Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Dark Caves of Plemont

“I would respectfully suggest that those who have suggested that I have concealed information withdraw their comments” (Senator Philip Ozouf)

I think the vote of no confidence is ill-judged, and will not succeed. The best judgement of Senator Ozouf’s performance as Treasury Minister will be the election.

In passing, I would remark that the letter in the JEP by Roy Travert has mistakenly identified the property tax with a poll tax. It is not. It is, however, as one of the options, suggesting shifting the burden of property tax from owner / occupier to occupier alone, hence is a move in the direction of a poll tax, but not in fact one. That’s why I called it a “twist on the poll tax”.

But there is something about concealed information revealed by the recent question by John Le Fondré in the States of Jersey recently. Deputy Le Fondré asked:

“When was the Council of Ministers formally informed of the significant change in the income forecasts as compared to those included in the Medium Term Financial Plan?”

The reply was very revealing:

“The Council of Ministers were informed of the revised income tax forecasts at their meeting on 11th June. 2014. The Treasurer advised that the income tax department was undertaking further work with agents to assess whether or not any more income was likely to be generated and to check that all returns had been made. On 30th June 2014 the income tax department confirmed the revised estimate, having completed further enquiries with industry.”

This means that the Council of Ministers were fully cognizant of the significant deficit in States finances before the debate on Plemont.

Now on 1st July, the States debated Plemont, and neither Sir Philip Bailhache, nor Philip Ozouf, saw fit to enlighten the rest of the States about the black hole in the States finances. This information was, in fact, concealed from the States.

Would the outcome of the debate been different if the States had known about the significant shortfall in tax revenue, and the need to revise the budget plans? Who can say? Perhaps the result would have still been the same.

It remains a fact, nevertheless, that important and significant information was concealed from the ordinary States members during the debate both by the proposer, and by the Treasury Minister.

Ostensibly the criminal confiscation funds could be moved to lessen the budget for the new police HQ, so that the Chief Minister’s Department would have extra funds, and hence not effect the Medium Term Plan. But in fact, given the scale of the problem, such a strategy could well have been used to ameliorate the projected deficit in tax revenues, without instead using the fund towards Plemont.

In Plato’s allegory of the cave, the reality inside the cave is invisible, but only seen in the shadows cast by the fires burning. In the dark caves of Plemont, we can glimpse just the shadows of the unseen reality, and wonder what else may have been unsaid.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sir George Carteret and the Byways of History

