Saturday, 30 July 2011

Disability and how Jersey is “Going to Hell in a handbasket!”

We are all moaning at having to tighten our belts economically. For John, who is partially sighted and a wheel chair user, life’s preoccupations are additionally complicated and inconvenient.

John lives in District No1 St Helier and I met him out campaigning. He always votes he says – so no “Apathy” there.

Last night I knocked on a woman’s door to be told that she did not wish to be on the electoral role enabling her to vote, because she would be called for Jury Service. She had previously been called, once, and had found this inconvenient. I was a little short with the woman and before leaving I reminded her of her responsibilities as a citizen with its minor “inconveniences” of such things as Jury Service. I suspect were John called to do his duty as part of a Jury he would attend, in spite of the many inconveniences this would entail in respect of mobility and accessibility of the Royal Court.

Continuing my series of interviews with the extraordinary “ordinary” people of St Helier No1 District, I interview John and he gave me his views on subjects as diverse as empty buildings, Stuart Syvret and the late Senator J.J. Le Marquand, who once asked him to stand for election to the States. I am sure that readers of that generation will tell us if J.J. Le Marquand had a habit, like a certain current politician, of inviting anyone, regardless of their capability or political persuasion, to stand as a candidate. The honesty and integrity of John remain evident; a characteristics sorely lacking in some current States Members – oh dear, am I sounding cynical?

How is it that John with all his "inconveniences" continues to take an interest in the goverment of his island and vote, yet a perfectly able-bodied woman does not wish to even register to vote as it might cause her another type of "inconvenience"?

I thank John and offer his views to Jersey’s rulers who seem to live in a completely detached bubble.

Being partially sighted John has difficulty reading his emails. He currently has a zoom facility on his computer but finds this “inconvenient”. What he needs is a computer programme that will read his emails aloud. I understand there is a system called “Jaws” that is recommended for the blind. I have a blind friend in the UK that has another system called “Dophin” . In his opinion the system is inferior. I am assisting John with finding a suitable system and if readers can advise please get in touch.

John - Part I

John - Part II

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Radon Gas - Jersey’s danger won’t blow away

The democracy website published the following articles on the dangers of Radon gas in Jersey in September 2008 and May 2009. The Jersey corporate media has just taken up the issue because an Advocate's father may have died from cancer associated with the gas. It seems it takes a person with status in society to raise an issue before it is taken seriously. Here are the articles:

"The whole of Jersey is officially a radon gas affected area.

The gas occurs in the ground from decomposing uranium and includes such deadly components as Polonium 214 and 218 and is found especially in granite. When the gas collects within enclosed spaces it is very dangerous and can kill. It is estimated that 9% of all lung cancers in the UK are caused by the gas which only occurs in a few places like Cornwall. About 2,500 deaths are reckoned to be the result of Radon gas inhalation per annum.

Guernsey has not been declared a Radon gas affected area and in Jersey it will be worse in some areas than others. Where do you live and work in the Jersey Radon lottery?

In the UK it is necessary to declare when selling a house in a Radon Zone whether it has a known problem or has been treated. Under the HIPs reporting scheme Radon is flagged up and lawyers are obliged to ask the relevant questions. If necessary, tests must be carried out and in some cases financial bonds are written into the contract of sale so that a potential buyer is protected against future remedial works (usually about £3000 on a small house).

Of course, none of this takes place in Jersey where fear of losing money exceeds the fear of death. Here very little information is available about Radon and nobody is very keen to discuss it. Raw sewage floating out to sea or the dioxins emitting from the incinerator chimney are much more readily discussed because they are usually somebody else’s problem and are soon out of sight.
And it is more fun to annoy the government about these issues than fears about Radon gas which might directly affect our own pockets.

Newly built houses in Jersey must have Radon barriers and sumps installed but they are only a small part of the housing stock – most of which is built from natural granite or blocks of granite chippings. Other buildings like schools, offices, hospitals or workplaces don’t need to have Radon barriers although they are just as likely to be places where Radon collects. In the UK it is reckoned that about half of Radon barriers fail.

Radon gas “bubbles” up from the ground into buildings and into water courses. Thus people who use well or bore hole water are also at risk when the water is vapourised in showers or laundering processes and is thus absorbed through the lungs.

