Like Trying to swim in a Lake of Vomit.
I have only begun blogging recently – generally dealing with contemporary issues. But, as there is such a wealth of past material out there – incidents, events, controversies and disputes in the microcosm of Jersey politics – I thought it would be a pity to let it go unexplored.
Therefore I have decided to produce an occasional column, titled ‘Anatomy of a Spin – Temps Passé’.
In these posts we will take a look back at the deceits, the manipulations, the omissions, the political bias and the spins of days gone by. And, having been a member of the island’s parliament for 17 years, I have a lot of personal experiences to call on – before even venturing into the well-archived, near-fascistic, long 20th century history of the Jersey Evening Post.
So, just to limber up, I thought we would begin by examining a recent spin. This subject remains topical – because it relates to the unfolding child abuse scandal in Jersey, presently the subject of a major police investigation.
Before examining the spin in question, some background information.
Regular readers of this blog will have gathered that I used to be the island of Jersey’s Health & Social Services Minister – until the Jersey Oligarchy sacked me last September.
I can’t go into the details at present – the issues in question being subject to extensive Police investigations and, hopefully, a variety of prosecutions. But be assured – I will write – in extensive detail – about these matters when the legal considerations permit.
But briefly, in a nutshell the reason for my dismisal was this; I was being supplied with information from a number of whistle-blowers which suggested that abusive and unlawful practices were being engaged in against vulnerable children in care.
I took these concerns seriously.
Having spoken to a number of people, having taken expert advice from United Kingdom professionals – and having considered various examples of documentary evidence – I decided that these concerns were well-founded.
The “mistake” I made was this: as H & SS Minister, I found myself on the “wrong” side in a war between two opposed groups of people – two cohorts of individuals with diametrically opposed interests. I know things aren’t supposed to be like this – but they were – and they are.
On the one side I was becoming more and more aware of serious failings in Jersey’s child protection apparatus and speaking to an ever-growing network of victims. Decent front-line staff were secretly contacting me with their often serious worries concerning service deficiencies and cover-ups.
But on the other side I had a large organisation – the senior management of which had a clear and pressing interest in maintaining the fiction that everything in the garden was rosy, that they weren’t incompetent, dishonest and responsible for systemic failures to detect and prevent the abuse of children, and the concealment of abuse.
Two distinct groupings of people – with hugely conflicting personal interests.
But my “mistake” was to be on the “wrong” side – to support the victims; to believe them; to be on their side.
The near-unconcealed naked panic this caused amongst the senior management in H & SS – and their colleagues in other States of Jersey departments – the barely contained anger and fear – had to be experienced to be fully understood.
I was toast, politically, the instant it became clear that I sided with the victims and whistle-blowers – and not the management.
I wasn’t being “A Team Player”, you see?
So – people like Jersey’s Chief Minister, Senator Frank Walker, and Senators Wendy Kinnard and Mike Vibert decided that by digging into the child abuse cases to try and get at the truth, I was – and, really, I’m not making this up – “undermining staff morale” – and therefore had to be sacked.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Child abuse – in the strange parallel universe occupied by these members of the Jersey oligarchy – being of far lower concern than the heinous offence of “undermining staff morale” by attempting to hold them to account for their failures to protect vulnerable children.
So that was me – given the bullet – for trying to do my job.
Now, let’s turn to the ‘spin temp passé’ under consideration.
This seems strange, even to me, but as the longest continuously serving Senator in the Jersey parliament, I am deemed “Father of the House”. And as such, it falls to me to lead the end-of-year speeches at the conclusion of the last States meeting before Christmas.
Having spent much of the past year learning of vast swathes of child abuse – decade after decade of it; having met with, and listened to, many of the victims – I thought the Christmas speech would be an apposite opportunity to express some recognition of, and compassion towards, the victims of abuse.
I will recount the detail of this episode in a later post, for now it’s sufficient to know that I was barracked, shouted-down and unlawfully prevented from giving my speech by the Jersey Oligarchy.
As the meeting was curtailed, I stood looking around the States chamber as members rushed off for their lunch, and the abiding memory for me was experiencing a sensation akin to trying to swim across a lake of vomit and putrefaction.
Speaking of which – back to the Jersey Evening Post!
Now, some of you will be convinced I exaggerate in my criticisms of the Jersey Evening Post – that I am, somehow, being unfair to The Rag. But in yet another convincing demonstration that the JEP is out-of-step with pretty much every other newspaper in the democratic world, it printed one of its splendidly entertaining fruit-loop editorial comments.
I won’t dwell on that comment yet – I will, for your delectation and entertainment, re-produce it in full on this blog later in the week. And then produce a rational deconstruction of it. For the time being, it may be sufficient for you to gauge just how comically barking mad it was, to know that I had very middle class ladies telephoning me, saying how disgusting the comment was and that they had never voted for me before, but would now do so because of this display.
