Wednesday, 30 March 2011

"On the Nod" No More?

This statement came from Senator Philip Ozouf:

It is with considerable regret that I have to announce that Baroness Ford has decided to withdraw her candidacy as Chairman of SOJDC. Margaret Ford could have been a very strong leader of the new SOJDC Board and could have brought a fresh and experienced approach. Whilst the States have an absolute right to call any matter into scrutiny, such matters do need to be handled sensitively, properly and in a manner that ensures innocent parties are unaffected by politics. Sadly, the events of the last two weeks have undermined confidence and lead to this extremely unfortunate situation. We will consider all options concerning the appointment of a replacement Chairman over the next few days. However, I am concerned that we may find it increasingly difficult to identify people of calibre who are willing to put their names forward against such a background as this. I express the hope that the Scrutiny Review will be concluded speedily. And that the Review will confirm not only that the recruitment process was robust and fair, but lessons will be learnt about the way such matters are handled in the future. I have written to all the Board candidates expressing my confidence in their candidacies. And to Baroness Ford, expressing my deep regret at her decision but wishing her every success in the future. (1)
I've been looking at Senator Ozouf's blog, and what he doesn't seem to consider is that the major lesson is that "more needs to be done to engage a greater number of States Members in decision-making and policy-making, without undermining the Scrutiny system and going all the way back to the pre-2005 committee system" (2), to quote one politician.
Just proposing names and hoping they will get through "on the nod" because someone recommends them is no longer enough. There has to be a proper investigation to ensure that there are no vested interests, or conflicts of interest involved in any appointments process.
According to the proposition in the States:

"Baroness Ford was selected after a comprehensive recruitment process both locally and nationally. The process was overseen by the Jersey Appointments Commission. Interviews took place earlier this month."(3)

But there was not much in the way of transparency about what criteria were used in the selection process, who they were looking for, and how much local knowledge was needed. It's a familiar pattern. When Jersey and Guernsey looked for a review into the machinery of government, Guernsey looked for local expertise and local knowledge, on the basis that the Island had enough bright people of sufficient calibre to find them internally; when Jersey did so, they called in Sir Cecil Clothier, who with the best will in the world, really came from a very different political background, and tried to impose a complete vision of what he thought would work.

The JEP noted  the whole proposal for the composition was to be reviewed:
Now the whole proposal for the composition of the board is to be reviewed by the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, chaired by another rather formidable lady, Senator Sarah Ferguson. That is a sensible decision of the House which will be welcomed by the Island public if not by the Council of Ministers, who have been presented with another challenge to their authority as well as another obstacle on the rocky road towards establishing the JDC as a replacement, and one with even wider powers, for the unlamented Waterfront Enterprise Board. (4)

The contribution of the Waterfront Enterprise Board towards the States coffers can be given exactly. It has returned zero pounds to the States. This can be seen very clearly from its accounts. It has taken land from the States at a nominal sum, and sought to develop them at no cost to the States. But unfortunately there is no return either; all the monies have been consumed by the Waterfront Enterprise Board's expenses, including directors' remuneration of £329,089 (including Mr Izzat) and employees emoluments of £501,159 in 2009.

So it is not surprising that the whole composition of the Jersey Development Company, which would remove even more property from direct management by the States, needs review. But as the JEP leader comment noted:
It need not, though, be seen as any kind of slight towards Baroness Ford. If the high-flying Labour peer has done the necessary research into Jersey's postwar history of both property development and the management of public resources, particularly on the St Helier waterfront, she will understand fully why many politicians, reflecting the similar concerns of their constituents, should be so wary about handing so much control over so many community assets to anyone, let alone someone from outside the Island.
The Scrutiny Panel, and by extension the rest of the States, will rightly want to explore whether Baroness Ford's experience as chairman of the London 2012 Olympic Park Legacy Committee and Scotland's Irvine Bay Regeneration Company and as a senior director of Serco, the private company now engaged in the outsourcing of public services around Britain, does indeed make her, as the Treasury Minister suggests, an ideal candidate for a tiny island with a fragile environment already facing huge pressures generated by the interplay of politics and property development. (4)
Serco, of course, has featured from time to time in "Private Eye", although to be fair Baroness Ford has not been mentioned in this connection. Peter Smith, of Procurement Excellence, who has considerable expereinec in the field (he has been Procurement Director for the Department of Social Security and the NatWest Group, as well as holding senior positions in the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation and the Mars Group), makes these comments:

Serco's Chief Executive Chris Hyman apparently races Ferraris in his spare time; and is (according to Private Eye) sponsored by three large firms who have been Serco suppliers; White & Case, Provecta, and Arval.  But its OK, Serco say, they have procurement processes in place that ensure nothing untoward could happen....