Does anybody monitor Radon gas in Jersey? Does anybody know if Jersey schools are safe? One newly built school in Cornwall was threatened with demolition a few years ago when its Radon gas levels were found to exceed safe levels by many, many times.

So, suppose somebody gets sued in Jersey for failing to disclose that Radon is a problem in a property they have sold and the new owner or his employee or guest develops lung cancer? Might such a case wake up the population to the Radon problem?

And, how about the States Chamber, that ill ventilated and ancient structure that our leaders are so fond of. Is it killing them with accumulated Radon gas seeping up through its leaky floor? Should we care if they don’t?

Those with a memory of the Senatorial hustings last year may recall that I raised (on this blog site) these same Radon fears - but my efforts stimulated no interest.
If those candidates had thought that they were competing for a place in Jersey’s very own Radon gas chamber perhaps they might not have been so keen to be elected?

Perhaps too, when the Deputies, Senators and Constables ask if it is in order to remove their jackets in the over heated and stuffy Chamber they might consider the greater potential hazard lurking beneath their feet and they just might like to ask if anybody is monitoring Jersey’s Radon problem….."

"So, we should all worry about pollution and poisons from the existing and proposed incinerators and its a hot election issue. Rightly so.

BUT who even mentions the deadly RADON gas that oozes out of the ground in Jersey and into every building and water course?

Since RADON gas is the 2nd largest cause of lung cancer in the UK (estimated 2,500 RADON related deaths each year) you might think that Senatorial candidates would at least mention such a serious menace that is already naturally present every day of our lives in Jersey!

Oddley, new -build houses in Jersey are required to incorporate RADON barriers - but ALL other classes of buildings are exempt. So if you breathe in RADON gas at school, or in hospital or the workplace - it doesn't matter -although it will kill you just the same!

In the UK in RADON affected areas (like Cornwall) HIPs (Home Information Packs) must declare that a home is safe. If not the Sellers will probably have to enter into a RADON bond with a buyer of about £3000 to install a RADON mitigation system if necessary. Why does such a process not exist in Jersey?

It is reckoned that in a RADON affected area that at least 1 in 100 homes will be over the safe limit and in Jersey where so many houses are built of granite or granite based blocks - the number is likely to be much higher. But who has any accurate figures for this Island?

Of course, it would not be good for sacred property prices to blight St Mary or St John as a high risk area - but what is more important - health or house value?

So where do you live and work in Jersey and how much RADON gas do you breathe in or absorb from RADON impregnated water when you take a shower?

Who should tell you?

Why not ask your Senatorial candidates what they know and what they have done or propose to do about this deadly gas?

Tom Gruchy"

Monday, 18 July 2011

“I buy my bread in Pound World because it is £1” – how the retired survive in Jersey

Maddy is a resident in St Helier No.1. She speaks for the many retired and elderly people trying to survive in contemporary Jersey.

The JEP article she refers to is one written by Ben Queree in his weekly political column. Maddy is outraged by the presumptuousness of the suggestion that Sir Philip Bailhache will top the poll together with Ben Shenton and Francis Le Gresley, leaving only one unpredicted Senatorial seat. Somehow the article omits an important factor in the outcome – the electorate.

Maddy is Jersey born. I admire her tolerance of the many immigrant groups in the island.

Maddy always votes and has strong opinions on Jersey politics. She also has a quite famous political son. Care to guess?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Jersey under the chequebook

The following letter by Sonia Nightingale appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on Friday 15th July under the title "Island Governed by the Rich, for the Rich".  When I saw the title I wondered if she had been inspired by some of my election material. The sentiment she expresses is a common refrain amongst the retired and working people of St Helier. They feel completely forgotten, abandoned and betrayed.

Sonia lives in  District No.1 St Helier, so I set off to meet her. I caught her going out the door. She confirmed she would be voting, but not be for the representatives of the rich. Prospective candidates in St Helier No1 please take note.

