Monday, 17 January 2011

RIP: Mike Vibert

Former Jersey Senator Mike Vibert has died. He was 60. It's believed he had suffered a heart attack. Mike Vibert had been a politician for 12 years until he lost his seat as a Senator in the 2008 election. He first rose to prominence as a journalist. After an early career as a teacher he switched to journalism - firstly at the Jersey Evening Post and then as a founder member of BBC Radio Jersey. He was the station's news editor and later went on to become station chief. In the mid-90s, he turned to politics. At the age of 46 he ran for Senator in 1996. He failed to get in, but was successful in the elections for Deputies - as a candidate for St Brelade Number Two district. He was a keen sportsman and when he became a Senator six years later, his interests in education and sport made him a natural as minister for Education, Sport and Culture. Mike Vibert was instrumental in setting up Les Creux County Park and later the allotments which have recently opened there. It was while tending his allotment on Saturday afternoon that he became unwell and was later rushed to hospital. (1)

BBC Radio Jersey had an interview with Mike Wall, one of the early Managers on the radio station, about Mike Vibert, in which he mentioned that Mike was the best of the candidates for a job, and to demonstrate his Jersey credentials, even sang a song in Jerriais. Mike Vibert was also instrumental in building bridges between suspicious politicians and the new radio station, which lead to the broadcasting of States sittings live on BBC Radio Jersey, a major step forward in democracy.

Prior to that, the public had been only informed about the States by two or three page reports in the Jersey Evening Post, and had to be restricted by what the paper's editors considered highlights of speeches, or important enough to mention, but after BBC Radio Jersey began its broadcasting, anyone could listen to the full debate. This undoubtedly paved the way towards the Hansard system we have now, where not only are sitting still broadcast live, they are also transcribed so that they can be reviewed at a later date, and politicians called to account for early promises that they had forgotten ( Philip Ozouf on GST being the latest example!).

The BBC account, so far, forgot to mention that he had been sacked in 1995 by new management, who came in from the UK, and summarily revamped the station, regardless of expertise. There was a certain amount of talk at the time that UK management wanted to impose their own house style, and not have anyone with experience to challenge that. Mike picked himself up and became editor of "Inside Jersey", a monthly colour news magazine.

He was elected in 1996 as Deputy for the Parish of St Brelade, No 2 district (865 votes) and re-elected 1999 (1,202 votes). During this time, he was very involved in leading the opposition to a golf course at Les Creux in St Brelade, and the formation of a Country Park instead.

When he became a Senator, I felt he lost touch with his constituency base over the years, and, to some extent, more concerned with the reputation of his department and Ministry than with the public interest. He wanted, for example, to keep the Kathi Bull report very much under wraps until it could have been reviewed for selective public release. He also controversially attended sporting events in Australia, at taxpayers expense.

He was in favour of GST, but also in favour of exemptions, and voted for exemptions when that came up. Unfortunately there was a tied vote, so the proposition was defeated.(4)

Some of the questions and answers from his last election campaign in 2008:

1. Should Jersey unilaterally introduce Central European Time? No, but we should when the UK moves there.
2. Do you favour a casino for Jersey? No
3. Should food be exempt from GST? Yes
4. Do you aspire to ministerial office? If so, which? Yes. Education, Sport and Culture
5 Who would you like to see as the new Chief Minister? The best person for the job. At present there is only one declared candidate, Senator Terry Le Sueur, and I would support him.
6. How much have you spent on your election campaign? Too early to give a definitive answer, but total spend will be well under £2,000 (3)

Perhaps the most significant proposition he brought, and one which even elicited the support of Senator Stuart Syvret, was the change to standing orders (2) requiring a majority of States members - not just a majority of votes - for constitutional change:

Draft Amendment (No. 8) of the Standing Orders of the States of Jersey: the States, in pursuance of Article 48 of the States of Jersey Law 2005, have made the following amendment to Standing Orders.

