Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Quest for the Wicker Man

"The Quest for the Wicker Man" (2006), edited by Franks, Harper, Murray and Stevenson is a study of history, folklore and pagan perspectives. This is a brief review of the book.

Part of the material consists of a commentary on the making and genesis of the cult film "The Wicker Man". In one chapter, Robin Hardy, who along with Tony Schaffer created the film, explain how they wanted to move away from the gothic melodrama of the Hammer Horror film, and present something quite different, based upon their reading of what they saw as pagan survivals, chief of which, of course, is the "Wicker Man" in which Edward Woodward as the policeman meets his grisly end.

Hardy also explains one of the weaknesses of the film, where a contrast is made between the sacrifice of the communion, for which they placed the policeman in an Scottish Episcopalian setting, and the sacrifice of the Wicker Man, where the policeman is the body and blood of sacrifice. For much of the film, however, he behaves as a Presbyterian low churchman, and his background is at odds with his character, perhaps the reason why it was excised by the distributors in pre-release edit of the original.

However, as Richard Sermon shows in his article on "The Wicker Man, May Day and the Reinvention of Beltane", a lot of the background upon which they draw is the work of anthropologist Sir James Frazer, who in his 12 volume "The Golden Bough" conflated different practices from around the world in support of his thesis, with cheerful disregard for context, geography and history. Like Frazer, the film also brings disparate elements such as "sympathetic magic, gods from Celtic mythology, classical accounts of the Druids, and a number of mainly but not exclusively English folk traditions and customs".

In the film, as in Frazer's reconstruction, there is a "Pan Celtic year" , consisting of Imbolc, Beltane, Lugnasad and Samain, along with Spring and Winter equinoxes and two solstices. But as Sermon notes, there are serious problems with this kind of conflation. Imbolc, Beltane, Lugnasad and Samain are found in the Goedelic branch of Celtic - Irish, Manx and Scots Gaelic - but not found in the Brithonic branch - Welsh, Cornish and Breton, "which therefore casts doubt on the the claim that these were Pan-Celtic festivals". Sermons' second point is that the early Irish texts "do not mention festivals on the solstices or equinoxes, hence the lack of Old Irish names for these". Lastly, he notes that these festivals, supposed to have been observed by the Celtic Britons (although this is problematic) are assumed to have passed from them into English (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) folk tradition.

In fact, by way of contrast, when Old English, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, Old High German, Old Norse, Swedish, English, German and Dutch are compared, there is more more of a common year than is ever supposed to have existed in the Celtic area, and on linguistic evidence, there are certainly good grounds for a common year in the Germanic speaking parts of Europe. Here is a brief extract from Sermon's table:

Old English: Geola, Lencten, Eastron, Sumor, Middansumor, Haefest, Winter, Middanwinter
English: Yule, Lent, Easter, Summer, Midsummer, Harvest, Winter, Midwinter
Old Norse: Jol, Var, ?, Sumar, Miorsumar, Haust, Vetr, Miorvetr
Swedish: Jul, Var, ?, Sommar, Midsommar, Host, Vinter, Midvinter
Old High German: ?, Lengizen, Ostarun, Sumar, Mittesumar, Herbist, Wintar, Mittewintar

There is nothing like this linguistic parallelism with the Celtic speaking world.

May Day and Beltane are again conflated, but the English May day celebrations were marking the start of Summer with celebration, and the traditions involved the May Queen, and garland, maypole dancing, Morris dancing, hobby horses, while the Beltane traditions in Ireland and Highland Scotland "were very different and involved the lighting of bonfires and rites to purify livestock such as cattle and sheep".

Regarding the Wicker Man itself, this occurs in two classical sources. Caesar's Gallic War, which mentions "figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men which being set on fire, the men perish in the flames", and Strabo in his Geography, who mentions "a huge figure of straw and wood, and having thrown cattle and all manner of wild animals and humans into it, they would make a burnt offering of the whole thing". Aylett Sammes (c1636-c1679) gave the first illustration of a Wicker man, and this imaginative construction formed the mould from which all other designs have been drawn, as with the film. However, Strabo is probably deriving his material from Caesar, and Caesar is only describing practices in Gaul, so it is dangerous to extrapolate from this to a widespread practice. Virgin sacrifice is not mentioned in this context, but only introduced by Frazer.

An example, not related to the film, of the dangers of geographical over-generalisation occurs where Pliny provides a description of Druids cutting mistletoe. Yet we know both that there were Druids in Ireland, and that mistletoe was introduced into Ireland only in the 18th century, so clearly the association of Druids with mistletoe cannot be transferred across Europe.

In "The Folklore Fallacy", Mikel Koven (yes that is a real name!) notes how people like Frazer stood within a colonial tradition, "which sees the Celtic nations as an undifferentiated whole" As Koven argues "Victorian anthropology and folklore studies tended to conceive the world in grand master narratives. Based on surface comparisons, world cultures were seen to celebrate more-or-less the same calendrical and life-cycle ceremonies; and differences were seen as unimportant cultural deviances... This approach, while superficially appearing to be egalitarian, is in actuality purely colonial: only from a point of cultural hegemony can one hold one's culture up as a template for other cultures and say that they are more or less the same." The "folklore fallacy" of the film is to take Frazer's perspective uncritically at face value; in this, as a literal depiction of his mix of many cultures, it is certainly successful, but as far as the supposed "authenticity" of its paganism goes, it is too indiscriminate in its inclusion of any and all forms of paganism into its supposedly Celtic pagan mix.

Lastly, I would note that having reviewed the film recently, it has a wonderfully eclectic mix, and certainly has not the period feel of the gothic Hammer film. But there are undoubtedly elements which seem more flower-power than paganism, more hippy than heathen, not least when Christopher Lee dons a rather silly wig and sways back and forth in the musical finale as the Wicker man burns. Young girls dancing in a stone circle naked also seems to have a tendency towards a pagan "pan's people" from Top of the Pops. But the repressed central performance of Edward Woodward certainly makes up for this, as does the ambiguous ending, never quite resolved (what will happen next?), and certainly not a simplistic Hammer Horror narrative of good winning against evil.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Small City States, Big Egos?

"Like the small city states of Ancient Greece, which produced artists, philosophers, traders and sportsmen of lasting achievement, we can and do excel in many different ways" - Sir Philip Bailhache, Christmas Speech 2008

It always amazes me how pretentious some people can be - and people take them seriously? Can it really be that we have in our midst:

Plato Le Sueur, the Wise Philosopher King, not perhaps the people's choice, but then Plato did say that the best ruler was the wisest ruler, i.e., himself.

Parmenides Cohen: Believer in an unchanging (office) block universe.

Thales Southern: According to Thales, a man can better bear adversity if he sees that his enemies are worse off.

Anaximander Ozouf: he postulated that the indefinite was the source of all things.

Critias Le Main: He proved to be a tormented personality, displaying many complexes.

Gorgias Maclean: He paid particular attention to the sounds of words, which, like poetry, could captivate audiences.

Pythagoras Le Herissier: followers of the principle that if a man was "in doubt as to what he should say, he should always remain silent" - and no doubt sit on any ancient Greek fences.

Socrates Syvret: A perpetual gadfly, the sort of annoying politician that some would see as corrupting, and would love to offer some hemlock.

and if we can extend the list to include noble Romans:

Juvenal Macon: Need one say more?

Cicero Le Marquand: The Great Orator and Lawyer

Cato Walker: Ended up being shafted on his own sword.

I don't notice many States members of the athletic Spartan persuasion, nor do I wish to imagine (except in nightmares) any of them fighting naked and oiled in the Spartan manner, so we'll leave that out of the equation.

The Bailiff himself? Obviously - Diogenes Bailhache. Only someone who lived in a barrel would need to scrape the bottom of it for such pompous ideas.

I will, however, miss the Bailiff. He always has an unerring knack of coming out with stuff that is tailor made for humourists to pick up and use, and I am sure that his successor will not be nearly so obliging in providing material that has its own inbuild comic absurdity.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Celtic Christmas

Here is an extract from a Christmas piece I came across, and which I think captures something of what is special about Christmas.

