The States of Jersey – Groupthink versus Reality.
In ‘Anatomy of a Spin Temps Passé #1’, we took a look at some of the media reportage of the incident when the Jersey parliament stopped my Christmas speech because it was an expression of empathy and recognition to abuse survivors – and, of course, “we couldn’t have this kind of thing spoiling the Christmas lunch which members were about to go and indulge in – just so “inappropriate””.
In my last post I said I would try and explain the events of that day in more detail – so here goes – though it isn’t easy – so Kafkaesque has it all been.
During the last year I have had to continuously gauge my assessment of events by seeking the objective opinions of people from that place called Reality; independent experts in the field, often of national or international reputation – just to verify that ‘no – I wasn’t being unreasonable – or undergoing psychotic delusions – when I got angry at things like the systemic failure of the entire child “protection” apparatus of Jersey to save a child from eighteen months of abuse by two paedophiles. Or the systematic, well-documented illegal use of coercive and punitive solitary confinement against vulnerable children in care. Or the wilful and deliberate concealment from the police of systemic abuse taking place in a States of Jersey ‘group-home’.
No. I was right to be, shall we say, unhappy at these occurrences.
Yet – returning to the place called Unreality, here in Jersey – to this day, most States members, 90% of senior civil servants and virtually every single local journalist remain convinced that the Establishment spin is correct. That all this fuss just happened because I was being some kind of anarchic and thuggish extremist in expecting people being paid £100,000 of tax-payers money per annum, plus big fat pension, to run social services – to, like, you know – do their bloody jobs properly?
The fascinating thing about so much of what passes for politics in Jersey are these repeated displays of Groupthink. A self-supporting, smug, self-satisfied power claque of journalists, politicians and civil servants – convinced that the “consensus trance” which grips them represents an adequate apprehension of the real world.
Against this background, I’m at a loss to see how the Jersey oligarchy can ever be capable of taking the necessary step towards reality. Jersey is going to have to recognise at least six decades of largely concealed and unpunished child abuse. I cannot think anything other than that the Jersey oligarchy are intrinsically incapable of facing the truth and accepting culpability.
The suffering of so many children – suffering which has usually continued throughout their lives – virtually all of them betrayed and ignored by the island’s authorities. But yet – I can absolutely guarantee you that if you were to take a straw-pole amongst States members concerning the Christmas speech – about 85% of them would remain of the view that they and Phil Bailhache were right to cut my microphone and end the meeting.
The speech I was attempting to give was the first time ever a member of the States of Jersey had stood to acknowledge what had taken place, to publicly accept culpability on the part of the island’s authorities. It was the first time ever an elected member had attempted to express recognition of, and compassion towards, the many generations of abuse survivors.
Naturally, faced with this first ever acknowledgment of abuse victims by an elected member, the Jersey parliament disgraced itself.
As I remarked in an earlier post, my strongest memory of that day is standing at my desk as most members milled around, hurrying off to their Christmas Lunch – from which I had so rudely detained them – and looking around the States chamber and experiencing the sensation that I was swimming across a lake of vomit.
As I began to gather my papers – still trying to grasp – still trying to reconcile – the conduct of States members, with my recent memory of listening to two tearful victims of abuse recount their experiences, Deputy Peter Troy, one of the members who had barracked me and led the mob-rule which saw my microphone being cut, came around the chamber and confronted me where I stood at my desk.
At this instant I had an image in my mind’s eye of these two now adult victims – brother and sister, whose mother had died of cancer when they were little children – embracing tearfully at the memory of what they had suffered for all those years in a States of Jersey “group-home”.
I did seriously consider punching Deputy Troy – I clenched my fist and raised it a little – but I didn’t actually swing for him.
You see, my seat is in the back row, so with the wall right behind me, I couldn’t have got sufficient arc and power into a hook, and my desk stood between him and me, precluding effective uppercuts.
The thought did occur to me later that, as I was wearing contact lenses and not my glasses, I could of head-butted him – but, hey, you know how it is in the heat of debate – you only think of these things afterwards.
Instead I confined myself to a Churchillian gesture and some old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon.
Most members having rushed off to the opulence of the Old Library to enjoy their free – that is, tax-payer-funded – Christmas lunch – I stood in the tea-room, looking out of the window and through the trees in the Square, seeing ordinary, decent people going about their lives – and asking myself just how much more of this I could endure.
I went down the stairs and out into the Royal Square to speak to the assembled and waiting media. Already bored to the point of stupefaction at the predictability of the questions they were going to ask me, I decided enliven things a little by being honest – yeah, I know it’s letting the profession down, but sometimes you’ve just got to tell it how you feel it.
I did several interviews – waiting patiently throughout each of them to be asked a single, solitary question about the victims, about why the States of Jersey were still so determined to prevent recognition of them, and what signal did this send to other victims – that States members attached a higher priority to exchanging smug, self-congratulatory smirking banalities, and getting their free Christmas lunch – than they did to hearing an expression of recognition and empathy for the victims of abuse? Predictably, not one such question came from any of the Jersey media – 95% of “journalism” jobs in Jersey being nothing more than sinecures for those brats of the oligarchy too thick to hold down a job in the island’s global tax-dodging industry.
