Thursday, 21 May 2009

A Local Paxman?

Roger Bara morphs into Jeremy Paxman

I was amazed to hear Roger Bara on BBC Radio Jersey this morning giving Senator Philip Ozouf a sharp inquisition. It was a Jeremy Paxman style questioning - polite, but extremely persistent.

The good Senator thought he was being interviewed about the States economic measures, and also on States spending. He took refuge in one of his favourite words "efficiency", and Bara pressed him to say whether or not "efficiency" would mean job losses in the States, which is fair comment.

Ozouf, of course, tried to wriggle out of that one, saying that was not what he was talking about, and there were many aspects of making the States more efficient - the management of the property portfolio, buying strategies, etc, but giving no concrete details of any. Roger Bara commented that the best economic advice was not to add to redundancies in a recession, and then persisted with the question: in the short term, are there going to be redundancies for States employees? Can you answer that?

At one point, Senator Ozouf, who clearly hated having to give a straight answer, asked "I'm not sure where this interview is going." with a tone of voice that suggested that he clearly did! Eventually, he had to say that there would not be any job losses, but it was like drawing teeth, and I bet he hopes people forget this interview, which was not one of his best.


When not on the subject of Mike Pollard's guitar lessons, and quite rightly avoiding them in a discussion on "Family-X", Roger also seemed a tad frosty. I've noticed how he greets his interviewees. If they are going to get a pretty easy time, or provide helpful and interesting comments, it is "A Very Good Morning to You." When it came to this morning's interview, it was "Good Morning to you" to Senator Ozouf - a warning sign, methinks, of things to come. But with Mike Pollard, it was just "Morning to you, Mr Pollard". Has anyone else noticed this?

But on the Guitar lessons - which as no one else has, I have called "Pollardgate, I love the way Bill Ogley and Terry le Sueur, without any irony, commented on Mr Pollard's claim:

There is, at this stage, no suggestion that Health chief Mike Pollard, who earns in excess of £150,000 a year, broke any rules or guidelines in claiming for the lessons. States chief executive Bill Ogley said that he was confident his senior colleagues would be shown to have behaved properly (1).

Answering questions in the States this morning chief minister Senator Terry Le Sueur told members the claim had been fully justified but admitted an error of judgment had occurred.(2)

Where have we heard that expenses claims where fully justified, but people were "very sorry"? Yes, the UK MPs' expenses scandal, where keeping within the boundaries of the law, "no rules were broken". It sounded like private Eye:

"It was all within the rules." The mantra repeated robotically by every MP, before the equally obligatory - "I am very sorry" - as the details of their abuse of taxpayers money has cashcaded into public view.(3)

Alan Le Breton, writing about the UK MP's scandal gives an example of the logic, and then states, with approval, Anne Widdecombe's excellent question:

A burglar caught breaking into a traumatised OAP's pad can say: 'I'm sorry, Guv, I'll come clean. I dunnit. Now, would it be OK if I admitted my mistake, pay back the money, I won't go to jail and everyone will forgive and trust me for ever again.'... Perhaps the most challenging rebuke to the cast of Westminster 'benefit cheats' gracing the roll of dishonour daily being unfurled in the newspapers, came from veteran Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe who, affecting ignorance, demanded: 'If you haven't done anything wrong, why are you paying back? And if you have done something wrong, why are you still in post?'(4)

It seems that Mr Le Breton has forgotten that Mike Pollard has also paid back the cost of his guitar lessons, and so that question applies to him as well - even though "he hasn't done anything wrong". Obviously £252 expenses claims are more of a minor misdemeanor than a sackable offense compared to the UK's catalogue of chandeliers, moats, gardening expenses, etc, but nonetheless if he is paying it back, he should at least receive a stern rebuke for this, and it would be interesting to know who "signed it off".

(3) Private Eye, No 1256, 15 May-28 May 2009

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