"ABOUT half a million has been spent so far this year on pay-offs for civil servants and £7.5 million last year. I no longer shout and scream at these headlines in your paper – I just cry.
Where is the fairness of it all? I am a 74 year old Jersey born single pensioner struggling to exist. I have worked all my life, but because my two small pensions (one of which isn’t index-linked, so is rapidly decreasing in value) just take me into the income tax bracket, I get no financial help whatsoever. The small amount I was allowed in rent rebate has now also been stopped.
I also read that the WEB chief executive’s total package for 2010 has fallen by £20,000, to £266,540. My heart bleeds for him, how can he manage?
I am trapped here in the Island of my birth. I love it, incidentally, but hate what is happening to it now.
Jersey is governed by the rich for the rich."

Mount Bingham from the Dicq circa 1870

I have for many years been a collector of old photographs of the Channel Islands and in particular those from the earliest years of the art. I used such a photograph of steamships in St Helier harbour from Fort Regent as the background to my Manifesto when I stood for Deputy in 2008. Here it is:

Below is a photograph by the photographer Ouless which dates from about 1870. It shows Mount Bingham and is detail of a view looking at La Colette from the Dicq. All locations are within St Helier (well, just).

What can be seen is a house that is no longer there. It is situated at the base of Mount Bingham on land that is probably now incorporated into the gardens. Here is the photograph from which the detail comes. The rocks in the middle ground are where the sea swimming pool is now located. This is the view Victor Hugo would have had as he sat upon the rock know as "le rocher des proscrits".

Thursday, 14 July 2011

“Doing a Bridget” Bridget Murphy – animal rights campaigner

Bridget Murphy lives in St Helier No1 District. Continuing my series of interviews with interesting residents, I caught up with Bridget this morning at the Hotel de France anti-whaling protest. The car horns in the background are passing motorists showing their support.

Bridget is best known for her letters to the JEP and regular contribution to the BBC Radio Jersey lunchtime phone–in programme, until it was curtailed.

I ask her about what might appear at first glance as a paradox in her support for all things “Establishment” and yet be a vocal campaigner. In Jersey supporters of the status quo, take their opinions from the JEP and maintain a genteel silence; so why is she prepared to do what few others will do?

Here she explains the origins of her involvement in campaigning against animal cruelty and goes on to explain what she thinks about the decision by BBC Radio Jersey to curtail the phone-in.

I have often been at odds politically with Bridget, but I respect her for having the courage to voice those views. She says she will be voting for me in the October elections. Some may be surprised at that. In that case they haven't really grasped that in a crisis new opportunities arise and alliance are born. Yes, the times they are a-changin'.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The accidental death of a patriot? Unrecorded Occupation resistance and tragic death of Captain Benjamin W. Bennett (1889 - 1941)

Bob Bennett is convinced his father, Captain Benjamin W. Bennett, was deliberately killed by German forces in Guernsey for an act of defiance in refusing to take on board his ship the MV Spinel a number of soldiers at Granville. 

Bob Bennett lives in St Helier No1 District and I met him canvassing. I found his story fascinating for a number of reasons. I let him recount his story here without judgment. All his life he has sought recognition for an act of resistance by his father and subsequent tragic death, which Bob is convinced are intimately linked.

Captain Benjamin W. Bennett (1889 -1941)

Captain Benjamin W. Bennett was born at Cheapside, St. Helier in 1889. His father was a coachman and ran livery stables.

“Ben” was not too keen on working with horses and ran away from home to serve on a Newfoundland trader at an early age and remained a mariner all his life.

At 20 in 1909, he was a sailor on the “Progress” of Sunderland which he seemed to intermix with service as mate on a couple of ketches for Renouf & Co of Jersey until 1914.

He moved around the coast of Britain working on sailing vessels or steamers as seaman, mate, master or AB as necessary. During the First World War he served on “trooping” ships such as the “Karnak” of Liverpool or SS “Buccaneer” of West Hartlepool, ferrying men and equipment across to Cherbourg and other ports.

He always received good references such as  “a most trustworthy officer…always sober and most attentive to his duty,” from his employers.

Antarctic rescue mission - Ernest Shackleton

His service on Scott’s former “Discovery” ship occurred during four months of the summer/autumn of 1916. By then the historic ship was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company but was released in order to rescue Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic team from Elephant Island. In fact, the Chileans beat them to it but “Ben” had seen some Southern oceans, been paid £40 (less deductions) and had been part of an internationally famous episode.