This is the season when we remember that darkness may be fruitful-the darkness of the soil where the hidden seed sleeps, or the darkness of the womb where new life is created. This is the darkness of gestation, the darkness in which creative spirit begins to make the first silent stirrings, taking form and flesh. We celebrate the deep compatibility of the divine and the human as we rejoice in the Incarnation-in God's life being revealed to us in the baby boy born at Bethlehem, God being birthed into human life, taking on human nature from the inside out.

As an old Welsh poem states,

Mary nurtures a Son in her womb:
His birth a blessing to those who discover him.
He goes forth like the sun,
great is the number of his company.

The wonder of the Incarnation is that in Jesus we are told that God and humanity are meant for each other. We discover that God loves bodies, God plays with matter, God speaks to us through quarks and atoms and molecules, through blood and lymph and bone. Through every human race and culture. The Christian story tells us that God chooses to be human, chooses to know human life from the moment of conception to the suffering of death. In Jesus, God knows intimately what it is to be a toddler, to have a stomachache, to feel the rain and wind, to be betrayed and forsaken, to die. Incarnation is about God choosing to be one of us, so that we might become communities of compassion, mercy, courage, justice, care, God's embodied presence here and now.

Historically, at this time of the year, the peoples of the Celtic lands (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Galicia) marked the natural rhythm as autumn turned to winter. This was a time for watching for the light's return, even in the midst of darkness. This was a time for pondering endings and beginnings. As Christianity came to these lands, perhaps as early as the first century, there was a ready embracing of the proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God. As far as we can tell, the pre-Christian religious practices of the Celtic peoples were inclined to celebrate the natural world as shot through with divine presence. For them, a faith tradition that celebrated the divine becoming human was plausible, welcome and true. Incarnation was not a stumbling block as it was to the Greeks. This faith that had a central story of a man who came from God and returned to God, a man who was God's Son, did not seem so far-fetched to the Celtic mind.

The first time I went to Wales in 1994, Patrick Thomas, Welsh author and Anglican priest, told us that in every Welsh nativity scene, a washerwoman accompanies Mary, Joseph and Jesus at the manger. For the Welsh tradition, if Jesus isn't born daily into the common household, then there's really no point of celebrating the birth at Bethlehem. Jesus' birth, singular as it is, also shows us the sacredness of each child, knit together in the mother's womb by God's own Spirit. Jesus' birth reminds us that each household is dear to God.

At this season of the year, when we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in the midst of the hubbub in Bethlehem, this tradition invites us to notice God being birthed in our midst, in one another, in our friend, in our foe. As the Welsh poet Donald Evans wrote of the baby born in the manger at Bethlehem,

He loved the earth, loved it as a lover
because it is God's earth:
He loved it because it was created by his Father
From nothingness to be life's temple.

The Curious Incident of the Public Kept in the Dark

What ever happened to the independent advisory group overseeing the work of the Haut de La Garenne enquiry? The recent reports by Warcup, Lewis et alia in the JEP last month  have not mentioned them at all. A curious omission? It was set up, and I remember seeing that they visited the site. On of the ACPO recommendations taken on board - remember that ACPO also were called in by Lenny Harper to check on and assess the validity of the investigation. Another curious omission?
Unlike Sherlock Holmes' dog that did not bark in the night time, the recent press statements have managed to make an even more curious omission. If they were writing the story, they would just omit to mention that there were even several dogs around, even though their presence was certainly noted at the time. What would Holmes have said? "Well, Watson, given the presence of an Independent Advisory Group, and an ACPO review group, being totally left out of the recent press announcements, I would draw your attention to 'The Curious Incident of the Public Kept in the Dark' "!
Independent Advisory Group for Historical Abuse Enquiry Team
Monday 17 March 2008
An Independent Advisory Group set up to oversee the work of the Historical Abuse Enquiry team paid their first visit to Haut de la Garenne today (Monday 17 March) in order to meet the team working there and see the site.  Earlier in the day they had spent some time at the Major Incident Room at Police Headquarters.  The five members of the local group have been put in place to act as 'critical friends' of the enquiry team and as a conduit to the community to prevent rumour or misinformation from damaging the investigation. Speaking about the group, senior investigating officer Lenny Harper said: 'It is common practice in the UK for a group such as this to be appointed, and it was one of the recommendations of the ACPO review group which audited the investigation recently.  They are here to act as 'critical friends' to the enquiry, and will be kept appraised of the direction of the investigation and so will be able to challenge us in respect of how we are carrying out the enquiry.  They can question what we are, or are not doing, or why we are doing things in a certain way.'  'The team were appointed last month, and we will be meeting with them regularly. They have an important role to play in reassuring the community and we would like to thank them for their help and support.' 
The five members of the independent advisory group are:
Rev Geoff Houghton
Carol Canavan
Kevin Keen
Stephen Regal
Emma Martins

The Pope Speaks

Various comments on the Pope speaking about Aids today. I wonder if all the people blogging about the Pope's stance on offshore tax havens will take as much notice this time! I find it strange that there are a number of people like Richard Murphy who have been saying - look the Pope is saying the offshore places are much to blame for the credit crunch - with the argument - so you should listen to him because he is the sort of person worth listening to when someone of his stature speaks out. Yet when it comes to sexual issues, I suspect I will hear a yawning silence from them, and yet this is tied up - in his analysis - of how rich countries use economic forces to impose their own birth control agendas on poorer countries.

I'm not saying the Pope is right or wrong on either count, but I am simply pointing out that if he is going to be cited as a champion against the tax haven, it seems inconsistent to adopt a pick and mix attitude to his utterances. Why listen to him on offshore, if one is going to ignore him on sexual behaviour?

Pope on addressing AIDS: "First and Foremost," Work to Change Sexual Behavior

Ellen M Rice writes:

In his 2009 World Day of Peace message released today, Pope Benedict XVI urged the world to fight moral underdevelopment and problem behavior in order to achieve victory over the AIDS pandemic. Pope Benedict decried the tactics of developed countries that "make economic aid conditional upon the implementation of anti-life policies" to countries suffering from AIDS. The message pointed out that developing countries with higher birth rates have a better chance to emerge from poverty, and concluded, "Population is proving to be an asset, not a factor that contributes to poverty." Rather than use barrier methods of birth control as a means to control AIDS, Pope Benedict called for a return to morality and respect for true marriage. "It is especially hard to combat AIDS, a major cause of poverty, unless the moral issues connected with the spread of the virus are also addressed." However, in order to address the moral issues involved, "First and foremost, educational campaigns are needed, aimed especially at the young, to promote a sexual ethic that fully corresponds to the dignity of the person." The Pope thereby excluded what are known as "comprehensive sex education" programs as a strategy to deal with AIDS, instead supporting programs promoting abstinence until marriage and fidelity in marriage. He praised the effectiveness of educational programs that promote chastity and true marriage: "Initiatives of this kind have already borne important fruits, causing a reduction in the spread of AIDS." In addition to implementing proper programs of moral formation, the Holy Father said "the necessary medicines and treatment must be made available to poorer peoples. This is a task that will involve a determined effort to promote medical research and innovative forms of treatment," and flexibility in applying intellectual property laws that cause some treatments to be too expensive for the poor.

Saturday, 20 December 2008




Near Corbière, 3000 BC


It is dark, and cold, and we walk to the hilltop together. A sharp, biting wind cuts me like a knife. Now is the time, when the year has grown cold, for us to come together, and celebrate the sun return.


We are at the stone table now, overlooking the bay below. Waves glisten, reflecting the moonlight as they break upon the rocks below. The priest is ready, the earthen bowls around the table ablaze with a thick smoky flame, and my father, as an elder of our tribe, places the lamb, feet firmly bound, upon the table.


Last month was the blood month, the time of slaying, when the sheep and lambs are culled for the winter. There is barely enough food for the tribe in these harsh winters, and that month, on the cusp of winter, is the time to kill some of the flock. I have seen these dried, and salted, and kept to sustain us through the worst months to come.


But one lamb is held back, and it is this lamb that the priest will sacrifice today. He will take the sacred knife, and ask the gods for mercy, and that the sun will return again. Then we will feast, in dawn's grey light, and have warmth in our bellies, a token of the ending of the shortening days, and the returning of the light.