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the Statue of George Carteret in St Peter's Parish, Jersey. There's a nice well produced booklet. Constable John Refault was kind enough to give me a copy of it.
One sentence reads that:
"He [de Carteret] was promoted to Vice Admiral when 27 years old and was sent to destroy the Moroccan stronghold at Sallee and rescue 270 Englishmen from the slave trade"
The Island Wiki has this to say, and expands on the details:
"In 1637 he was given the Antelope and made Vice-Admiral of the expedition against the North African Pirate stronghold of Sallee. The ships proved too large to enter the harbour, but they blockaded it for three months, sending in boats at night to burn the pirate vessels. In this work Carteret gained a great reputation. Almost every ship in the port was sunk, and at last the King of Morocco made peace by the surrender of his European captives. Carteret returned in September with 270 Englishmen whom he had rescued and a number of Dutch and Spanish sailors."
This is taken verbatim from "A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey" by G.R. Bailleine, 1948.
But there is another account by Balleine from the 1957 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise
"In July, before the pinnaces arrived, Sallee surrendered, and Carteret returned to England with 300 rescued slaves. But he had not seen the last of Sallee."
The JEP account follows Bailleine's first account:
"After a blockade of the port and a series of raids, Carteret - who by this time had dropped the de from his surname - returned to England with 270 Englishmen and a number of Dutchmen and Spaniards who had been freed from slavery."
But there is also another account in Doug Ford's article "A Respectable Trade or Against Human Dignity?", and there figure here is 230:
"In 1637 Charles I sent an expedition under Captain William Rainsborough to the port of Salé, where it was said that over 1,200 Christian sailors were being held in slavery. The six English warships surprised more than 50 galleys which were preparing to raid the coasts of England and Newfoundland. Amongst Rainsborough's captains was a Jerseyman, George Carteret - captain of the 600-ton ship Antelope. Unfortunately, most of the captive English seamen had been sent to the slave markets of Algiers and Tunis, but there were 328 Englishmen and 11 women held as slaves in the kasbah of the old city, of whom 230 were released and successfully returned to England. While most came from the West Country - 37 from Plymouth - others were from London, Hull, Cardiff and Jersey."
So how many slaves were released - 270 from Balleine's 1948 article, or 300, according to his 1957 article, or - more probably 230 as Doug Ford's article based on better recent research suggests. It shows how numbers can be drawn from one source, and remain in stone, whereas in fact there can be considerable doubt about their accuracy.
One of the ironies of history is that George Carteret later went on to become involved in the slave trade. As Doug Ford notes:
"In 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles I, the Company of Royal Adventurers into Africa was set up to One of the founders of this company was Jerseyman George Carteret and because he was one of the few men in Charles II's court ever to have set foot in Africa, he was employed as a consultant to the company on £300 per year and with an apartment in Africa House"
In 1672 the company went bankrupt because of disruption of wars with the Duch. But this was not the end of the story:
"A New Royal African Company was set up and Carteret continued in his role as consultant. This company did not raid for slaves but traded for them in West Africa before shipping them to the West Indies, where in the 1660s the average price realised was £17 per head. It enjoyed a monopoly until 1698 and continued dealing in slaves until 1731."
"The Speedwell, commanded by James Carteret, Sir George's son, undertook one of the early voyages of the company. Leaving London in January 1663, he picked up 302 slaves in the port of Offra in the Bight of Benin and transported them to the West Indies - twenty died on the passage. In February 1664 he sold some of his cargo in Barbados and then the following month he sold the rest of the slaves in St Kitts. By the time he left in March 1664, Carteret had sold 155 men, 105 women and 22 boys to the eager planters."
In perspective, we have to remember that the philosopher of freedom, John Locke (1632-1704) also invested in the slave trade:
"Against Filmer's belief in the absolute, God-given power of the monarch, Locke maintains the natural liberty of human beings; all people are born free, and the attempt to enslave any person creates a state of war (as opposed to the state of nature). Yet Locke himself had invested in the slave trade and drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), which granted absolute power over slaves"
George Carteret was certainly a man of his time, more so than Locke, for whom there was a contradiction between what was said and done. That Sir George participated in the slave trade is reprehensible, but not unexpected.
Certainly there are ground for celebrating him as a famous Jerseyman, not least because of his connection with New Jersey. An adventurer? Yes. But a hero? I think not.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Decline of Civic Duty

