MICHAEL BIRT’S “RULING”.
ONLY IN JERSEY.
A health minister who tells people to commit suicide.
A Speaker who blocks a counter-statement.
The roiling tumult of stupidity and hubris that is the Jersey polity impinges upon us with all the welcome savoir of a toilet being flushed.
And it isn’t even funny any more.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of Senator Jimmy Perchard’s – err – somewhat intemperate outbursts; a subject which has been discussed microscopically in the Jersey media recently.
How bad was his conduct?
Let me put it this way.
Even The Rag has demanded his resignation.
What else do you want?
Jimmy is presently the Minister for Health & Social Services – and his ‘performance’, as it were, has placed his continuation in that job in great jeopardy.
So, with great reluctance, on Tuesday he gave a shallow, half-baked “apology” to the States Assembly in the form of a ‘Personal Statement’.
It was all predictable enough – “sorry to fellow members – but it was all Syvret’s fault anyway” – save for one, remarkable feature.
Or, rather one remarkable omission.
The swearing and the insults from him I am prepared to take on the chin. Politics is a rough business – and if you ‘dish it out’ you have to be prepared to take it as well.
Considerably more problematic for Jimmy was his painfully obvious difficulty with the – err – exactitudonal recollection of his extempore semiotics.
But even that pales into insignificance in the shadow cast by his references to self-harm and suicide.
He has – so far – told me to kill myself on two occasions; firstly advising me to go away and “slit your wrists”; and more recently directing me to “go and top yourself”.
This – let us remember – from the man who is the Minister for Health & Social Services.
So when Jimmy came to the States Assembly this Tuesday to make his apology for his conduct, I didn’t, frankly, expect him to offer any kind of apology to me – on the contrary, it was entirely predictable that his statement would largely consist of a diversionary attack on me.
And I would have accepted that with perfect equanimity. After nearly 20 years in politics, these things are like water off a duck’s back to me.
But I was genuinely startled at his total failure to address the subject of his references to self-harm and suicide – and to offer a sincere apology to all those who may have been affected by self-harm – either directly or indirectly.
It does, actually, take something particularly serious to spur me into political battle-mode. And this was one such occasion.
Over the lunch-break I hurriedly wrote a draft Personal Statement – which I reproduce below – with the intention of delivering it during the afternoon session. I would have had no intention of responding to the various assertions in Jimmy’s statement – had he only recognised and apologised for his habit of advising people to kill themselves.
However, the Deputy Bailiff, Michael Birt deemed my draft statement “too political” – and refused me permission to make it.
Yes – that is how crypto-feudalistic and paternalistic the Jersey polity is. Elected members cannot ask questions in the Assembly, table propositions, amendments, legislation – or give statements – without the text gaining the prior approval of the Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff.
Phil Bailhache – and Michael Birt; he being the former Attorney General with a strong predilection for ensuring that any prosecutions which might have been politically embarrassing – simply didn’t happen.
A tradition being stoutly continued by Phil’s brother, Bill Bailhache – the present Attorney General.
One might think that under the present circumstances – of all the times for these people to reign-in their political biases and interferences – now would be that time.
But no – their hubris and sense of utter invulnerability ruins their judgment.
So Jimmy’s statement of “apology” – in which he failed utterly to apologise to those affected by self-harm issues – went unanswered in the chamber.
So, for what it’s worth, you can read my disallowed draft response below.
Jimmy – and those who support him – need to ponder this.
I possess all the diplomatic skills and tact of an M10 battle tank.
If I can have seen the central and unacceptable offensiveness of his references to suicide, Jimmy really needs to start being honest with himself – and consider whether a job as Health Minister is remotely suited to him.
However – this being the States of Jersey we’re speaking of – the horrifying thing is that he will almost certainly retain the job.
DISALLOWED PERSONAL STATEMENT
BY SENATOR STUART SYVRET
24th March, 2009.
I am forced to make this statement in response to the personal statement given this morning by the Minister for Health & Social Services, Senator James Perchard.
It is with genuine disappointment that I am having to make these observations, as I had hoped that Senator Perchard’ statement would draw a line under the matter. I’m afraid it failed to achieve that objective in several noticeable respects.
I intended to say no more on the episode – and have even gone as far as publicly stating on the JEP web-site that I would not be seeking an apology from Senator Perchard.
However, rather than recognise my concession, and willingness to put the episode down to the rough & tumble of politics, Senator Perchard repeated certain allegations and condemnations of me in his statement of this morning.
But even then, I might have let the matter pass were it not for the central, startlingly serious failing of his statement, which I will return to.
To deal with my personal position in this matter, I have to say I am very disappointed that Senator Perchard continues to deny the words he uttered to me in the Assembly, and instead, effectively, accuses me of dishonesty in misquoting him.
I have to defend myself against this imputation, so I state again that the words used by Senator Perchard, which I then repeated, were quoted by me on that occasion entirely accurately.