Now it is my time, my part as first-born, and I step forward, and chant the words I have been taught by my father, and before him, his father, and so, for many generations in the mists of time, back to the great word that was spoken by the gods themselves.


Dark the night falls,

A canopy over the land

Cold death breaks stone walls

Reaches out her bony hand


Let us here offer her a life

A word and a sacrifice made

Signs of hope, of ending strife

The ransom has been paid


Sunlight is reborn this day

Light that lightens the dark

This is our truth, our way

A kindling of the spark


Then the whole tribe joins in the chant,


Eat in night, long for light

Let it be, we pray it might.


And now the priest steps forward, tall and grey, and there is silence. All our fears are gone, all our hopes risen high, and this will be a time of joy.


1852, La Rocque


The wind is rising, and it is not yet dawn, but we must depart, even if a tempest threatens. The boat is ready, and we are dressed in our oilskins, ready to brave the tidal flow. The rain falls in a torrent, a curtain of water drenches us, but we need the fish.


My wife has mended my nets, and my thoughts turn to her, sitting peacefully beside the fire in our small cottage, knitting steadily to help our livelihood. In a few hours, the farmers will be taking their cows to the fields, and the bell will toll at the new chapel for morning prayer. Let them pray for those in peril on the sea, and those weaving in and out of these treacherous rocks.


Now we are past the witch's rock, and the strange moaning, as the wind whistles through the trees. On our return, the thirteenth fish must be given up to the seas around this point, a sacrifice to the spirits of air and water, that we may have safe passage home.


Christmas approaches, and I think of my own newborn, suckling milk at my wife's breast, unaware of the hardship that is our lot, of the perils that beset a fisherman. Will my son follow in my path, and hear the cry of the lone gull across the sea, the song of the waves upon the rocks, and know the tossing of the boat in life's stormy sea?


On shore, the beacon's light is lit to guide us home, even through the gales, even when our sight is lost in spray and storm, so that we might come to a safe harbour once again, and thank God for safe haven and warm hearth. Landfall is a time of joy, and on Christmas we shall leave our nets, and give thanks to the Lord who called fishermen to follow him.


Around the Middle of the 20th Century, The Institute


It does no good to hide in a corner weeping, but I can't help it. Today was a day of Christmas cheer, and visitors came to see us, and the Warden and his assistants were beaming, full of false smiles, showing how kind they were to us. But after the last visitors left, the smiles faded as fast as night fell, and all the freedom, the laxity was gone, and woe betide any boy who did not follow their iron rule of discipline.


But we are boys, and we cannot behave like mindless machines. Of course we have our fun, we play games, we are mischievous on occasion, because we forget. The mind blots out the pain, the beatings, and for some, much worse. They are the ones taken away to the other part of the building, and we hear the odd cries, even from as far as that, and they return, tight lipped, biting back the tears, and mute, shocked into silence by whatever brutality has been inflicted on them. I am lucky. I only got a flogging for cheeking the assistants. That is getting off lightly. Some return with scars, and others with scarring inside, deep wounds that do not heal easily, if at all. I fear their fate, and I try to be good, but I am only a small boy, and it is very hard to do so all the time. Sometimes one wants to have fun, to laugh, to joke and play freely. I forget, and take my punishment.


This is the darkest night, the shortest day, but for many here, midnight never ends, and they that love the darkness ply their cruel deeds. I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was a stranger, and I was imprisoned in this institute, and where were the visitors then? When did they see me hungry and feed me, thirsty and give me drink, naked and cloth me, a stranger and welcomed me, and imprisoned and set free? I pray that one day my tale will be told, and the truth will blaze forth like the light of the world, and justice will again be found in the courts, and all righteous people will support it.

1943, A Hidden Room in a House, St Helier


It is time, the special time of year, and more than ever, I pray for light. The curfew is in place, and it is a dark time that we live in. I cannot even go out by light, because the shadow of a great evil has fallen upon this Island. And yet I am kept safe by those who keep alive a flame of hope, who hide me at great cost to themselves, and go without to feed me; even in their hardship, they give to those in greater need.


I dream of the beach, and the sun, and the waves upon the shore, of the laughter of children, the holidaymakers lazing their days away, sprawled out, and enjoying the balmy sun. The fresh breeze, the cool of the water on a hot day as I splashed around with my friends, such, such were the joys, but now just memories, thoughts to hold on to, that I may one day be free again to walk down to the coast, and look across the bay to the yachts, fleet in the summer breezes as they glide across the blue water. Now, I am told the beaches are cold, forbidding places, full of mines and barbed wire, and only fisherman are permitted to go out upon the sea, while the ever seeing, watchful eye of the gunner looks over his domain.


I take out my single candle, saved each year, lit only for a few precious minutes each day, and I take the makeshift tinder box, and strike the flint upon the firesteel. The sparks catch on the charcloth, which glows warmly, and I ignite the wooden splint, and take light the candle from its taper, taking care to extinguish the box for days to come.


This is my celebration of the kindling of the lights, my festival of lights, my Hanukkah. And I softly sing the hymn Ma'oz Tzur, which tells of divine salvation, and events of persecution of our peoples,  and I remember how Maccabees fought so all of us could be free, and pray that others will fight the cause of justice now, and free us from this oppression, in which this Island is occupied.  And in a low voice, I sing the psalms for here our people have known of sorrows and joys, and the generations past speak to us this day. And now I blow out the candle, and the first day has passed, and I wish the light of the Lord will come again, with justice flowing like a river, to bring peace upon this blighted earth.


2008, A Church on Christmas Eve


I drink to forget, and I've probably drunk too much this night. And as I walk home through the rain, dripping wet, somewhat unsteady on my feet, I hear the peal of bells, the Christmas bells, bringing memories of times past, of childhood hopes, of the excitement of gifts, the waiting expectantly.


Somehow I make my way into the Church, I don't know why, but it is Christmas, and at this time of the year, I want to be among other people, to share that warm glow, to sing carols. In the cold light of day, it may seem like nonsense, but on this night, this special night, there is a joy.

Time for the lost sheep to come back to the fold, even if for a few hours, and hear once more the Christmas story, of the child born this day who still gives a spark of hope, even now, even to someone drunk like me. I settle in a pew, and I look at all the bright and shining faces, all the happiness, and I am glad. Wouldn't it be so bleak if it was always winter and never Christmas?

And reverently, I stumble very carefully, very slowly forward in procession, and take that bread and wine. And tomorrow it will be the soup kitchens for cheer. Eating and drinking is an act of reverence, this day, not what you believe, and I don't know what I believe, but I am happy to eat at this table, even if I am unworthy.

And I leave to the glad cries of "Happy Christmas", returning to the dark streets, not quite so dark now. The rain has stopped, and I have glimpsed that everlasting Light, just briefly, and known how the hopes and fears of all the years have been met there tonight.


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Tax Avoidance, International Financial Centres, and Jersey – Neither Illegitimate Nor Immoral?

Clameur de Haro, in a post called "Tax Avoidance, International Financial Centres, and Jersey – Neither Illegitimate Nor Immoral" makes a good case for tax competition as a legitimate and legal mark of protest against profligate governments (as Richard Teather - author the Benefits of Tax Competition - also argues. Clameur is also clear that he does not approve of illegal tax evasion.

Of course, that is why the Tax Information Exchange Agreements are so important for stamping out illegitimate money (which should have been declared by the owner in his/her country of domicile). Also why the money laundering laws are so tight over here. We have to be whiter than white.

But the case of Northern Rock using a Jersey Trust for hiding UK balance sheet items with a beneficiary who had not even been informed about this while legal certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Likewise Tesco's aggressive use of JPUTs (Jersey Property Units Trusts) was a legal loophole - until closed - but again gives the impression to outsiders that Jersey is involved in Arthur Daly kind of finance, i.e. dodgy but just the right side of the law.