He passed as a Jersey Pilot for local waters in 1928 and continued serving on various commercial vessels until the Second World War.

From 1926 to 1932 he commanded Florence, Lady Trent’s motor yacht “Aphrodite.” His wage then was £4 per week in 1929 plus assistance with his railway fare “to and from Gorey.”

During the Occupation, in November 1940, he became Captain of the M.V. “Spinel.”
She was a small coaster, Scottish built in 1937 for Robertson’s shipping line of Glasgow, that had been sunk by German bombers at Dunkirk during the early days of evacuation. Raised and patched-up by the Germans she was offered to the Jersey States as a supply vessel to service the needs of the civil population.

"Bob" Bennett the Cabin Boy

Robert – sometimes “Bob” or “Ben” – his eldest son, joined the crew of about a dozen men as cabin boy. He was then sixteen. Now eighty-eight (in 2011) he features in the video interviews here.

As “Bob” explains, his father Captain Benjamin was killed at Guernsey on Saturday 22 February 1941 whilst trying to re-join the “Spinel” in harbour, on a low-tide. He is convinced that his father was deliberately killed as a result of refusing to transport German troops from Granville to Jersey and he describes that incident here.

“Bob” never attended his father’s funeral because the “Spinel” was ordered to Alderney but over 100 mourners did at St. James Church, St. Helier, including representatives from the German forces, the Guernsey and Jersey administrations, mariners, pilots etc. He was 52 years of age and interred alongside his father at Almorah cemetery.

John Leale, the President of the Guernsey Controlling Committee wrote to Captain Bennett’s widow – “Bob’s” distraught mother – a brief letter on 24 February 1941 expressing the very deep sympathy of the Committee and the Bailiff etc. He added “I hope it will be some consolation to you to realise that your husband met his death while doing his duty as a man should.”


Upon return to Jersey, in spite of words of caution from his family, “Bob” continued to repeat his allegations against the Germans. Friendly Germans also warned him he was becoming an object of official attention. It was not long before he was arrested by the German political Police and interrogated.

In February 1943 “Bob” was shipped out of Jersey along with 27 or so other Jersey “naughty boys” and others from Guernsey and Sark for detention in Poland. It would be nearly three years before he was able to return to Jersey, but that is a tale for another day.

Now, “Bob” Bennett only wants deserved recognition for his father, as many others have received, for doing his duty and giving his life, during the Occupation of the Channel Islands.

                                     Benjamin W. Bennett in the uniform of the Merchant Navy

                                                          Benjamin W. Bennett (seated)
                                                         Motor Cargo Vessal "Spinel"

Thanks to the The Loftsman for information about MV Spinel

Monday, 4 July 2011

Hypocrisy, Smugness and Scrutiny

There was a certain frissance of expectation this morning as around 14 members of the public crammed into a small meeting room in Morier House, together with the accredited media, including CTV, BBC Radio Jersey and the JEP, to listen to a teleconference with Lenny Harper.

The Home Affairs and Education Scrutiny panel have achieved a certain notoriety with their decision, via a sub panel, to investigate the BDO report into the financial affairs of the child abuse enquiry. Former investigating officer Lenny Harper considers the report to be a simple attempt to discredit the management of the enquiry conducted by he and the former Chief of Police, Graham Power. BDO produced the report without ever discussing expenditure with Lenny Harper, even though he had been the principle commissioning officer.


For the first time, bloggers and internet journalists (Democracy activists) were welcomed to the sub panel meeting, allowed to film and the public permitted to ask questions of Lenny Harper after he had given his evidence. This was a real step forward and precedent for future public involvement. Greater public participation may be the way to ensure that Scrutiny revives as a counterweight to Ministerial government.

Establishment opposition to the sub-panel investigation had been implacable, with Home Affairs Minister Ian Le Marquand, doing his all to prevent the review. Deputy Trevor Pitman is chairing the sub-panel and relishing the publicity for his re-election as Deputy in St Helier. Senator Sarah Ferguson, Chair of the Scrutiny panel Chairman’s group attended to keep an eye on events.

There was good discussion and Lenny Harper was able to make clear that BDO had failed to interview him regarding the expenditure and that had they done so he would have been able to account for each item and refute allegations of extravagance and profligacy. He believes BDO were instructed not to speak to him.