Before the Second World War, most of the population went to church on Sundays. After the war, the numbers were still high in the 1950s and 1960s, and life events were very much part of popular culture.
Unheard of today, I recall an advertisement on ITV which began with the sound of bells, and "a family christening", clearly in an Anglican setting, with vicar, and family leaving a church. I can't for the life of me remember what the advert was about. That's not to say that christenings - the baptism of infants - do not happen today - of course they do. It is still one of the "life rituals" which tends to bring people back to church - the others, of course, being weddings and funerals!
But for it to take centre stage in an advert on prime time TV, shown often, indicates a society where the church itself was still very much part of popular culture. Adrian Hastings "A History of English Christianity: 1920-1990" bears this out to be correct, not merely my supposition.
Of course times have changed. Numbers have fallen. And even wearing a cross or crucifix (as en emblem and jewellery) has been under threat, much more so that emblems of other faiths. Christianity has in England (and Jersey, to some extent as well) become much more something of a minority pursuit by the dedicated few.
I'd like to couple this decline with another decline. Voting numbers have declined, extensively in Jersey, but also in England over the post-war period. The first past the post system tends to mask this tendency, but it has been happening over the past 40 years in all the established democracies, with a significant fall in the United States, Western Europe, Japan and Latin America.
So what is happening? I think part of what is occurring is a decline in the idea of civic duty. Whether or not it was a good thing, people went to church because it was seen as part of their civic duty. They voted because it was part of their civic duty. The decline in both church and state can be seen as a falling away of the idea of civic duty.
Civic duty presupposes a common good, and while different people have differing ideas about what makes society good, there is a common ground that it must in part be achieved by communal will. That is true to the right and much as the left.
But against that is the idea best summed up in the words of Margaret Thatcher's famous phrase "there is no such thing as society". It is worth looking at her quote in context:
"I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand 'I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!' or 'I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!' 'I am homeless, the Government must house me!' and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.'
It will be noted that this is partly a reaction against the post-war society in which the common model for reconstruction, as exemplified most exactly in health, housing and education, was for massive state intervention.
But the swing of her pendulum goes too far. It is back to the pre-war society, where people were dependent upon charity, and those who supported by their own efforts those who were unfortunate. It could never deal properly with post-war problems of health, education and adequate housing.
Moreover, the rise of the "yuppy" culture in the 1980s, and the culture of city wealth and bonuses meant that "how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility" meant that increasing numbers of affluent people, with a fragmented nuclear family, were less inclined to take on that responsibility. With rising unemployment, people fell through the gaps.
The lessons of the Great Depression, where people expected no housing when they were homeless, seem to have been forgotten. But a focus by tabloid newspapers on a small number of benefit cheats, writ large, gave the impression, as did the sitcom "Bread", that everyone on benefits was milking the system. This led to change in culture in which poverty was seen as something avoidable, and if you were poor and on benefits, it was your own fault. You are the "lazy, shiftless, poor".
But as the Daily Herald, looking at America in 20114, points out, society does impact on families and the poor:
"If these lower-class children would just stay in school! They have the same educational opportunities as anyone else, right? Let's just ignore the fact that they started their lives in sub-par day-care or malnourished, or with parents or a single parent who can't send them to pre-school or find time to read to them because they are poor and work all day for minimum wage just to pay the rent and buy food."
When Jersey's new Education Director starts saying something similar about children being tired and hungry, and the situation is much worse than he expected, we should perhaps see that as a wake-up call.
Mrs Thatcher was right about one thing. Society is a tapestry, and when we start to unpick it, and take away those threads, we cannot expect large turnouts at elections.
The recent booklet by Caritas highlights how important it is to show that our society can help "all individuals, families and their communities flourish, progress and feel included." It lays down guidelines: "The extent to which any society can achieve this success will be determined by the policies it develops and implements in relation to, for example, education, health, social care, immigration, employment and housing".
If the community is to be bound together, we must address these issues just as much as that of voter turnout. They cannot be split apart. Our government must build a strong social contract with the communities and individuals in it, or our society will remain atomistic, and fragmented, and we can expect even lower levels of voter turnout.
And we must at the same time broadcast the message about voting and civic duty. If people do not think about the idea that they have a duty to vote, as well as a right, then the battle will be lost. This education should begin in schools. Knowing about politics is all very good, but incubating the idea of civic duty is a necessity. Voting should not be seen as optional, if you feel like it, but a responsibility of adult members of society.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scotch On the Rocks

Sometimes the truth is not half as fun as imagination...with the Scottish referendum coming up, here's something poetic.

Scotch On the Rocks

Och, aye, there's Scottish independence votes
On the high road that leads to John O'Groats
The low road takes you down to Land's End
Barmy to go there, ye'd be sure round the bend

I'll take the high road, and a wee dram as well
Because I fell under old Robbie Burn's spell
I've Haggis for breakfast, whisky for lunch
And I'll give the Sassenachs a hearty punch!

With my trusty claymore, I'll fight once again
I'll play on the bagpipes, march through the glen
Kiss goodbye to my sweetheart, in the fairy dell
And tossing the caber, I'll do that as well

Now if ye'll just help me, my bonnie young lass
My years weigh me down heavy, alas, oh, alas
I'm eight score years and ten, and rather lame
But I can still dream. Where's my Zimmer frame?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Some influential books in my life – Part 1

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (I’m using the umbrella title to grab them all!)

