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?


  1. Presumably he and his wife have been living rent free and paying no income tax for the past five years and have enjoyed staff to look after their every need. With a Knighthood on top it's no wonder that they are not very critical of Jersey. What price silence we might ask?
    Of course this office was exempted from the Carswell examination into the role of the Crown appointees along with the Dean's.
    At least the former Labour Government had proposed to introduce non-military bods into the office and even women - but abolition of the job won't be achieved until the Jersey public demand it.

    Since this is your election site - will you be proposing that Nick in your menifesto?

  2. I am not sure that the Jersey public is conscious of the anomaly of the island being run like a colony with a Lt Governor to add colonial style. As British citizens we deserve better

    The Carswell review did not examine the position of the Lt Governor only that of the Crown Officers. However, the post certainly entered the discussion of oral and written testimony. I recall in discussion of the relationship between the Bailiff and Chief Minister and the connection with the Home Office, that the Lt Governor’s Office was merely a conduit for official correspondence without any real practical use. The speed of technology meant that communications went direct from the Chief Minister’s Office to the Home Office. The Bailiffs Office appeared to have been copied in to this correspondence, but the reality of power and decision making rested with the Chief Minister.

    Clearly there is an inherent contradiction in having two “heads of state” – the Bailiff and the Chief Minister. The latter has democratic legitimacy; the former has none, being an un-elected official appointed by the Crown.

    The role of the Bailiff is heavily conflicted and contradictory. The island’s political class have absolutely no interest in constitutional affairs, let alone change or reform. This was manifest during the reluctant free debate by States Members on the Carswell Report. There was no real debate, just embarrassed silence. States Members did not want to go there at all, indicating they are incapable of self reform, an ossified unrepresentative institution.

    As for examination of the role of the Lt Governor there would be zero appetite by the States Assembly. It is part of the structure of the Ancien Regime, which the political class upholds, even as it crumbles.

    I have heard a few critical remarks on the door step about the utility of the Lt Governor and his office. Most discussion is focused on expense. No one is quite sure what he does. Instead of criticizing the States and its dysfunctionality, Ridgway should have been making the case for retaining the existence of the post of Lt Governor.

    Are we citizens or colonial subjects?

  3. Yes, Yes all very interesting - but is he for the guillotine or not in your manifesto?

  4. Are we citizens or colonial subjects?

    Colonial subjects. Look at the little stamp entered into the passport of every native-born son and daughter of Jersey.

    But there is no point in setting out a manifesto for the removal of the LG until people understand exactly how much the Jersey way is screwing them.

  5. 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”.

    Honest Nev's book is now OPEN:

    5/2 Frank Walker(misprint)
    9/4 Phil or Bill Bailhache
    2/1 Pierre Horsfall
    9/2 Reg Jeune
    20/1 Terry Le Sueur
    66/1 Jim Bergerac
    500/1 Murray Norton
    1000/1 Hedley Le Maistre
    10000/1 Stuart Syvret