That's the impression Private Eye gives to its readers when it exposes this kind of practice, as it gives the impression that rick corporations (and individuals) can restructure their finances in ways that ordinary mortals cannot - so as to pay less tax. Money can buy loopholes. The rich can buy their way out of the obligations that fall on the rest of us - that is the general picture that critics give. And locally, Jersey's millionaire residents, paying less than the full 20% tax that everyone else pays, may give the Island welcome funds from their agreed tax (much as the super bonuses of city "fat cats" was welcomed by Gordon Brown because of the extra tax revenue it gave him), but that certainly is not a fair and equitable tax system. None of this may be illegitimate - but immoral? I'm not convinced.

Book of the post:
The Benefits of Tax Competition, Richard Teather, 2005

A GST Holiday for Electricity?

A new blog to me,

has mentioned me!

Over at Tony's Musings, Tony has (as usual) a thoughtful critique of Sean Power's position (basically - it's here, so let's leave it settle for a while), and suggests that to exempt foodstuffs, heating and lighting, and children's clothes really can't be difficult or bureaucracy-creating to any significant degree.

In fact, it just goes to show how people don't read what you actually say, or rather what you do not say. In fact, I concentrated on heating and lighting and children's school clothing because the exemptions to GST could be easily applied, with no complications.

Sharp eyes will notice that I purposely did not mention food because I do agree with Sean Power that there may be complications there! So I stuck to the easy cases. And the clothing I mentioned was not "expensive designer tops" as Clameur mentions but school uniform - the word "uniform" gives the game away that it is not "expensive designer tops".

Clameur goes on to ask:

On heating and lighting, say, should we really make no distinction between heating for the pensioner's apartment, and heating for the multi-millionaire's swimming pool? Or between lighting for the pensioner's apartment kitchen and lighting for the multi-millionaire's driveway? Both cases involve use of the same materials from the same supply sources. But that doesn't seem equitable.

I would like to know how those who fall out of the income support bracket, but are still on low incomes, but whose outgoings are going up, are going to be helped. The JEC is still set for price rises of 25% or so next year. Removing GST from heating and lighting would help many more people who fall through the net. 

Regarding the multi-millionaire's property, yes, he will not have to pay GST if it is exempt, but if he has a large property, he is already paying high rates, and he is paying GST on everything else that it applies to. Is it a case of resentment, that he will be getting a larger exemption than me, so we should not have exemptions? That is what the argument seems like, not about equity (none of us pay), but about resentment (he will be getting off more than me).

It is interesting that The Irish Consumerist argued against global removal of VAT but did think there was a special case on hardship grounds for electricty.

Electricity prices have been soaring, rising by 18% just last August. This is going to affect many households over the coming months, people will have to forgo other essential items or cut back on lighting and heating. The Government did move to increase benefits for those in receipt of the Electricity Allowance which is good, but this only benefits those in receipt of this social welfare payment or about 358,000 households or 25% of the total. What about the many households who won't qualify but will really feel the strain of the higher cost of electricity? Those in employment don't qualify for this payment, so households where the main wage earner is on a low income get no support to meet these increased costs.

He goes on to make what is in many ways I think a very sensible compromise:

I think it would be worth exploring the possibility of a VAT tax holiday on electricity costs, basically a decision to reduce or abolish VAT for perhaps a year in the hope that electricity costs come down. This is akin to the gas tax holiday proposed in the US. The benefits of a VAT holiday is that it is a short term measure designed to ease the pain now, leaving the option open to Government to reintroduce VAT when hopefully the price of electricity comes down as global oil prices come down. This measure could save the average household about €100 annually. This is not as complicated as a general VAT reduction in that there is only one supplier (ESB) which is state owned and as I outlined the consumer would definitely see the benefit as the price of electricity is set and outlined clearly on every bill.

We know that the issue is not one of complications, and perhaps we could not exclude it completely but on a temporary basis from electrictity. The precedent is certainly there, because "transitional provisions" were put in place to iron out problems with income support, so a measure that is time limited is possible for the States to pass.

Perhaps as gas and oil are now falling, but electricty is not, it is time for a GST holiday on electricty? As I've noted, this involves no extra bureaucrats, no extra manpower for the States, and would be relatively easy to implement.


Recent Appointments to the States

Here is a handy bite-sized collation of all the data:

Chief Minister's Department
Chief Minister
Senator Terence Augustine Le Sueur
Assistant Ministers
Senator Paul Francis Routier
Deputy John Alexander Nicholas Le Fondré

Economic Development
Senator Alan John Henry Maclean
Assistant Ministers
Senator Paul Francis Routier
Connétable Leonard Norman

Education, Sport and Culture
Deputy James Gordon Reed
Assistant Ministers
Deputy Anne Teresa Dupre
Deputy Andrew Kenneth Francis Green M.B.E.

Home Affairs
Senator Bryan Ian Le Marquand
Assistant Ministers
Deputy Jacqueline Ann Hilton

Senator Terence John Le Main
Assistant Ministers
Deputy Sean Power

Planning and Environment
Senator Frederick Ellyer Cohen
Assistant Ministers
Deputy Anne Enid Pryke

Social Security
Deputy Ian Joseph Gorst
Assistant Ministers
Deputy Angela Elizabeth Jeune

Transport and Technical Services
Connétable Michael Keith Jackson
Assistant Ministers
Deputy Kevin Charles Lewis

Privileges and Procedures Committee
Connétable Juliette Gallichan
Senator Bryan Ian Le Marquand
Deputy John Benjamin Fox
Deputy Judith Ann Martin
Deputy Collin Hedley Egré
Deputy Montfort Tadier
Deputy Michael Roderick Higgins

Corporate Services Panel (Scrutiny)
Senator Sarah Ferguson was elected Chairman
Deputy Collin Egré
Connétable Dan Murphy
Deputy Tracey Vallois

Education & Home Affairs Panel (Scrutiny)
Deputy Roy Le Herissier was elected Chairman
Connetable Graeme Butcher;
Deputy Montfort Tadier;
Deputy Trevor Pitman.

Economic Affairs Panel (Scrutiny)
Deputy Michael Higgins was elected Chairman
Deputy Shona Pitman
Deputy Carolyn Labey
Deputy Daniel Wimberley
Deputy Jeremy Macon

Environment Panel (Scrutiny)
Deputy Philip J Rondel was elected Chairman
Connétable J M Refault
Deputy Daniel J A Wimberley

Health, Social Security & Housing Panel (Scrutiny)
Senator Alan Breckon was elected Chairman
Connétable Silva A Yates
Deputy Geoffrey P Southern
Deputy Deborah J de Sousa

Public Accounts Committee Panel (Scrutiny)
Senator Ben E Shenton was elected Chairman
Connétable John M Refault
Deputy Tracey Vallois

Overseas Aid Commission
Deputy Ian Joseph Gorst
Senator Paul Francis Routier
Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey
Non-States Commissioner Mr Peter Le Seeleur
Non-States Commissioner Mr. Geoffrey George Crill

Planning to ignore history?

Two hotels in Jersey with picture postcard views could be making way for housing projects. An application for planning permission has been made to demolish the Beau Couperon Hotel which overlooks Rozel Harbour. Under the plans ten apartments will be built on the site. And at Bonne Nuit Bay there are plans to pull down the Cheval Roc Hotel to make way for three houses.

Just when the economy and the value of the pound against the euro makes homegrown holidays - including the Channel Islands - more desirable, yet more hotels in Jersey are closing.

The Beau Couperon features in a guide book "On a clear day you can see France from the bay and when the island was under threat from Napoleon's forces, the British army had soldiers stationed in barracks (now the Beau Couperon Hotel hotel) "
Interestingly, and because of its historical background, the Beau Couperon features in a planning intention made in March 2008.

The Minister for Planning and Environment; confirmed his intention to list Rozel Barracks (Beau Couperon Hotel), Le Mont de Rozel, St Martin as a Site of Special Interest  authorised the service of the Notice of Intent to List. The special interest of Rozel Barracks (Beau Couperon Hotel), Le Mont de Rozel, St Martin, as defined and assessed relative to the published criteria for selection, justifies its inclusion on the List of Sites of Special Interest in accordance with the provisions and purposes of the Planning and Building (Jersey) Law 2002 and the States Strategic Plan. The Planning and Environment Department requested on 4 December 2007 that the Jersey Heritage Trust assess the architectural, historical and other interests of Beau Couperon Hotel  ahead of discussions with the Ministerial Registration and Listing Advisory Group.

