Monday, 12 July 2010

Wiltshire Mud?

An anecdote tells of Sir Walter Raleigh, writing his "The History of the World (1614) while imprisoned in the Tower of London, before his execution, and seeing two workmen fighting. One killed the other, and despite his best efforts, asking guards, seeking information from fellow prisoners and those in the vicinity, all his diligent enquiries came to nothing. He was unable to find the cause of the quarrel, even though he had seen it happen.

I feel much as Raleigh did when I consider the soon to be released "Wiltshire Report". I've seen and heard quite of a few of the events, reported in the media, in press conferences, in debates in  the States, on blogs. But what the truth of the matter is, I fear, will be swept away in muddy waters.

The reasons for this are plain - the Wiltshire report has been redacted, that is edited:

" The minister in deciding which parts of this report to publish has sought to balance the requirement to be open and transparent with the need to be fair to individuals"

But how open and transparent will this be? In the case of MP's expenses, the simple way in which this was done was to "blackline" the areas that were not open to public scrutiny, and hence the reader could gain some idea of what was missing - not names, as such, but the areas hidden from view, and the extent of the areas from view.

If instead, what we are presented with are selections without any indication of what has been missed out, and the extent to which it has been missed out, and how that may change the emphasis of the whole, and how many people were involved in making these decisions. Let's look at what that might mean by a completely different historical example.

The Diatessaron (c 160 - 175) was a prominent Gospel harmony created by Tatian, an early Christian apologist and ascetic; the name means "made of four ingredients".  Tatian combined the four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - into a single narrative, following them closely in terms of text, but putting them in a quite different sequence. The genealogies in Matthew and Luke are omitted.  Jesus' encounter with the adulteress is omitted. Emphases were altered in a significant fashion. And yet no new material was added, just material selected and omitted. In all, 56 verses of the four gospels were removed.

Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus noted this editing by Tatian as extremely significant, saying that "they did not perceive the mischief of the composition, but used the book in all simplicity on account of its brevity". Whether it was "mischievous", or simply "misleading" as 20th century scholars have argued is a matter of opinion; what is clear is that it was intended to replace the four gospels (with all their inherent contradictions) with a unified harmony.

If it had succeeded, it would be very difficult to work out what was missing, and the significance of any material edited out. It was certainly very popular, which is why Theodoret decided to address its weaknesses - it left out some matters of significance, and lacked completeness - it was presented as a substitute to take the place of fuller material.

I do wonder if the same may happen with the redacted Wiltshire, and this will be taken as the definitive history of the investigation, although it is manifestly incomplete. Senator Ian Le Marquand acknowledged this himself, when in the Suspension Review hearing of March 5, 2009, he wrote:

Even once I get the Wiltshire Report I will not be in a position to make decisions, other than perhaps to form any preliminary view, because to do justice to Mr. Power I must hear, in full, his account of matters.

I can see no indication in any recent press statements or reports from Hansard that Senator Le Marquand will be seeking Mr Power's account, and I can only hope that this is an oversight on his behalf. Mr Power, himself, in a recently released statement, noted that:

"It is known that the reports contain some criticism of the management of the enquiry. In effect they represent aspects of the "Prosecution Case" in the disciplinary enquiry initiated by the former Minister for Home Affairs in 2008. As well as the Prosecution Case there is also a Defence Case. Draft details of both cases are known to have been in the possession of the current Minister for Home Affairs since November 2009 at the latest, and possibly sooner. At every stage it has been the position of myself and my defence team that there was nothing in the Wiltshire Reports which could not be successfully defended at a fair and impartial hearing. Had such a hearing taken place we expected the defence case to succeed."

In the interests of natural justice, will Senator Le Marquand be publishing the "defence case" as well, or will this remain in the shadows, making the Wiltshire report even more one sided? A Wiltshire report, released on its own, will be misleading, if not mischievous, just like the Diatessaron. (One wonders if the Dean will show the same awareness of this as Bishop Theodoret.)

Other matters that do not inspire any great confidence are that the release of the redacted Wiltshire to the accredited media in advance of any States members, and denying States members any view of this report before the media. This is certainly not "a tale of professionalism", as one blog suggests, but shows complete contempt for one's fellow States members. Excuses about printing have been made, which in the age of PDF files is simply not acceptable or, quite honestly, believable. The report is embargoed for the media, but does Senator Le Marquand have so little confidence in his fellow politicians that he could not release it under the same embargo to them?

The "Citizen Media" bloggers have clearly obtained sight of a copy of Wiltshire - so much for Senator Le Marquand's attempt to keep the matter under wraps, and while under no press embargo, they have chosen to keep the contents to themselves, while preparing their own analysis to contrast with (for example) the JEP review of Wiltshire. They have behaved with impeccable professionalism and restraint in not releasing the report in full.


Ian Evans said...

Very well presented Tony, and without malice.

Anonymous said...

As a fairly restrained and polite person, I believe I could not retain these qualities in Jersey, at least in the way your latest entry shows you have managed quite well. I would be willing to bet that any unbiased outsider seeing the evidence would find it impossible to give more benefit of the doubt to your political leaders, however. I predict greater humiliation for the Jersey government because it seems wholly unlikely it's illegal and misleading official acts will be kept under wraps any better than the original orphanage scandal ultimately was. The muckraking press will be relentless. It is not just a single suspicious act, nor an understandable mistake which will cause the world to again look to Jersey with shock and dismay, it will be the pile upon pile of evidence that voter acceptance and the government covering up prior official misdeads has become the clear norm.