Lenny Harper confirmed that it was Senator Jim Perchard who had leaked information contained in a Minister’s email to David Rose, a Daily Mail journalist with a reputation for discrediting enquiries into child abuse. Perchard denied leaking the email.

Public questions

The meeting began at 11 a.m. and finished at 12.30 a.m., after which the public were invited by Deputy Pitman to ask questions of Lenny Harper, who had agreed in advance to answer.

At this point panel members Deputies Roy Le Herissier and Daniel Wimberly together with Deputy Shona Pitman and Senator Sarah Ferguson, stood up and departed the meeting room. This left two politicians remaining; the chair Deputy Trevor Pitman and Deputy Montfort Tadier. Even though some Deputies later claimed they had other meetings to attend, the early departure of so many elected politicians was a clear effrontery and disrespect to the public questions section of the meeting.

Stuart Syvret snubbed

The first person to ask a question was blogger “Voiceforchilden”. This was followed by blogger “Tom Gruchy”.

The third member of the pubic seeking to ask a question was former Senator Stuart Syvret. Initially the chair of the meeting, Deputy Trevor Pitman would not let him speak saying he was not a journalist. Syvret stood his ground and said he was a “freelance journalist”. Syvret got to ask his question. Quite why the most famous Channel Island blogger was not worthy of a question seems bizarre

None of the accredited media availed themselves of the opportunity to ask Lenny Harper a question about his evidence.

Positives and negatives

Overall this was an innovative Scrutiny meeting that broke ground in terms of public participation in terms of being allowed to film and to ask questions of the interviewee. It was marred by the decision of nearly all States Members present to walk out, clearly indicating they had no interest to stay and listen to anything the public might ask.  The innate arrogance and authoritarianism of elected politicians dies hard, as was evident in the initial reluctance to allow Syvret to ask a question.

The unprecedented number of atendees at this particular Scrutiny meeting indicates that a more open format can engage the public.  The sky did not fall because the event was filmed and the public got to ask a few questions. The event is a rebuke to those States Members who have restricted bloggers filming at Scrutiny meetings and for whom the presence of the public is anyway a mild irritant. Democracy in Jersey is enemic, as is evident by the high levels of voter abstention and politicians' indifference to this malaise. Innovative forms of democratic engagement are urgently needed.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Does Jersey need a colonial governor? The tendentious retirement speech of Lt General Sir Andrew Ridgeway

   Jersey’s political class is learning to avoid the hallmark crassness of recent years when making public statements. The retirement speech by Lt General Sir Andrew Ridgeway, the Lt Governor, while measured and containing a number of valuable and astute observations on government in the island and the States Assembly, also betrayed significant anxieties.

Here I decipher the political code language he uses and expose the real meanings and themes of that speech. Ridgeways’ central purpose was to reassure the public that government was competent and capable. He also cautions against ill considered political change. The speech was an unrepentant defence of the status quo.

Shared social and political outlook

In spite of his denial, Ridway clearly has gone native, and sees his role as defending the efficacy of existing island institutions and its governing elite. He sought to emphasize that Jersey has good government and that it remains competent. This lack of impartiality might seem at odds with the official role of the Lt Governor as representative of the Crown and British Government.

One must understand that Rideway, as a senior Army officer and member of the English upper middle classes, shares the same social and political outlook as the group that makes political decisions locally. His five years in Jersey were spent essentially mixing with the elites, both social and political, at a round of official functions and charitable events.

The Great Fear of perceived incompetence

Ridgeway’s speech to the States and subsequent interview with BBC Radio Jersey were both staged events with the purpose of bolstering confidence and deflecting criticism.

He set out firstly to counter allegations of incompetence and secrecy in the handling by Jersey’s government of the Haut de la Garenne child abuse. Jersey’s rulers are still smarting from the national and international media sensationalism.

Foot stampers of the Motherland

There was foot stamping from States Members when the Lt Governor mentioned that the press action had “diverted attention away from the real priority of caring for the abused and bringing the guilty to justice”

This was a disingenuous comment. The approbation by States members was not compassion towards the victims, rather it was recognition that their self image of a caring and harmonious society had been exposed as a fallacy.  The foot stamping was an expression of resentment towards that humiliation.