This was then taken forward in May 2008:

The Minister for Planning and Environment determined that; Rozel Barracks (Beau Couperon Hotel), Le Mont de Rozel, St Martin be added to the List of Sites of Special Interest. 1. The special interest of Rozel Barracks (Beau Couperon Hotel), Le Mont de Rozel, St Martin, as defined and assessed relative to the published criteria for selection, justifies its inclusion on the List of Sites of Special Interest in accordance with the provisions and purposes of the Planning and Building (Jersey) Law 2002 and the States Strategic Plan. 2. It accords with the States Strategic Plan commitment of protecting and sympathetically managing the Island's built heritage assets.

Purpose of the Report: This report seeks the Ministers confirmation of the listing of Rozel Barracks (Beau Couperon Hotel), Le Mont de Rozel, St Martin.

So what is going to happen with the Special Interest designation? Is the hotel going to be demolished or not? Are they planning to ignore history?


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Economic Warfare on Sark

More news on Sark, and the millionaire thugs who penalised the inhabitants when they didn't get their own way.

On the BBC website, it is noted that "Sir David had warned before the election that he and his brother were "tempted to walk away from Sark . if the establishment gets re-elected". If that was not a veiled threat, I don't know what was. The New York times notes that "have bought up more than one-fifth of Sark in the last few years and feel its future should include paved roads, cars and a helicopter landing pad."

This would, of course, mean that the Barclays could hop over on their helicopter, and drive around if they felt like it, as could their estate manager. Pavements would be needed for safety once you have moved to a traffic culture. On an island that is, in fact, green, it is a remarkably counter-environmental step.

With the elections, their newspaper arm, the Sark News, went into overdrive:

Some of the attacks are very personal. It describes Edric Baker, who was born and bred on Sark and admits to still possessing a musket to defend the island if called upon, as a "feudal fundamentalist". Another, Andy Cook, is dismissed as a "man of leisure". The newsletter highlights that another, Peter Cole, wants to look at introducing tax systems that "more readily reflect a person's ability to pay". It goes on: "Are you proposing to introduce income tax, Mr Cole? Don't vote for Sark's would-be Napoleon." Sark News calls the proposal of another candidate, Charles Maitland, to introduce employment legislation "the beginning of the slippery slope". Of candidate Jan Guy, the bulletin says: "There is a socialist streak to this candidate's politics which is completely at odds with Sark's best interests. Another would-be tax reformer ... she would have done well under Old Labour and Dennis Healey. Don't let her make the pips squeak."

The New York Times notes that "the Barclays' strong-arm election tactics - including a negative ad that denounced one opponent of their plans, Edric Baker, as a "feudal talibanist" - rubbed many Sarkees the wrong way. 'We're in danger of going from feudalism to dictatorship,' said Diane Baker, a member of Chief Pleas who is running in Wednesday's election. Speaking of the literature put out by the pro-Barclay camp, she added, "They called my husband a feudal Taliban, just because he was on the committee that refused permission to let them build a helipad"

The Barclays defended their press coverage, saying that

"We are fierce supporters of press freedom and the right to free expression. It is in that context that Sark News publishes the complete list of candidates and then identifies 12 who we say ... are wholly unworthy of your vote," the newsletter states.

Is this freedom of expression? Or is it more akin to some tin-pot dictator in the Third World, telling the people how they should vote - or else? It is hardly surprising that most people took it as the threat of a bully, and didn't like what they saw.

On the provisional results only two of nine people the Barclays had identified in a newsletter before the election as a "safe pair of hands" got in. Most humiliatingly, their man on Sark, estate manager Kevin Delaney, failed to win a seat. . The newsletter also identified 12 "establishment" candidates it said would "destroy" the future of island. But on the provisional result, nine of those got in. They included people such as Edric Baker.

As the Guernsey press notes:

"The thing about Channel Islanders is if you tell them what to do, they will go and do the opposite. No one likes to be told what to do and they especially don't like to be told who they should and shouldn't vote for. I think that antagonised a lot of people,' said conseiller-elect Paul Armorgie (pictured), who owns Stock's Hotel. 'Sark News was an alarming piece of propaganda that rubbished a lot of well-known people. My name was in it as one of the people who should be voted in. I wasn't asked if they could use it and I wouldn't be surprised if that had lost me some votes.'"

The island has no libel laws, so the Sark News can pretty well run amok when it comes to vilifying those it does  not like.

The Telegraph - owned by the Barclays - notes that:

"Mr Dawes said of the Barclays, proprietors of Telegraph Media Group: "They do not want to control Sark but they do expect some sort of cooperation - in the way that any major investor would - to facilitate and not obstruct their plans for the island, if that investment is wanted."

It is notable that this article does not mention the planned introduction of cars and a helipad under their "plans for the island". It also notes:

Sark is a tax haven. It has attracted criticism over the years for allowing the so-called 'Sark lark' - where wealthy individuals have been able to pay its inhabitants fees and become nominal company directors, enabling them to operate beyond the power of regulators. The Barclays have campaigned to clamp down on the practice.

This is an amazing piece of spin! The "Sark Lark" was closed down in the wake of the Edwards report, an investigation into the Channel Islands conducted by Anthony Edwards commissioned by Home Secretary Jack Straw back in Tony's Blair's first term of office. This had nothing to do with the Barclays.

It should be noted that Sark is not the only tax haven where the Barclays live, so that calls for tax havens such as Sark to be closed would not effect them unduly. As the Guardian notes:

Despite investing huge sums in their Channel Island retreat, David and Frederick don't live in Brecqhou all year, partly because it is often freezing in winter. David, who suffers from ME, spends time in Switzerland because the fresh air in the Alps helps alleviate his condition. They also have a home in Monaco, where residents have tax-free status. The brother's super-yacht, Lady Beatrice,, is moored in the principality.


Friday, 12 December 2008

Behaving Badly in Sark

When I was young, I used to read boys comics, and then when I'd read all those (anyone remember TV Comic, Countdown, Century 21, Look and Learn, or Look-In? (and any books I had), desperate for the printed page, I used to read my sister's comics as well!

One of the recurring stories in her comics concerned a girl who had lost her parents (in different versions of the story, there were a variety of reasons, but the same basic plot), and who ended up being placed with a cheerful smiley family. As soon as the care worker had left, the benevolent smiles disappeared, and the foster parents turned into slave-driving sadists, but whenever this was threatened with exposure, the mask was put back on, and the beaming smiles were once more in evidence. Until, one day, the mask slipped, and the real people behind the mask appeared for others to see. They were found out!

I was thinking about this plot line when I was reading this (of many) stories about Sark, and what has just happened in the wake of the elections.

SARK Estate manager Kevin Delaney took the decision to end the Barclay brothers' multi-million pound investment in the island and lay off more than 100 workers. The decision plunged the island into chaos last night. Mr Delaney's move to make them redundant with immediate effect followed yesterday's historic election result, which did not go the way the billionaire Brecqhou backers had hoped. Only two of their nine preferred candidates were successful. The man who represented the brothers' involvement in the island slammed the poll as 'a cartel'. 'Deals were done behind closed doors that were executed with military precision. It was block voting on a breathtaking scale of which I have never seen in my life.' He added: 'I strongly suspect that the establishment did not expect to give us the bloody nose they did. I think they wanted to keep the money coming in but to have a strong element of control over us.' Despite attempting to salvage something from the 'debacle' by meeting with the island's main policymakers on the General Purpose and Advisory Committee, Mr Delaney said no reasonable offer had been made.

I've been reading various stories about Sark in the news, and what strikes me is that the Barclay brothers behaved, in my opinion, like spoilt children who couldn't get their own way. Why else suddenly - after the result of an election - pull out of Island business and close down their investments? It seems clear, to paraphrase Mr Delaney, that they wanted to keep a strong element of control over Sark, and thought that they could buy votes with their investments.

I think their intentions to "modernise" Sark were certainly in part benevolent, but it was the benevolence of the aristocratic landlord, the philanthropic despot, bringing a culture of dependency, where the workers would be expected to doff their caps at the lord of the manor, who is always so good to them.