I’ve loved the Narnia books ever since I read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, but that is in fact not my favourite. It is very difficult to tell which is the best, as all have wonderful characters, and are spellbinding, but I think “The Silver Chair”, which has Eustace and Jill, and their friend, the Marshwiggle Puddleglum, has to be my personal favourite. Puddleglum was apparently based on the character of C.S. Lewis’s gardener, and is a wonderful character – comic, pessimistic and yet brave when he needs to be.

The BBC TV version was good, but weak on effects, which meant you needed considerable suspension of belief. The more pagan Box of Delights managed better. The Movie versions of Narnia began well, but have gradually drifted further from the books, which is a shame. The complete story in the BBC Radio version, adapted by Brian Sibley, is the version I like most.

Brian also wrote a play “The Northern Ireland Man in C.S. Lewis”, which looked at Lewis’ early life as a child, and how the landscapes and imaginative adventures shaped his later work. It was very enjoyable.

The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien

I first read the Hobbit at Primary School, then read Lord of the Rings in my later teens. I took it to University with me, and would read and re-read it. It is such a wonderful quest story, and I was not disappointed with the movies, which were remarkably faithful. Don't go for the animated version though - it is terrible, and finishes half way through book two.

Later, I came to the radio version, adapted by Brian Sibley (yes, him again!), which was as good as the movies, because it painted word pictures in the mind. Radio is like the printed word, it calls upon the imagination so well. The radio version of the Hobbit, which I think had another adapter, and certainly a more shrill Gandalf, is not as good. Brian also did a one off adaptation of the sequence when the Hobbits meet Tom Bombadil, missing from the audio and the film.

The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper

I came across this at University, and I still think it is one of the ground breaking books of philosophy. Against Plato and Marx, Popper sets out his own ideas of what an Open Society, a problem solving society would look like. It was a major influence on my political thinking. Most politicians don't look at political philosophy, and I think politics is the poorer for that. Popper's "Poverty of Historicism" is also very good, but not quite as readable.

I also enjoyed Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations”. Popper’s reputation has faded a bit, but perhaps that is because much of his philosophy of science has actually become largely mainstream.

The Father Brown Omnibus by G.K. Chesterton

I came to Chesterton at University, largely at the recommendation of C.S. Lewis in his writings, and was taken with Chesterton’s style, use of paradox and wit.

If I was greedy, I’d have even more Chesterton. I love his essays, The Ballad of the White Horse, the Flying Inn, the Poet and the Lunatics, Tales of the Long Bow, and of course The Man Who was Thursday. But Father Brown is a wonderful character, and the crimes he solves, while unlikely to every exist in real life, are masterpieces of deception, as well as fabulous in visual depictions.

The radio series starring Andrew Sachs was very good, and the new series on the BBC with Mark Williams is growing on me, despite the almost complete absence of connection to the original stories. But the version I really liked was the Kenneth Moore version. Moore was the right age for the part, and could appear both apparently bumbling and sharp, and the adaptations were remarkably faithful to the originals. Mention should also be made of two films. "Father Brown" with Alex Guinness, which is excellent, if a little long, and "The Girl in the Park" (a made for TV film not to be confused with the movie) which is set in America, and is slightly different with an Irish Father Brown (which is strange!), but has quite a good plot. The TV series Father Dowling Mysteries, of course, is very much in the Father Brown mould.

There’s also an American Chesterton Society which produced “The Apostle of Common Sense”, a series of half-hour shows, looking at Chesterton’s religious and social beliefs, with an actor portraying Chesterton rather well. [Although Chesterton was taller, and didn’t have straight hair, but curly hair – geeks like me notice these small details!] Chesterton's politics was interesting, and a lot of Catholic Social Teaching is very close to that, neither firmly left or right, but taking important views on freedom and social justice.

I’d just mention that some of the detective books of John Dickson Carr, fiendish locked room mysteries which I rather enjoy, feature an amateur sleuth called Dr Gideon Fell, who was modelled on Chesterton – large, and with a very Chestertonian delivery of words!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Evening Tide at St Brelade

There's something wonderful about the light and calm in an evening in St Brelade in late August. The full heat of the noon day sun has gone, but it is still fairly warm, and as the tide comes in, cool sea breezes waft in.