At the time the publicity was perceived as bad for business and having left a legacy that the government of the island is callous. Ridgway emphasized that behind the scenes, he had been reassuring the British Government that the island administration had not broken down and remained effective. The great fear of Jersey’s rulers is that Whitehall might intervene as it has ultimate responsibility for the good governance of the Channel Islands.

Instrumentalisation of child abuse

His name was never mentioned directly, but the great bete noire of the island’s political and social elite, is former Senator Stuart Syvret. It was to him that Ridgway’s remarks were directed when he said:

“Unfortunately, some individuals in the island chose to exploit the situation for their own personal political ends and diverted attention to fanciful claims of mass child murder and institutional cover up – the international media were happy to oblige them.”

Quite accurate and perceptive – the personal is political.

Gratitude – 5% GST and 20% Income Tax in context

Ridgeways’ second concern was to assert that the Jersey’s governing elite remains capable of managing that part of the economy relating to finance through difficult times. Indeed we are all to be grateful to finance for the level of public services, which he emphasized were the equal of those elsewhere in Europe and delivered with significantly lower taxes for the population.

Ridgway did not mention that there were significant social rights available to citizens in the UK and in the EU that are not available in the island. Comparison reveals how far the island lags behind and how much islanders miss out. An island built on a model of low taxes and light regulation is one that only reluctantly extends social rights.

“Widespread criticism of the current form of government” - the Composition of the States & Reform

Ridgway echoed the elite’s concern that the business of politics is becoming more contentious and less consensual. This he saw manifest in the increasingly impolite conduct of States Members toward each other.

What is really happening is that the elite’s control over the political system is being challenged by subordinate social groups in society, arising from social and economic discontents. Authority and control are being questioned in an unprecedented way.

Senators and the status quo

The least media commented part of Ridgway’s speech was his views on the composition of the States Assembly.

He said:

“..I have noticed certain satisfaction in some sections of the Assembly that after lengthy debate, decisions were finally taken, of reducing the number of Senators in the Assembly and doing away with the separate Senatorial election day. I can only observe, that it might have been better to identify the future role of the Senator before deciding how many, if any, were needed.

It does seem in the absence of political parties, the senatorial election is the only opportunity that the island wide population has to let politicians know what policies they want to be followed during the next term. [Foot-stamping approbation]

Successful Senators are thus the only Members of this Assembly, with any sort of island wide popular mandate. Equally unsuccessful Senatorial candidates know that the policies that they have proposed are not supported by the population at large. One might have hoped that this might have reduced the number of futile propositions brought before the Assembly.

The members of this Assembly have of course the absolute democratic right to vote for whatever constitutional changes they see fit; it just seems a pity having decided to establish a commission to address these issues from top to bottom, that certain decisions have been allowed to pre-judge the outcome of the review.”

Such tendentious argument weighs in with the most anti-reform sentiment. The electorate has no ability to structure the government or express policy choices under the current unreformed constitution.

The political class is quite happy with the current opaque and unaccountable system that has centralized power in the Council of Minister, without the democratic counter weight of the Clothier proposals for one category of States Members, larger constituencies etc. Certainly he never expressed any concern about the 65% voter abstention; a figure that raises doubts about the legitimacy of election results.

He went on to caution that the States should choose the “right person” to lead the Electoral Commission and further ensure it was “someone with a deep understanding of Jersey”. All this is code for saying the Chairman should be hand picked and reliable; someone who will ensure the desired recommendations are known in advance. In other words Ridgway envisages the commission as an antidote to the Clothier Report – the counter revolution. 

It was the French aristocrat Alexis De Tocqueville, who remarked that political regimes are at their most vulnerable at the very moment they embark upon change. The extent and direction of that change can rapidly proceed beyond the desires of those proposing the change. Clearly Ridway is anxious that nothing should change that might destabilize the rule of a wealthy elite.

Self criticism

In his speech Ridgway sought to question the role of the States, yet was incapable of self criticism. The question he did not ask is what is the purpose of having a Lt-Governor? It is one of those essentially taboo subjects, a holy cow that is considered an unacceptable topic of discussion. Why does Jersey need a colonial governor?