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.


  1. Take note Mr Le Cornu and be warned. The arrogance of power soon undermines the character of those who promise to serve the public at election times.
    This is a universal disease and not just a Jerseyitis.

    Them and us soon enough becomes the doctrine. Self preservation, image, status and re-election the priorities.

    I wish you well in October but hope that myself and the elctorate enjoy even better fortune afterwards.

  2. Lenny Harper confirmed that it was Senator Jim Perchard who had leaked information contained in a Minister’s email to David Rose

    Interesting - I thought ILM said that it was Mick Gradwell?

  3. Anon,

    I entirely agree with your sentiment about the arrogance of power. There is a total lack of accountablity between representative and people. If Democracy is to work it does mean that the people must engage as active citizens. Dropping off into sullen indiffernce is no excuse.

    As economic and social conditions worsen, there will be a tightening of the screw that must surely have a political impact. My fear is that minorities, such as the Polish and Portuguese community will become the subject of resentment in hard times, from those who cannot see clearly the source of their difficulties.

  4. Odd that you mention the immigrant communities of Jersey.
    Senator Ozouf has recently been singing the praises of the Madeirans on his blog and all over the place but none of "them" visibly respond - either in support or disagreement with his words.
    In fact, the lack of response to Ozouf from any quarter continues to mystify. It seems that his critics would rather snipe from the safety of Deputy Pitman's or other blogs - rather than engage him directly, Ozouf must think it is political xmas every day because he can spin to his heart's content unchallenged.
    I am one of the few who consistently tries to post comments on the Ozouf blog but, although he denies it, he clearly delays moderation until his own blogs roll over. Thus he buries comments from sight and it is not at all clear how to access "previous" blogs and comments on his site.

    All part of a dubious game but if only more people would challenge Ozouf on his own ground he would be obliged to engage more directly with them.
    Tom Gruchy says

  5. Look as the Ozouf blog navigation is by clicking the "next page". Sampling the earlier blogs the comments are visible.

    I am likewise amazed that virtually no one seeks to engange with him. Why can this be? I left a comment raising that very point.

  6. The way I see it is that because Stuart Syvret has managed to insult so many people over the years it’s of no surprise he is not seen as a proper journalist in anyway by many people. Nick concentrate on the real issues of Number One and get away from this news story for once. The major issue at the moment for St Helier has got to be unemployment yet it’s a subject few States members ever talk about or seem even concerned about.

  7. I am seeing a lot of unemployment in Number One, especially amongst the youth. There are few jobs, especially for those without skills.

    A lot of youth unemployment is masked by the payment of around £70 per week in job seekers allowance. This keeps the bored in funds, out of trouble and off the political radar. What is urgently needed is additional training and skills improvement.

    Everyone in employment that I meet complains about rising prices and stagnant wages. One postman I encountered has suffered the ignominy of reduced wages to keep his job. Overtime in certain States departments for manual workers has been stopped.

  8. Philip Ozouf should indeed be singing the praises of the Portugese and the Polish.
    He gives the idea that those in Jersey have been rescued from poverty, when in fact they are a bottomless pit of cheap labour, some given accomodation you would hesitate to to place a dog inside.

  9. There is an old song:

    "It's the same the whole world over
    It's the poor what gets the blame
    It's the rich what gets the pleasure
    Ain't it all a bloomin' shame?"

    The real beneficiary from the inflow of immigrants is never mentioned – its business and rentier landlords. Employers get cheap labour and landlords get high rents for inferior housing.

    Competition in the labour market undercuts the going rate for local labour. We need to work with immigrant and local labour to improve the working conditions and wages of both groups. This will be a virtuous circle as opposed to the current vicious circle of low wages, poverty and racism.

    “It’s the rich what gets the pleasure and the poor what gets the blame.”