Behind the Curtain of the Wizard of Oz.
The worst episode of government in the entire 800 year history of Jersey as an independent jurisdiction.
In these posts I’ve often written about the opinion management industry, and in particular its immense power in the island of Jersey.
You may ask, ‘What is the opinion management industry? How do I define it?’
The opinion management industry is a broad term which describes all of the media, advertising agencies, spin-doctors, politicians, PR agencies, corporations and so-on. Just imagine it as any person or entity who wants to, or actively does, attempt to massage, mould and lead public opinion.
This blog, for example, is my own, small and ineffectual attempt to influence people as a counter-weight to the vast tracts of bilge, irrelevancy and effluvia we are fed by the mainstream media.
As I’ve explained previously, the management of public opinion is even more important in democratic societies than dictatorships. For in democracies, you can only govern by consent – or, at least through passive resignation – on the part of the people.
In Jersey, the traditional ruling elite have recognised this for a very long time. In fact, until the arrival of a local BBC service in the Channel Island’s, the Jersey oligarchy actually owned all of the local media.
We can see the effects of this massive control by the opinion management industry manifested in many ways in the microcosm of Jersey. For example – and this is really quite extraordinary when you think about it; a truly remarkable achievement on the part of the Jersey oligarchy – a majority of Jersey people still regard – in the year 2008 – the concept of organised politics – of political parties – to be some kind of anarcho-commie threat to society.
The resultant “tradition” of independent candidates, of course, leaving the covert, de facto political party of the Jersey establishment unchallenged.
To those who live in a party-political environment, I can see that the arrangement may have some superficial appeal. But does the Jersey system lead to a parliament largely peopled by independently-minded, strong-willed individuals? An assembly which more accurately reflects a cross-section of society than would a legislature filed with party apparatchiks?
I’m sure I don’t really need to answer that question directly. You know – yes, you know – the answer right now.
I will though, illustrate the situation a little. The Jersey parliament, ‘the States’, consists of 53 elected members. Consider this: a significant majority of those members are property or cash millionaires; in many cases both. Many are multi-millionaires.
I’m not, incidentally, one of them – merely being some scum-bag uppity prole from the back-street slums of St. Helier – the kind of place you never saw on the TV series, ‘Bergerac’. And, having devoted my working time entirely to politics, I’m stony-broke. Consisting largely of multi-millionaires, the Jersey parliament has never bothered with such trifling matters as a rudimentary pension scheme for members; hell, not even lawful social security treatment. So my political life, from the age of 25 to 42, has delivered me no security at all.
You might snort, ‘But only a damn fool goes into politics and doesn’t find a means of minting it?’ Yeah – maybe. But I’ve never taken bribes or kick-backs; haven’t supported the passage of legislation being introduced at the sole request of my own firm (I don’t have one); never engineered development permissions for friends and family; never been offered the “company directorships” which used to be the cash-cow of Jersey politicians; and never used my political influence to obstruct investigations into illegal activities at a bank of which I happened to have been a non-executive director.
So it’s my own damn fault. If I had taken the establishment shilling, kept my mouth shut, toed the party-line, not rocked the boat, been obedient to the whims of the oligarchs – maybe, I too could have shared in some of the riches which wash around the higher levels of Jersey society.
But there are important up-sides to my situation. I remain uncorrupted, answerable to no-one but myself and able to do and say what I believe to be right.
And, of course, there is another tremendous advantage to my position. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan:
“when you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
I can, therefore, treat the Jersey oligarchy with all of the cynicism, contempt, insolence and satire it so richly deserves. All these silly little men have no power over me; well, apart from assassination, obviously. And I’m fairly equanimous about that too; if I have to listen to many more speeches by Paul Routier or Mike Vibert – getting whacked with a few rounds from a Glock could begin to seem quite attractive.
But – in public perception – at least on the part of pro-establishment individuals – I remain some kind of toxic reprobate – and my political opponents are the shining beacons of “statesmanship”, Or, at least – that is the mythology.
And in that regard, the Jersey oligarchy – which includes the local media – have been startlingly successful in propagating and maintaining the mythology. I say startlingly successful, because so divorced from facts – from reality – are the accepted assumptions about the Jersey establishment; so wholly divorced from the evidence and consequences we see around us – that it could even be regarded as one of the most successful propaganda exercises in any post-World War II democracy.
Let’s just take a look at a few of those myths; and there are many more which I will, maybe, address in later posts.