When Katalin and I went down to the sea, there was a magnificent fortress of sand being shored up by children and parents against the incoming tide. Sand gets soggy and collapses very quickly, so they were hard at work, adding more sand as each passing wave took away their sea defenses.

Canute the Great c. 985 or 995 – 12 November 1035) was a king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Swedenoften referred to as the Anglo-Scandinavian or North Sea Empire. When I was at school, history consisted, as remembered, mostly of a series of anecdotal tales. The one about Canute. The story is told in Henry of Huntingdon's Twelfth Century Chronicle of England, and a translation from the Latin reads:

With the greatest vigor he commanded that his chair should be set on the shore, when the tide began to rise. And then he spoke to the rising sea saying “You are part of my dominion, and the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore, I order you not to rise onto my land, nor to wet the clothes or body of your Lord”. 

But the sea carried on rising as usual without any reverence for his person, and soaked his feet and legs. Then he moving away said: “All the inhabitants of the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws”. 

Therefore King Cnut never afterwards placed the crown on his head, but above a picture of the Lord nailed to the cross, turning it forever into a means to praise God, the great king."

Which, of course, has given us the maxim that "you cannot turn back the tide".

There was a smaller sandcastle also built close by. The seaside is a place for enjoyment of sand castle building, and I remember we used to buy flimsy little flags, paper flags on a small stick,  to brighten up the castles.

The history of sand castle building is supposed to go back to ancient Egypt, but there is no real evidence of that. The earliest mention is around the 16th century, but with scant evidence. It is really when sand sculptures rather than sand castles come in to their own that we get a lot of history, with Philip McCord, who created a sand sculpture of a woman and a baby in 1897 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This was to raise money, which is why there is so much documentation from the publicity he did.

The rain came out, and we all took shelter. Afterwards, there was a wonderful rainbow across the bay, and here is a lovely picture of Katalin with the rainbow descending towards her.

The story of the rainbow comes in the earliest account of Noah's ark, when he makes an animal sacrifice to give thanks for being saved from the flood, and, as the story tells us, God puts a rainbow in the sky to promise that such destruction will never again be wrought upon the earth. With ferocious storms, flooding, rising sea levels, we may find that promise looking a bit shaky, but the rainbow itself is a wonderful thing of beauty.

The rainbow itself is an optical effect, caused by the splitting of water droplets. Optical effects, like the mirage of water on hot roads, are in fact some of the strangest phenomena that we encounter. You can photograph a rainbow, as in fact I did, but it is not in fact tangible; it is purely an effect of water and light, and perhaps rather like a ghost, is not a material substance but a process.

Rainbows have the spectrum colours identified by Newton after diffracting light through a prism. These are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. When I was growing up, we learnt the mnemonic "Richard of York gained Battle in Vain" as the way to remember them.

There were fisherman out on the pier, and a few boats made their way lazily towards the land. It was a good end to the day.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Deputy John Young standing for Senator

Deputy John Young has announced he will be standing for Senator. Here is his “press release” on Facebook:

Press Release on Facebook
Following the many approaches I have received from people throughout the Island during the last few months, I have decided to stand in the Senatorial elections.

It has been a very hard decision to make. I have worked hard to fulfil my promises to the electors of St Brelade No 1 district and had some successes which I believe will enable future improvements. It has been a real privilege to represent my constituents for the last three years. I want to thank everyone for their support and trust in me. .. … During the last three years I have tried to help everybody who has approached me with their concerns or individual problems, whether they were a constituent or from elsewhere in the Island.

If elected as Senator as well as the early establishment of a States ombudsman to investigate cases of injustice and consolidating the changes to the Planning system, I will work to achieve long term policy changes. These include:

• the regeneration of St Helier and future of the waterfront

• access to justice reforms

• improvements to our Ministerial system which fails to deliver joined up government

• rebalancing the power of Ministers

• strengthening the role of States scrutiny

• rolling back regulation

• delivering vital public sector reforms

• diversification of our economy

• development of sporting, cultural, heritage and environmental tourism.

We face a structural deficit in States finances, the fast growing needs of our health service and the imperative of public sector modernization and its overdue reform to stem the growth in public sector spending. These are all vital policy areas for urgent attention.