I’m afraid it is also difficult to reconcile Senator Perchard’s statement of this morning, in which he claimed to have not mislead the Assembly, with the unqualified and unambiguous flat denial given to the chamber on that occasion, that he had stated such words.
It should also be noted that were it not for the fact that some surrounding members of the Assembly confirmed the Senator’s outburst to the Jersey Evening Post, and the fact that a reporter from that journal had captured on her dictaphone Senator Perchard advising me to go away and slit my wrists, his conduct would have remained hidden.
It has to be regarded as deeply regrettable that the Senator would have happily continued to have me perceived as the person who had uttered a falsehood.
A large part of Senator Perchard’s statement consisted of indirect attacks upon me, in which he accuses me of various provocations and criticisms of him and others.
As far as he is concerned, the supposed provocations have been nothing more than one would expect to encounter in the political sphere.
For example, on the occasion he advised me to slit my wrists, the supposed “provocation” was pointing out to him, as the Assistant Minister for Health & Social Services, that the professional report of the Howard League for Penal Reform vindicated the position of the whistle-blowing employee and myself – and that such factual findings stood in stark contrast to the assertions being made by senior civil servants in his department.
On that occasion, the point was entirely political, and a politician should be able to deal with such difficulties in a professional manner, not as Senator Perchard did.
The Senator also contends that a supplementary question I asked of him during the States meeting at which the later incident occurred was some form of unreasonable provocation. It was not.
I will not take up more time by repeating the question, as it is available in Hansard, should anyone care to examine it.
The question was entirely reasonable; what prompted the question was another regrettable example of Senator Perchard’s conduct during a recent States social event. Obviously embarrassed by the oblique reference to that incident, the Senator lost his temper.
As far as my criticisms of others are concerned, I would point out that they are made openly, under my own name, rather than hiding behind a pseudonym – and are made in a public sphere, so do not attract the protections of parliamentary privilege.
There is clearly a fundamental difference between my perspective on such matters – and that of Senator Perchard. He – as is common amongst many States members – seems to regard his job as protecting his department and senior managers from the public.
I, Sir, take the opposite view – which is that it is the job of politicians to protect the public interest from States departments.
The forgoing observations deal with the comparatively trivial matter of my position.
Now, Sir, I must return to the far more significant failing of Senator Perchard’s statement.
It was very noticeable that his apology, such as it was, was largely directed at the States chamber. My feelings, and those of other members of this Assembly are, frankly, of little consequence when contrasted with the concerns, feelings and views of the public.
It is regrettable that Senator Perchard directed so little of his apology to the people of Jersey.
But of even greater concern is this: –
On two occasions Senator Perchard, who is the Minster for Health & Social Services, directed a person to self harm – to kill themselves.
The Senator has on one occasion told me to slit my wrists.
And on another, more recent occasion, advised me to go away and “top myself”.
Frankly – Senator Perchard could have left out of his statement 90% of its text – had he only addressed the important matter; the fundamental issues arising from his conduct.
Which are, of course, his references to self-harm and suicide.
Sir, the Senator could have forgone any reference to me – forgone any apology to the States Assembly – because the one, central apology that needed to be made; that had to be made – was an apology to those who have experienced suicidal thoughts, or the families and friends of those who have.
That Senator Perchard’s statement made not one, single, such reference to public feelings in connection with the subject of self-harm; not even a hint of an apology for his words encouraging suicide, can only be regarded as both startling and deeply sad.
The Senator merely said this:
“Secondly, comments I directed at a States member concerning self-harm were made last year and outside the Assembly and before I became the Minister for Health and Social Services.”
It is as though the Senator regards advising a person to commit suicide as, somehow, a minor matter – provided any such comment was made outside the States chamber – and merely to a States member.
Senator Perchard also neglects to mention in the quoted paragraph above, the fact that he was the Assistant Minister for Health & Social Services – when he advised me to go and “slit my wrists”.
Sir – my personal feelings in this matter are of little relevance; indeed, I did not even seek an apology from the Senator – and, even today, would have let pass his further inaccurate assertions made against me. I genuinely wished Senator Perchard’s statement to draw a line under the episode.
But sadly we remain in the position whereby we have a Minister for Health & Social Services – who has advised a person to commit suicide on two occasions – and who has, despite all comment, singularly failed to recognise or acknowledge, in anyway, the distress those particular remarks have caused to many of his department’s clients and their families across the island.
Sir, it was bad enough that such remarks be made by the Senator, given the particular position he holds.
That he still, even today, fails to recognise and apologise for his references to self-harm, speaks a certain truth of itself.
Because I am personally involved in this matter, I will not be taking or initiating any action against Senator Perchard.
Instead, Sir, the question that confronts the Assembly as a whole is this:
Can the States of Jersey have as a Minister for Health & Social Services – a person who advises people to commit suicide?
I know what my answer to that question is – but considering and answering that question is the task that now confronts States members collectively.
Senator Stuart Syvret.