1: “Jersey has customarily been well-governed; marvellously so; in a way that party-political jurisdictions can only dream of.”
2: “Jersey has been governed with tremendous economic competence and foresight. Public finances have been well-managed – as could only be achieved by politicians who are experienced businessmen.”
3: “Jersey has been immensely fortunate in always having amongst its politicians, the necessary high-calibre, business-minded ‘Elder Statesmen’ needed to lead the key government functions, such as managing public finances and producing effective taxation and economic policies. People who have used their tremendous wisdom and foresight to guide this community to a secure and happy future.”
4: “Anyone who challenges the above nostrums is a dangerous threat to society.”
So, as the “threat to society” de jour – accompany me as I rip back the curtain – like in the Wizard of Oz – to reveal hiding behind it the weak, frightened, bumbling and vacuous little men desperately trying to work the apparatus.
Step forward Pierre Horsfall and Frank Walker.
Pierre Horsfall used to be a Senator in the Jersey parliament. He played many key roles, and occupied several positions of power throughout the 1980s and 1990s. These included President of the old Finance & Economics Committee and the old Policy & Resources Committee.
Frank Walker is the present Chief Minister. From 1990 to the present day he too has been a central figure in the States of Jersey, having been, at various times, a member of, Vice-President of and President of, both the Finance & Economics and Policy & Resources Committees.
The virtually unchallenged mythology – the spin – the propaganda – is that these two “Elder Statesmen” – these two blazing stars in the firmament of Jersey politics – have been super-competent; wise and firm hands on the wheel of the ship of state during the last two decades.
If anything, their uncertain grasp upon the tiller of the crumbling and leaking gaff-cutter of Jersey’s destiny has served only to drift us ever closer to the rocks – like a week-end Lombard yachtsman at the mercy of a 13 metre spring-tide.
Ah – where to start listing their deficiencies? There are just so many – of so many different kinds – that I could write a book about it. Actually, I am – but that’s for another day.
For today let’s just look at their performance on their own terms. Let us examine their “performance” in those areas of responsibility, those policy domains, which were their supposed strengths.
We in Jersey were – apparently – blessed to have two political leaders such as these men because of their great ability and skill in dealing with such important topics as taxation, public spending, economic policy, strategy and diplomacy.
And even today – 90% of Jersey politicians, journalists, pro-establishment individuals and businessmen still believe this manifest rubbish; – in the teeth of all the evidence.
These two particular ‘emperors’ are naked – the marvellous new clothes they wore – supposedly only visible to the “wise” – in fact just don’t exists. They stand, reputationaly, as naked as a tanked-up and bladdered bridegroom stripped and tied to a lamppost on his stag night.
So, we say these emperors have no clothes.
We pull back the curtain, as in the Wizard of Oz, and find lost and insecure individuals, thrashing around in a panic like a drunkard at the controls of a 747 after the flight-crew have all had heart attacks.
Let us look closely.
What do we see?
An economy crippled by a finance-industry equivalent of the hydrocarbon-driven “Dutch Disease”.
The resultant astronomical inflation of the cost-base in Jersey – rendering all other productive industries unable to compete for accommodation, resources and staff.
A cost-of-living that is higher than that in central London.
A de facto mono-economy – with at least 80% of Jersey’s GDP being dependant on, and arising from, the finance industry.
The immense strategic vulnerability of Jersey, given this dependency upon an inherently unstable ‘industry’.
An unbridgeable gap between the haves and have-nots.
An employment sector in which, if you work in the finance industry, law, the accommodation industry or the senior civil service – or you are merely one of the parasitical rentiers – you have done just splendidly financially.
And everyone else who doesn’t fit into these categories struggles desperately to provide for themselves and there families in an environment which has living costs higher than central London.
A bloated and burgeoning civil service – which is out of control, unaccountable and completely invulnerable.
A political leadership which has always been so weak and frightened that senior civil servants are never sacked – no matter how grave the gross incompetence’s committed.
A public sector annual spend now in excess of half-a-billion pounds.
A Social Security scheme which has built into it – as a structural feature – a mechanism to enable local businessmen, company owners and the rich to dodge their just obligations.
A resultant need to take over £50 million from tax payers each year to, in substantial measure, make up the resultant short-fall in the scheme’s income.
The ruinous plundering of the island’s very small environment by ‘development’.
