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.
“..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.
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?