The sheer capriciousness of their action is staggering. Suddenly, at a whim, closing down their businesses overnight, with no thought for those people turned out of work just before Christmas. It was not that the businesses in Sark were failing, it was simply that the Barclays decided to pull out and go. It was an action of selfishness, of thoughtlessness, of the bullies who cannot bear to be thwarted. The smiling masks slipped, and the real faces were not pleasant. The phrase "the unacceptable face of capitalism" certainly springs to mind.

I was reading some of Bishop Tom Wright on the need for good government, and he notes that Paul, in Romans, argues for government as a force for keeping order in society, because without that, there will be "the tyranny of the unofficially powerful, the bullies and the rich". Without that, and allowing for the fact that government may have its own failings, "the bullies and the burglars have it all their own way, and the weak and helpless suffer most". This seem most apposite as a comment on what has been happening in Sark; despite the span of millennia, the bullies are still around today, and will do all they can to take a mean spirited revenge if they don't get their own way.

Let us hope that Sark can rebuild its economy, and other people will come into Sark with their business, those not wanting to play "Mr Big" in the same manner, and the Barclays return to being recluses, having inflicted considerable damage and deprivation on those who would not let them win their game.

God and Caesar: Then and Now

Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A Theology of Consensus

The idea of "consensus" does not really appear in the Biblical writings, and has to be teased out of what is there. Obviously, either as a tribal people, or as a settled nation, the political systems tended to be hierarchical, and notions of democracy remote. However, here a few gleanings, although most are warnings against how consensus may go wrong.

The story of Abraham "haggling" with God over who should be saved from Sodom and Gomorrah, and reducing the numbers, as he bargains for the people living there facing destruction is an interesting one, and could be seen as Abraham and God trying to reach a consensus on the matter.

A lesson to be learnt on consensus here might be that those in a position of considerable power should be open to having their minds changed by the moral appeal of those in a much weaker position.

At the end of the time of the Judges, Samuel is faced with a majority request by the people to have a King like the surrounding tribes. He warns them of the consequences: (1 Sa 8:11-17) and how their freedom will be reduced, but they still demand a king, and of course, all the consequences he warns them against come to pass.

A lesson to be learnt on majority consensus here is not always the wisest choice of action, and "what the people want" can actually lead to losing freedoms. What the people do not see, in their short term desire, is how the big picture will be played out, and what are the unseen consequences (although clearly seen by Samuel) of their choice.

Close to the time of exile, we find the priests telling the King that Jerusalem will not fall, that God is with them and against the surrounding nations. Jeremiah: Here is a consensus of informed opinion, from all the high officials and priests, and the prophet Jeremiah comes along, and tells them it is all wrong.

We can see here consensus is not always the correct choice, and can be totally wrong. There is a need for a "prophetic" voice, challenging consensus, pointing out injustices, and saying what people do not want to hear, but should.

Coming to the New Testament, there is again nothing that tells openly of "consensus". The disciples and Jesus did not vote on what to do! But I think we can still tease out a few helpful tips.

Where other people are also spoken of as healing in Jesus name, the disciples are cross, and want Jesus to stop them. He rebukes them, and tells them that those other people are also doing God's work. We could take this as laying down a guideline that working to the same end does not necessarily mean everyone has to be part of the team, the "inner circle", and consensus does not mean excluding those who also are fellow travellers.

With Paul's conflict with Jerusalem over adherence to Jewish laws, we see both a compromise, and the limits of compromise. The subject of boundary-markers between Jews and pagans is at the heart of the conflict. Paul wants the Christians to "stop thinking of themselves as basically belonging to this or that ethnic group, and to see the practices that formerly demarcated that ethnic group from all others as irrelevant, things you can carry on doing if you like but which you shouldn't insist on for others."(Wright, 2002)

As Tom Wright notes:

"This is what underlies the debate about justification and circumcision in Galatians 2. The question underneath the passage is not, 'Do we have to perform good moral deeds in order to get to heaven,' but rather, 'Are Jewish Christians allowed to sit down and eat at the same table as Gentile Christians, when the latter have not been circumcised?.. We need to make a clear distinction between the aspects of a culture which Paul regards as morally neutral and those which he regards as morally, or immorally, loaded."

Obviously it is difficult to generalise from local and general conditions within the nascent Christian community, but one matter than could be generalised is to say that politicians are bound to disagree at some matters when they sit around the table, but they should be able to work out what are critical points of disagreement and what are not, so that they can work together on what they are agreed on, rather than making everything part of a package of issues which has to be accepted in total, thus excluding those who might otherwise join in on some matters.

So to summarise, some principles and comments:

- Consensus means being prepared to change your mind, even if you don't have to. Those in power should be genuinely open to listen to and be swayed by the moral case of those in a weaker position, and not just defend their own position. The steamroller approach is one which does not build consensus. Majority rule can all to easily turn into tyranny, when it excludes the voice of the disenfranchised minorities.

- Consensus as "majority rule" does not always make the wisest choices, and needs wise counsel to point out the consequences which follow from a course of action before irrevocable decisions are made. Decision making often assumes that one decision means one result, and there will be no unintended consequences which could have been foreseen if a little more criticism was given. The philosopher Karl Popper suggested that rather than loving our ideas, because they come from us, we should be especially careful and critical of them.

- Consensus may be completely wrong. The prophetic voice, to give warnings, and say what people do not want to hear is needed. When a protest is being made, rather than being an irritant to be brushed aside, it should be seen as a warning against complacency, and an opportunity for critical reflection on where the government might be wrong.

- Consensus should be inclusive, which means working with people who are not on your side, and not excluding them from your deliberations.

- Consensus means separating matters on which people differ from those on which people agree, rather than bundling policies as a "take it or leave it" package, with the resultant confrontational politics which helps no one.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Harcourt in Vegas - Again!

The Irish Times carries an article (7 hours ago at the time of writing this) which again raises a halt sign above any developments in Jersey, unless of course they finally settle out of Court. Hot on the heels of the Bahamas "freeze" on the development there, GSG in Vegas have returned to the Courts, which was likely (or if you'll excuse the Vegas related pun, on the cards) because the last time it was thrown out it was done so on a technicality relating to how the claims had been made, given the company structure with Harcourt and GSG. This case is set to go to the courts in February or March 2009. Watch this space!

Harcourt in counter-claim against GSG

Harcourt Developments will launch a counter-claim in a dispute over a €1bn Las Vegas property deal. The Irish property giant was responding to a move by Nevada developer Glen Smith & Glen (GSG), which was this week granted permission by a judge to re-submit a complaint in which Harcourt Developments and Pat Doherty were named as defendants...GSG has revived a complaint against Harcourt Developments after its initial case was dismissed by a Clark County, Nevada district court, in August. It is scheduled to be heard in February or March of next year.

Global Warming and Bad Arguments

I've come across this, written by an American called Steve Mann. I just want to focus on two of his points, which I think do not help the global warming arguments.

There are factors concerning global climate in which climatologists have high confidence.

4) The global climate has warmed nearly 0.7°C (+/- 0.2°C) in the last 100 years. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) has collected data since about 1880 and the UK's Hadley Center Climate Research Unit since 1850. Their results have substantiated each other.

(9) With the exception of a couple of downswings, global sea surface temperatures have been rising for about 100 years.

First, I do think there is global warming, so don't think I'm one of those skeptical folk!

I have to say that data from 100 years ago - while important in not contradicting the thesis - is likely to be more localised, and less accurate than modern data collection. To make a statement about "global" sea temperatures, taking data from 1908, does make me shudder. What does "global" mean in this context? How many temperature readings, over what part of the globe, and over what periods of time, at what months, days, hours of the day, constituted these early readings, and what sampling error can we assume given the limitations of measurement at the time? And how can we be sure than the measurements taken were comparative to modern readings. Bold statements like this seem fine, but are so generalised as not to rate "high confidence" statistically.

What I would prefer to see is an argument which stated that the samples of data which we have from 1908 support the thesis of global warming, and do not contradict it, and this is further confirmed by readings taken from a more modern period, perhaps post-war (I assume global sea temperatures were not much on the agenda during 1940-1945 - unless the Japanese kept their own records for their part of the globe!!!).