A population which is already manifestly in excess of the actual economic carrying capacity of the island. A reality we are likely to run up against very soon.
The repeated failure to use fiscal mechanisms to dampen inflation by taking money out of the economy.
The operation of a taxation policy and structure which has actually been designed to enable the rich to pay zero tax – should they so choose. As many of them do.
The near-complete failure to plan properly for harder times. For example, the Jersey equivalent of a Sovereign Wealth Fund, our strategic reserve, presently stands at about half-a-billion pounds – virtually walking-around-money to some island residents – yet not so much as enough to even meet one year’s public sector expenditure.
Allowing the ‘gold-rush’ decades to pass – to very “Life Enriching” (that’s Jersey’s official slogan. Apposite, no?) effect for the elites of one or two generations – but leaving an exploited, ruined and asset-stripped environment behind that hasn’t even taken as much as a couple of billion towards the island’s communal security.
The total and disastrous failure to ever comprehend and tackle “economic leakage” from the island – resulting in it being little more than a piece of money-making apparatus for over-seas investors.
Utter incompetence in managing public sector capital projects. Anyone believe that blowing a total of £49 million of tax payers’ money equals financial competency? No – I didn’t think so.
The astounding failure – even to this day – for the States of Jersey to have in place an appropriate capital accounting system.
A public administration which refuse to subject itself – its own accounts – to modern, rigorous accounting methodologies.
A government who will do this – yet deny the real reason – which is that if certain, modern and rigorous accounting methods were used – Jersey would be shown to be insolvent. Far – I’m sure you will agree – from the mythology of financial brilliance which we are routinely spoon-fed by an unchallenging and passive media.
The catastrophic accruing over the decades of terrifying public sector pension scheme debts. I forget the precise figures – but going from memory the combined debt of the two major schemes was approaching half-a-billion pounds last time I checked.
The gross irresponsibility of keeping such debts “off-balance sheet” in order to maintain the fiction that the States of Jersey is a model of financial competence amongst administrations – and that we aren’t actually insolvent.
The accumulation of these debts, which are – let us be frank – never going to be cleared.
The “development” of a waterfront land reclamation and development zone – which is now covered in hideous, cheapskate carbuncles.
The self-same land reclamation sites being, essentially, giant toxic waste dumps, having been the receptacle for about half-a-million tonnes of toxic incinerator ash – replete with dioxins, furans, PCBs and poisonous heavy metals.
So – this is what we find when we rip back the curtain – when we recognise that the emperors are naked.
Essentially – we are confronted with a catastrophic – bloody – mess.
Some time ago I declared that I would not again be a candidate for the post of Chief Minister. The above list is one of the major reasons why.
What do you think I am – bloody stupid or something? OK, OK – I asked for that.
But not so stupid as to be taking the helm of the ship of state – just before it ploughs into the rocks; at a time when the architects of this destiny have all sailed off into the sunset on their gin palaces. Wreathed in glory and plaudits by Jersey’s ‘churnalists’.
In all seriousness – it’s a sad and grim prospect – one I am forced to observe, but helpless to control – like watching a train-wreck.
But still those responsible for the disaster remain on pedestals – lorded and promoted by the island’s opinion management industry. As I said earlier – it’s actually a truly remarkable ‘achievement’ in the black arts of propaganda.
That people so manifestly incompetent – should be largely regarded as exemplars of modern statesmanship and economics.
Pierre and Frank always put a great deal of effort into their image – their appearance – their plausibility. Both always acted the part of the “Elder Statesman” – really quite brilliantly. The cultivated gravitas, the bespoke suits, the statesman-like jetting around on politically “important” junkets.
Both men recognised that politics – first and foremost – was a confidence game. They had to tick all the boxes on the “Safe Pair of Hands – Elder Statesman” check-list.
Both, being confidence men, achieved this sleight-of-hand extremely well.
But – tragically for this community – being “plausible” – being a good actor – was just never going to be enough. We needed substance behind the façade.
Instead, we are left contemplating two decades of ruinous political and economic mismanagement of this community’s destiny.
The Horsfall/Walker years.
Remember that – when times get hard.
Book of the Post:
Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes, by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
Joke of the Post.
An “Elder Statesman” Jersey politician comes home and discovers his house is on fire. He rips out his mobile phone and calls the Fire Brigade and shouts, “Hurry over here. My house is on fire!”
“OK,” replied the fireman, “how do we get there?”
“Say, don’t you still have those big red trucks?”