Instead I struggled to stay interested as I was barraged with the predictable questions about ‘why had I made such an inappropriate speech?’ ‘Wasn’t it upsetting for States members to be subjected to this at Christmas?’ ‘Did I consider my conduct to be acceptable?’, ‘Was it appropriate for the Father of the House to “behave” in this way?’ etc. ad nauseum.
Midst this scene from something like ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’, I was asked a question which suddenly attracted my interest. I was asked by a BBC Jersey TV journalist whether I “was surprised at the attitude and actions of States members in response to my speech?”
I was about to tell the truth – “yes – very surprised. How could one imagine people objecting to an expression of empathy for abuse survivors?”
But then a greater truth struck me – of course I wasn’t surprised. Being shocked at this reaction by States members was like being surprised to discover that lawyers charge too much and string out cases to maximise fees.
So, I answered. I forget the precise words, but it was something like this:
“Am I surprised at States members’ reactions? No, not really – after all, we all know the States is largely a collection of gangsters and halfwits. So, surprised? No.”
BBC Jersey – rabidly shielding their friend Jimmy Savile as we were to later discover – figuring to do maximum possible reputational damage to me – used this clip – not once, but twice; in both of their evening TV news slots – as I knew they would, of course.
But, sadly in many ways, my understanding of public discourse, of issues that are of relevance to the average member of the public, my estimation of their values and of what concerns them, far exceeds that of the average Jersey journalist.
After all – this is the same BBC Jersey who pro-actively put as much focused and deliberate effort as they possibly could into minimising public knowledge of the broadcast of a documentary film – made by the BBC UK – which dealt with institutionalised child abuse as carried out by the States of Jersey.
So, attempting to get home to do some useful work – staggering dazedly under the burden of knowing that most of these clowns actually believed me to be the guilty party for the speech controversy – I eventually settled down that evening with a bottle wine and some Tom Waits CDs. Such is my work-load, at the best of times, I’m just not physically able to sit at my desk taking every phone-call that comes in. That evening it was as much as I could do to try and rebuild my faith in people.
But – by the end of the evening – I felt a lot better. People often telephone me and leave messages on the answerphone. I attempt to get back to them as priorities permit. That evening – such was the public response – I had to clear my answer phone memory three times.
Person after person from across the social and political spectrums called and left messages of support and appreciation.
Of the approximately 60 messages, only one was critical – an old-sounding man who clearly didn’t believe all this “unfortunate business” should be raked-up from the past. Just like the Police officers I have spoken with – alarm bells go off in my head when I hear people saying that we shouldn’t be looking into the historic abuse cases. Remarks like ‘It was all such a long time ago’, and ‘is there really any point in going into it now?’ and ‘there’ll be little chance of successful prosecutions’. In fact – now I come to think of it – remarks pretty much like those made to camera by the same BBC Jersey TV journalist when reporting the Police announcement of their investigations into the historic abuse.
Many of the comments were very funny. One gentleman said he had been sat down in front of the telly, feeling bored and depressed at how the island was being governed when my interview was broadcast. When it got to my remarks about the States being largely a collection of gangsters and halfwits he leapt up from his chair, cheering. He said his wife, who was in the other room, thought he’d gone mad.
Another said it had made his year – the funniest thing he’d heard for as long as he could remember.
One woman said she has spent an hour phoning around her friends and telling those who hadn’t seen it, to watch the later broadcast.
One man said he hadn’t been so pleased by anything he’d seen on telly since his football team, Manchester United, beat Bayern Munich in injury time in the European Cup final in 1999.
It’s fascinating that the public generally are so much more attuned to reality, so much more ‘switched-on’ and possess a greater sense for what is right or wrong than the average politician.
It is often ironically remarked by islanders that the island’s parliament building “is that place down by the Royal Square, surrounded by common sense”. We could now add, ‘surrounded by common decency’ as well.
Book of the Post:
Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power, and Democracy, by Michael Johnston.
Joke of the Post:
A docker walks into a restaurant where Jersey politicians are having one of their annual expensive meals. He’s a big, rugged, menacing looking man. He walks up to the bar in the centre of the restaurant, orders a pint of Carlsberg Special Brew and a double-whisky chaser. He knocks both drinks back in seconds then he turns to face the restaurant and bellows ‘all you politicians on that side of the restaurant are a collection of damn fools.’
A sudden silence descends.
After a few seconds have passed, he shouts “Anyone care to disagree with that?”
The silence lengthens.
He has another pint of larger and double-whisky chaser, which again he drinks in seconds. He turns back to the restaurant and shouts “And all you politicians on the other side of the restaurant are all scum!”
Once again, the room is silent.
He looks around belligerently and roars, “Any of you got a problem with that?” A lone politician gets up from his table and starts to walk towards the docker.
“Alright”, says the docker, “you want to settle this outside?”
“Oh no”, says the politician, “I’m just on the wrong side of the restaurant.”