Generalising from local measurements to global ones is fraught at the best of times, and when possible differences in measurement at different times are taken into account (1908 compared to 2008), it is setting up a target ready for the skeptics to take easy pot shots at.

Zero Ten - What is it all about?

Basic Structure

The mantra for GST was "let's keep it simple".

When it comes to Zero-Ten Taxation, however, there is something of a nightmare of complexity.

The background comes from the removal of exempt companies, who paid £600 a year, and did not trade in Jersey, and had non-resident ownership. Clearly these companies were not having to apply the same rules as locally owned companies, taxed at 20%. So a system was devised whereby all companies pay the same rate of tax, regardless of whether they are trading here or not. This is (roughly) how it works:

0% - This is the company rate for all trading companies. No tax. But it is not quite as simple, and the labyrinth below explains how.

10% - This is the rate levied on finance companies, basically those entities regulated and licensed by the Jersey Financial Services Commission.

12% - This is the current minimum "effective rate of tax". Bear with me, and you'll see where it comes in later.

20% - This is tax on schedule A - rental income, now to include property development gains on land in Jersey (i.e. if an outside Island company buys a property /land, develops it, and sells it, this profit will be taxed).

Now let us return to 0% company rate.

For the simple case of an investment company (income from dividends on shares, interest and the like), there is a full deemed attribution of the profits of the company to the shareholders at 20%. That is, the shareholders are taxed as if they had taken out the profits as their income, so that it would appear on their tax return.

For your bog standard simple trading company (assume it has no "mixed bag" of rental and investment income as well), let us assume the directors take out a salary. That is subject to ITIS, and is taxed at the appropriate rate. At the end after that come the profits of the company, less any capital allowance.

Now the shareholders may made a distribution to themselves, which might amount to 40% of those profits. But regardless of that, they have attributed to themselves a "deemed distribution" of at least 60%. That is, the local shareholders (not the UK ones) are taxed proportionately as if they had taken out the 60% of these net profits (adjusted for capital allowances) as their income, so that it would appear on their tax return.

How they take these profits in accounting terms does not matter for tax (dividends, shareholder's bonus etc does not matter), they are treated alike for tax purposes.

They can decide to go for the full 100%, but they don't have to. But if they do go for 60%, the 40% profits is stored up, and will suffer tax on any "trigger event", which would include the disposal of shares, leaving the island, the dissolution of a company, or the death of a shareholder. On that basis the accumulated stored up profits are deemed to have been distributed to that shareholder, either in full (or in part with the disposal of some shares). This leaves the possible nightmare of a deferred tax liability growing year by year. Also small shareholders with shares greater than 5% may be stuck with the decisions made by the directors.

The rationale behind the 60% appears to be that cash flow problems might arise otherwise, but that is just a reasonable speculation; I don't know the exact reason. The 20% x 60% gives the 12% current minimum effective rate mentioned above on which is suffered.

With regard to shareholdings, there is a de minimis limit below which shareholdings are not subject to deemed distribution, which is currently 2%.


Of course, complications arise if the company is a "mixed bag" - i.e. a mix of investment company, rental company and trading company. There are obviously provisions for commencement of trading, and cessation of trade. There are special provisions for a group of companies, and equally if a company owns shares in another company, the deemed distribution is investment income in that company subject to those rules. There are also special treatments relating to profits on which tax has already been suffered (revenue reserve), and changes in the shareholders loan accounts are also scrutinised for taxable income.


As trading companies are zero tax, there would appear to be no need to file accounts with the comptroller! However, company law still requires the preparation of accounts. Also the comptroller will almost certainly request accounts from trading companies who trade locally and/or have local shareholders. Moreover, the company secretary will be obliged to file a return regarding the actual distribution to shareholders, who and this will probably trigger the request from the comptroller regarding the accounts.


Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Disclosing A Secret Ballot

The States voted by secret ballot to elect Terry le Sueur as Chief Minister. However, I've been assessing all States members on the basis of manifestos, what they have said (and not said), how they have voted in the past (if States members), and I can suggest that with pretty well 90% accuracy, the secret ballot results were as follows:

For Terry Le Sueur (36):

Ian Le Marquand
Alan Maclean
Paul Routier
Philip Ozouf
Sarah Ferguson
Terry Le Sueur
Terry Le Main
Freddie Cohen
Ben Shenton
James Perchard
Angela Jeune
Sean Power
Ian Gorst
Anne Dupre
Philip Rondel
John Le Fondre
Eddie Noel
Jacqui Hilton
Mike Higgins
Andrew Green
Ben Fox
Rob Duhamel
James Reed
Colin Egre
Ann Pryke
Mike Jackson
Juliet Gallichan
John Refault
Dan Murphy
John Gallichan
Deidre Mezbourian
Ken Vibert
Peter Hanning
Graeme Butcher
Silva Yates
Paul Le Claire

For Alan Breckon (17)

Alan Breckon
Bob Hill
Stuart Syvret
Montfort Tadier
Judy Martin
Trevor Pitman
Debbie de Sousa
Shona Pitman
Geoff Southern
Jeremy Macon
Kevin Lewis
Tracy Valois
Roy Le Herissier
Carolyn Labey
Daniel Wimberley
Simon Crowcroft
Len Norman

I will happily post any corrections, if anyone tells me they did not vote according to this calculation! I don't think it that likely, however, and it goes to show how silly the secret ballot is, if it is possible to work out accurately who voted for whom.

Draft Amendment (No. 10) of the Standing Orders of the States of Jersey

This amendment to Standing Orders makes a small but significant change

This seems a very small piece of legislation, but what it means is that, contrary to the UK Government, Jersey Hansard will now be subject to a degree of censorship.

At present Standing Order 160 requires the Greffier to prepare a written transcript ('Hansard') of all States meetings and to include the full text of questions and answers and all public business in the transcript. Standing Order 170(4) then requires the Greffier to publish this full transcript on the States Assembly website.

If this amendment is adopted the Presiding Officer will be given a new power to direct that any name that he or she has determined is in breach of Standing Order 104(2)(i) be omitted from the transcript. The power is very narrowly drawn to cover names only and does not permit the omission of any other unparliamentary or disorderly words. PPC considers that this is an appropriate balance between the need to protect individuals and the need to produce an accurate transcript of the proceedings. The new power does not, of course, affect the transmission on the radio of the words spoken and does not interfere with the important privilege of members to speak freely as they see fit in the Assembly. It should be stressed that use of a name is only in breach of Standing Order 104(2)(i) if its use was unnecessary and not of direct relevance to the business being discussed.
The proposed process will be an open and transparent one as the second part of these proposals, which makes an amendment to Standing Order 160, will require a note in the transcript showing where the presiding officer has directed that a name be omitted. In this way any person reading the transcript will be able to see exactly what happened during the exchanges in the Assembly.

This means that at least we can see when a name has been omitted from the transcript. Although I would say that the one case in recent months, that of the current director of education, was most definitely of direct relevance to the business being discussed, which was whether officials under investigation by the police should be suspended - indeed Roy le Hérissier, who raised the subject, admitted as much, even if it was Stuart Syvret who named names.

If such a case fell under the category of "unnecessary and not of direct relevance", and clearly the legislation is designed for expressly this purpose, it would seem that the judgment of the "presiding officer" may not be so narrowly drawn.

Of course, as it covers names only, a simple expedient would be to mention the position held by the individual concerned as well, which would not come under the remit of the legislation, and as senior officers - such as the current director of education- are listed on the States website, would effectively negate any action taken by removing a name. I mention this, not as an argument for doing so, but just to illustrate how hard it is to conceal data by just concealing one link in a chain, but leaving the rest intact.