8.1     Senator M.E. Vibert (The Minister for Education, Sport and Culture):

I am proposing this change to Standing Orders basically as a safeguard for the public.  If approved it would mean changes to the constitution of the States could not be made unless a majority of all States Members support such a change.  At present such changes can be made by a simple majority of those States Members present which can be as low as 14 in favour, or less, whereas my proposition requiring an absolute majority would require at least 27 States Members voting in favour.  That is, it would require an absolute majority, over half of all the 53 elected States Members.

I believe matters relating to constitutional issues need a greater safeguard than other issues coming before the States as they allow Members to make changes to how and when the public have the opportunity to elect them.

Many jurisdictions require a two thirds majority in their parliaments to approve such changes. These are jurisdictions the vast majority are party political and the two thirds majority rule helps ensure constitutional; changes cannot be simply pushed through by the party in power at any one time.

In Jersey which at present is not dominated by party politics, I do not believe a two thirds majority is necessary to safeguard the public interest and could be counter-productive, allowing a small minority of States Members to block any reform. I do however believe a safeguard of requiring an absolute, as opposed to a simple, majority would help ensure any changes to the composition and election of the States were at least supported by over half of all States Members.

POUR: 35  CONTRE: 16

After he lost in the 2008 election, he returned to his first love, Les Creux, where he took an active role in setting up the allotments.  As CTV reported:

The man leading Les Creux Allotments Association is a familiar face - former St Brelade Deputy and Senator Mike Vibert. He believes they can set an example for an island-wide roll-out of allotments....The project at Les Creux is a pathfinder for the rest of the island. Mike Vibert and his team have been wading through the red tape of planning applications and finding the necessary funding to get the project going. Law firm Le Gallais and Luce have provided time for free and there's been a donation from the Co-Op. (5).

Some people saw this as a cynical ploy to regain popularity, but I always saw it as a return to his Parish roots, and an important step forward, and something that he had always been passionate about before he became a Senator and Minister.

Tony Benn said of Ted Heath, on his death, that the BBC confined their assessment to his short period as a prime minister, on Europe, his fight with the miners, his moodiness and his failure to communicate. He commented:

"that  was such a denial of his life! I was the only one who  mentioned the 1930s, when he went to Spain and supported the International Brigade, then more recently his attitude to the Iraq war, the Gulf War and the Yugoslav war. It just showed how a media impression of a man can compress him - I'm not saying it wasn't important, but it wasn't the real Ted Heath!"

12 years in the States of a total of 60 years is only a fifth of a lifespan, and I hope that some of the memories that surface regarding Mike Vibert will fill in those gaps in his life, and surprise us with the unexpected, so that we don't just get a compressed "media impression".  There is always more to people than we see in the public arena.

In the meantime, I offer condolences to his family.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am not sure that Mike Vibert would ever have gone to fight in Spain for the Republic. He might have joined France though!

He will be remembered as the personification of Jersey conservatism – an authoritarian, wary of change, modernization and democratisation of Jersey.

Whilst Minster of Education he would not allow candidates in political elections to put up their banners on education department property. The most famous example being the railings at the bottom of Queen’s Road on Rouge Bouillon School.

In the 2008 elections he prevented candidates going into schools to discuss the elections – an election in which he was standing. Such was his conservatism!

A “youth hustings” organised during the 2008 Senatorial election held at Hautlieu school, famously attracted more candidates than youth. No notice had been given to the schools and no effort was made to encourage those 16 year olds, then recently enfranchised, to attend. The fear was of indoctrination and that youth might vote “the wrong way” i.e. not for the Establishement, of which Mike was a fully paid up member.

The 2008 Senatorial elections were his downfall. In fact his own side stabbed him in the back It is ironic to hear Senator Routier waxing lyrical on BBC Radio Jersey about the man that they used as the sacrificial lamb for slaughter, thereby allowing Ozouf and McClean to be returned as Senators.