But for today, I want to focus on a weekly column which was published on Saturday 15th December. The piece was written by Anna Plunkett-Cole and it focused on the issue of my speech.
I know Anna socially, she’s moderately intelligent, if somewhat lightweight when it comes to intellectual substance. She also makes the common mistake of assuming a little natural intelligence can, somehow, be an adequate substitute for research, facts and thought.
I did, at the time, briefly, contemplate writing a letter to The Rag, but, frankly, had far higher priorities. I did, though, make a mental note to reply at some point because during those passages of time during which I am recovering – and I do not use the phrase lightly – from hearing the latest of the many victims recount the wretched horrors of various betrayals at the hands of people and of the States of Jersey – I reflect upon how it can be possible that year-in and year-out – decade after decade after decade – the vulnerable and messed-up children of Jersey could have been failed, neglected, savagely beaten, sexually assaulted, raped, and, through the coercive use of long-term solitary confinement, tortured to the point of mental breakdown by the States of Jersey – even into the 21st century?
Anna Plunkett-Cole’s article was a neat summed and concentrated example of the very cause and syndrome which has prevented, for decades, the recognition and rescue of young children who were being sexually abused, beaten to the point of suicide, tortured, made to drink Dettol and be emotionally & psychologically crushed – and why the vast majority of them have never received recognition, justice, empathy and care.
I guess I would, at this point, usually describe the piece as ethically and intellectually bankrupt. However, I know how Anna detests clichés – and like Frank Walker – doesn’t like my “big words” either.
So – let’s try and put it in plain English.
The article was simply thick.
It displayed a degree of ignorance that was truly startling even for the standards of the JEP. Even taking into account only that very small amount of information which is presently in the public domain – it must be obvious – surely – to even the most obtuse observer – that the Jersey Establishment has used the apparatus of power to protect its image first and foremost – and in doing so has concealed decades of the most appalling and disgusting abuse & neglect of vulnerable children?
The moral vacuity of the article is such that it could have been written by an Establishment spin-doctor. Consider: for here is Jersey – at the end of 2007 – with quite clearly dozens & dozens of victims of child abuse – possibly even hundreds; a child abuse scandal of such a scale that even senior police officers have described it as un-precedented for such a small geographic area – and what does The Rag write about? The rapes, the batterings, the tortures – the decades of establishment cover-ups? How it could all have happened? The shock that a civilized society could behave in this way? Even something as rudimentary as a legilsature breaking its own rules to prevent the truth being spoken?
No. In Jersey Evening Post world, that stuff just doesn’t command the column inches. Of far greater importance is a comprehensive and sustained diversionary assault upon that Syvret bastard.
You should know that there is a trivial sub-text to Anna’s criticisms of me but nothing that could even approach justifying or excusing such an embarrassingly ignorant, amoral, ethically bankrupt, shallow, stupid and absurd screed of diversionary pro-establishment spin.
Column after column after column of invented concepts of my motivations, my apparent appalling cruelty to those poor poor senior civil servants; upsetting my unfortunate political colleagues by referring to the unacknowledged sufferings of the victims of at least six decades of concealed child abuse. I mean, it just isn’t acceptable, is it? Spoiling States members’ hackneyed versions of Christmas, when all they want to do is spend the next two weeks Christmas shopping before pottering back to their holly-bestrung country mansions. They certainly couldn’t be expected to endure some reprobate like me trying to express some empathy and acknowledgment to people who have had their lives ruined by abuse.
That’s right; in Anna-world – it was all some pre-conceived and planed plot of mine for political martyrdom. All those victims? All those whistle-blowers? All those cover-ups? All that hard, documented evidence?
All, we are supposed to assume, just manufactured out of thin-air by me in a dastardly scheme to induce Frank Walker into committing political suicide and taking his cohort of political allies down with him.
Lest you think I exaggerate in my interpretations of the piece, be your own judge, get hold of a copy of the JEP of the 15th December, and read it for yourself.
There is one simple test by which you can gauge the veracity of my assessment of the article. Its size is roughly four columns, across half-a-page. A lot of text.
Question: how much of the article addresses the victims? Their suffering? The magnitude of the offences against them?
A little over halfway down the third column, speaking of my disgust at the abuse she writes: “because what he is speaking about is horrific and terrifying for the victims.”
In an entire article about what a bastard that Stuart Syvret is – for being so rude and insolent as to speak of the sufferings of abuse victims – just before States members’ Christmas lunch – Anna Plunkett-Cole writes 13 words concerning the victims.
I really hope you’re proud of yourself, Anna.
Book of the Post:
The Trial, by Franz Kafka.
Joke of the Post:
Governments lie and newspapers lie – but in a democracy they are different lies. Except in Jersey, where they are the same lies.