A Third Supermarket: Possible Flaws in Methodology of the Survey

Huge vote for third store By Dolores Cowburn

ISLANDERS have voted overwhelmingly for a third supermarket operator to come to Jersey, according to a consumer survey released today. Commissioned by Economic Development and created by the Statistics Unit, the public survey found that 84% of people wanted more choice and seven out of ten Islanders were not happy with the current range of supermarkets in Jersey. More than 1,000 people completed the survey titled 'A Third Supermarket in Jersey?', with three-quarters of those who want a third operator favouring a British chain. It is one of the biggest responses to a States survey. Only a third of people expressed concern that smaller shops may close as a result - which was one of the fears expressed by the Chamber of Commerce if another large supermarket operator was brought over.

Given the size of the dataset, and using weighting to ensure all subgroups of the population are suitably represented in the analysis, we can be confident that the inferences drawn in this report robustly represent the views of Island residents.  Over two thousand households were sampled at random. These randomly selected households received a survey form through the post and were asked that the person in the household who had the next birthday (and who was aged 16 years or over), fill it in and post it back to the Statistics Unit. This method of sampling ensured that the survey randomly sampled the adult population of Jersey. The survey achieved an extremely high response rate, with 60% of sampled households filling in and returning the survey form. Such a high response rate, together with the method of sampling, ensures the sample results are both accurate and representative of the full adult Island population.

To be fair to the Statistics Unit, they then compared various Census statistics, such as age banding with the sampling done, to see how closely they matched, and found a degree - but insignificant - of younger people unrepresented in the survey. So this was a good sample.

But one with all surveys, the problems usually lies with what is not checked. One very immediate and apparent flaw - and I checked with the main document - stands out in the report. It is this - the questionnaire sent out was in English, and no mention is made of any checks to see if the minority but not insignificant Portuguese population (often the poorer members of Society) were adequately represented. Any weighting is missing here. Quite a number of this population have very poor English language skills, and answering a complex form in English, would probably be tempted to ignore it. They could have formed part of the missing 40%, the "dark figure" in the sample, and this might have produced significant differences in response to questions.

The other matter is to do with the presentation in the JEP, with its catchy "Islanders have voted..." headline. This makes the argument that if Islanders want this, they should get it, and there will be no associated problems which should be considered. Of course, it is easy to see the flaw in this - just conduct a random survey asking the question "Do you think taxes should be reduced?".

Part of this is the problem with this kind of survey itself; it only looks for immediate short-term responses, and does not see how people are actually thinking. Obviously, memory is short, because the last time a Third Supermarket was in Jersey - the original Safeway - prices did not drop significantly, as Safeway factored in not just freight costs and rental overheads, but also what the market could take. Prices for many goods in Safeway were more or less the same as in any of the other Supermarkets. Why would a Third Supermarket make a difference now? That would be a good question to ask Islanders in favour of another supermarket.

The construction of the questions also does not focus on sustainable alternatives, such as an expansion of the Farm Shop network, which has been steadily growing in the last few years, and which could be seriously damaged by another Supermarket, and which can provide produce at reasonable prices. Do you ever use a farm shop? Have you ever considered it? Do you think a third Supermarket might force farm shops out of business? Alternatives that were not really well addressed in this survey. It is well known that how questions are asked can get people to think, and deliver different outcomes, and a little section looking at this might have also been helpful.


Monday, 8 December 2008

Housing: Reacting without Thinking

JERSEY'S property market has stalled and an emergency measure will be taken to reduce housing qualifications by two years. Housing Minister Terry Le Main has confirmed to the JEP that he intends to ask the States to bring down the wait for housing qualifications from 12 to ten years after Christmas. Earlier this year the scheduled one-year drop in the waiting period for housing qualifications was frozen because of fears that the property market could not cope with an extra 300-400 buyers. But Senator Le Main revealed that the time is now right to reduce the qualifying period because the housing market had virtually come to a halt. 'The housing market has stalled at the moment because the lenders and banks are not lending like they were in the past with the 100% mortgages. They are not lending so willingly and freely,' he said.

Of course, the unintended side effect will be that a lot more people will be able to apply for States Social Housing. This is not necessarily a bad thing from the point of view of fairness, and treating tax paying citizen's alike (rather than treating some as second class) would seem to be a positive step, but it seems (from the JEP report) that this consequence is something that has not been considered by Terry Le Main.

Questions that come to mind: What would the extra demand be on Social Housing? What is the waiting list now, and by how much might it be increased? Can the Housing Department cope with both the provision, and providing for the rent rebate scheme of those qualified but unable to rent anywhere except the private sector? These are questions which need to be addressed and answered. At the moment, they do not even seem to have been considered.

The assumption that reducing the qualification period will let more of the island's richer residents into the property market, and this will therefore bring down prices is also questionable. Given the restrictions on bank lending at the present time, and the loss of Jersey Home Loans for new mortgages (which is I suspect already having an impact, as their rates were lowest), can we be sure that this strategy will work?

It seems more likely that, as in England, the property market is being hit by the credit crunch, and the only way for the market to get moving once more is for the rate at which property prices are inflated to fall.  That does not necessarily mean that prices will fall as in England, but it does mean that the differential between the cost of a property to the seller, and the sale value to a potential buyer will have to fall.

Of course, the slump in the market will mean that speculative house selling, which is inflationary, will decline. People who have a house will be more inclined to make do, and keep what they have.

The same can be seen in the car market, where sales of new cars have also declined significantly, but there a principle of non-intervention in the market is seen as basic. No States members are clamouring to intervene in the motor trade, yet in a property market - where most people are priced out even from first time buying - they seem prepared to intervene to maintain market distortions, and keep property inflation high.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Someone's Lying

More from the news about Graham Power's suspension. Now there are two statements being made, which are contradictory. Someone is lying, or at the very least, seriously mistaken:

Graham Power - "my suspension did not follow correct procedure"
Andrew Lewis - "Oh yes it did"

In a way, it is a pantomime, and the same inaccuracies about the coconut get repeated ad nauseam. The lab concerned never said it was coconut, but they did say the material was so degraded it would need further tests to determine if it was human or not, and even then they might not be sure. But it had been ruled out of the inquiry by then at any case. Yet by dint of repetition, the coconut has acquired the status of "truth", and is repeated in newspapers worldwide. I sometimes despair at the critical faculties show in these cases. The coconut is fast becoming an urban myth.

And Lenny Harper, before he left, said it was very possible that it would be unlikely to have enough evidence of any sort (including burnt bones and teeth) to make a case for homicide. This was nothing new, although in a creative act of blatant spin, David Warcup's presentation tried to say that it was.

Now we are told, with the status of fact, by Frank Walker in his interview "that we now know the truth". I suggest a good hobby for his spare time would be to take an Open University Course in History, and he would see how difficult it is to establish "facts", especially given the lapse of time. I know at least one "fact" about the Occupation in Dr John Lewis "A Doctor's Occupation" which is completely wrong (that all diabetics in Jersey died) and can be proved to be so. But that is a rarity, and most often, all we can see is "on balance, at the moment, it appears very likely that..." With regard to Haut de La Garenne, that will almost certainly be the case, unless a huge number of records are unearthed, or somebody makes a deathbed confession. Politicians who are so certain scare me - a lot of dreadful things are done by people who know that they are right.

Officer's suspension 'mishandled'
The chief officer of police in Jersey has said his suspension did not follow correct procedure. Graham Power was suspended last month after concerns about the police inquiry into historic abuse at the former Haut de la Garenne children's home. Mr Power wrote a confidential account of his suspension for States members, which has now been leaked to the media. The document said his suspension was "mishandled", but this has been rejected by the home affairs minister.

Deputy Andrew Lewis told BBC News procedures were followed "to the letter". Mr Power's e-mail included a copy of the Disciplinary Code for Chief Officers, which states an officer must be informed in advance if there are concerns about his conduct. In serious cases the officer must have a hearing and be allowed to offer a report in his defence. Mr Power said in his letter that this did not happen. But Mr Lewis said the disciplinary code had been strictly followed.

The confidential document was e-mailed among several States members before a discussion in the States meeting on Tuesday. In the meeting the home affairs minister confirmed Mr Power had been suspended, but refused to offer more information. States members then went into a secret session to discuss the issue. Mr Power was suspended after a new police inquiry team said no-one had been murdered at Haut de la Garenne.

The former children's home hit the headlines in February when police found what they believed to be part of a child's skull and began a murder investigation. It later turned out to be a piece of coconut.