in the absurd."
Ignoring the frankly idiotic and childish assumption that left-wingers have a problem with anyone with substantial means, to say it was "in the face of the public good" is subjective but to then say that this was ruined by the left-wingers is such a pathetic attempt to play petty politics on something that was never a right or left issue, and was reflected by the way the vote turned out.
In fact it's so illogical given that the left-wingers make up a minority in the States and so therefore the right-wing majority is capable of passing whatever legislation it likes, so long as they are united, and on this occasion they were not united, so arguably it would be their fault. Gorst and Bailhache only had to convince one more right-winger to agree with them, but they couldn't do it. It is their personal fault, not the fault of any particular caucus in the States (not even the Constable caucus!).
My blog alone has dispelled this idea that it is a right/ left issue by the very fact I have published two posts, both from a left-wing perspective that reached opposite conclusions. Not only that, but the JEP itself even published a letter from Daniel Wimberley outlining the progressive case for purchasing Plémont and another by Deputy Power outlining why he was against it!
A list of which members voted which way can be found here - http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/Pages/Votes.aspx?VotingId=2706
It's worth noting that even though Senator Maclean (that well known dyed-in-the-wool left-winger) was not in the island to be able to vote, he had sent an email to all States Members outlining why he was against the purchase, so it would have been 24-26 had he been there.
Just looking at that list you can so clearly see that plenty of left-wingers voted for the purchase (Deputies Tadier and Maçon, Senator Breckon etc) and plenty of right-wingers, including ministers, voted against it (Senator Ferguson, Deputies Baker and Bryans). You'll also note that the Constables were split on the issue, but with a small majority against the purchase. So perhaps the JEP could alter their editorial position on the Costables as the wisest and most "in-touch" of all States Members...
But one of those "dyed in the wool left-wingers" is Deputy Tadier who very consistently votes against the Council of Ministers, sometimes being in a group of just 5/6 members that vote contre, actually voted for the proposition. Not only did he vote for this proposition but he was even part of a band that had been campaigning for the purchase and released a song in support of it. The song which, in my opinion at least, contains rather Socialist lyrics (the bits in English that I can understand anyway) with lines like "when will those with deepest pockets give something back to the island that's dressed you so well". So this petty attack on left-wingers is totally unjustified.
What the JEP can't stand is that the proposition failed on it's merits, and there is no excuse for it other than it just wasn't thought out very well, despite being led by the JEPs favourite Senator. So to make sure his reputation stays intact, they try and divert attention away from legitimate failings onto others that had absolutely nothing do with it and it's utterly contemptible. How can the island progress if we can't honestly pin-point our problems accurately and learn how to overcome them in a sensible way?
So as the title to the article says, it is indeed a very sad day for Jersey, but not for a single reason that this ridiculous article has disgracefully tried to attribute it to.
One tweeter said to me "Imagine if in the Constables referendum they are voted in by one vote. The JEP will proclaim it as a victory for common sense". Quite.