But is it acceptable?   I'm sorry,  but on balance I don't think it is.   Even if he keeps well away from supplier selection decisions, his actions must put some pressure on the Serco procurement people.  I wouldn't want to be sitting in procurement at Serco telling ARval they've just lost a contract. And is it really just coincidence that 3 suppliers are his sponsors? Why do you think suppliers do this sort of thing?  Why do they take Chief Execs (not suggesting this applies to Serco here..) to Wimbledon and Ascot?  It is all about influence, overt or otherwise. (5)

Meanwhile, another blog highlights what it calls the "parasitic" nature of Serco:

SERCO holds 40% of contracts for the Home Office, making a mint out of 'control orders' and 'anti-terrorist' legislation, has run some of the most abusive and repressive detention centres, and will certainly be bidding for the control of the new "GP-led" health authorities. But what does SERCO actually do? By itself, nothing. It is a parasitic entity that accumulates immense profits by telling other people what to do, or rather by contracting other suppliers to tell other people what to do.(6)

and there is another mention of "Private Eye" of Serco:
Serco, the company that provides services for Government and the Military, formed a partnership only last year, with Guys and St Thomas' Hospital, to undertake pathology work for itself and other Hospitals. A year down the line, concerns are being voiced about governance, security, and other problems, especially one of cost increases, that had to be paid to the new body as a result of increased demand, amounting to some £2 million (as reported by Private Eye). (7)

Given that the Waterfront Enterprise Board, the predecessor of the Jersey Development Company, has been cheerfully accumulating profits with no return (the States actually pay WEB for rental of Liberation Station), it functions very much as a corporate body which provides a kind of outsourcing service to the States of Jersey, as a facilitator. That is not to say the idea is bad - the States would certainly not have been that efficient at managing the Waterfront either - but it does mean that the structure needs to be in place to ensure that the States gets a proper return on its investment.

On the newspaper front, Serco was also mentioned in the Financial Times:

Serco has fuelled the row over pay levels at companies that run public services by awarding bumper packages to senior management at the FTSE 100 outsourcing group. In remuneration levels that unions derided as "obscene", Chris Hyman, chief executive, enjoyed an 18 per cent annual rise to £1.86m ($2.97m), while Andrew Jenner, finance director, saw a 7 per cent improvement to £948,295. The figures, disclosed in Serco's annual report released on Tuesday, exclude pensions and long-term incentives, for which comparable figures were not immediately available. (8)

Given that WEB is well known for the high level of remuneration paid to its Managing Director, which is not under States control, there is a sense in which reading the Financial Times article, that one feels a kind of sense of "deja vu".

The Daily Mail also comes in with a list of what Serco delivers, and also what it has failed to deliver:

Another big outsourcer is Serco. In some parts of Britain it has taken over so many local services it is virtually indistinguishable from the council. In Canterbury Serco collects rubbish, trims trees, maintains road signs, cuts grass and looks after public toilets. Surely a company with such close ties to the shrinking public sector is going to be feeling the effect of government spending cuts? Not according to the company's chief executive Chris Hyman. Serco's profits grew by a fifth last year, and the company reckons to have an order book of £16.5 billion.

But surely these state-created outsourcing barons deliver a better service? Try telling that to anxious parents in Bradford, where Serco took over the education service in 2001.  The company promised to hit very ambitious targets and missed them. But it managed to persuade the council to lower the targets, which meant that Serco was awarded £5 million in 'performance bonuses'. Today, after ten years of Serco's schools contract, Bradford is still well down the Ofsted league table and its contract will not be renewed amid criticism that the deal was a failure that represented poor value for money. Serco, however, maintains: 'We have honoured our commitment to close the gap at Key Stage 2 Level 4 and above.' (9)

Serco's record, as reported by these newspapers, does not inspire confidence in this kind of outsourcing, and it must be questioned whether Baroness Ford, as a senior non-executive director, has any input into these problems. I'm not saying she is responsible, because I don't think she was.

The question I would ask is simply that if she was not able to prevent these kinds of problems - as detailed above in both blogs and newspapers - with Serco, then it has to be questioned how much she would be able to provide oversight into the Jersey Development Company, which is a kind of outsourced organisation, and how effective she would have been as its Chairman. Wouldn't a "robust" recruitment process have looked at precisely that sort of thing?

If there is a lesson to be learned, it is surely this. It may be increasingly difficult to recruit candidates who are not prepared to face critical, searching questions. What of Senator Ozouf saying that "lessons will be learnt about the way such matters are handled in the future."? I think the lesson is greater transparency with the States over the recruitment process is needed, and perhaps liasing with Scrutiny beforehand, rather than just presenting a "fait accompli" and expecting it to get through "on the nod".

The old days in which appointments just went through by default have gone. The lesson to be learned must surely be, to quote again, that: "more needs to be done to engage a greater number of States Members in decision-making and policy-making, without undermining the Scrutiny system and going all the way back to the pre-2005 committee system" . And who said that? Senator Philip Ozouf himself.

Jim: As you know I have to appoint a new governor to the Bank of England. I'd welcome your views.
Sir Desmond: Well I certainly think you should appoint one. If you go for the sort of chaps that chaps trust, then you can trust him to be the sort of chap to see that the chaps don't get involved in any scandals.

(Yes Minister)


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

What is the real agenda?

"It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social and never destroy and absorb them."

Quadragesimo Anno (The Fortieth Year), Pope Pius XI, 1931

The Jersey Evening Post had this report recently:

MINISTERS are driving their own agendas rather than the Council of Ministers' because of a lack of central policy, the Chief Minister has said. Senator Terry Le Sueur believes that a restructuring of his department is now needed to address the problem and ensure that the Island's ministerial system of government - which was heavily criticised in a report published last week - can be a success. In that report the Public Accounts Committee said the system was fundamentally flawed because the Chief Minister and chief executive did not have enough control over Ministers. As a result, it concluded, Ministers had almost 'dictatorial powers' over their departments and their authority could not be readily checked. While Senator Le Sueur, who was speaking at a Scrutiny Panel hearing, did not directly refer to the report he conceded that the States was being driven 'bottom up rather than top down'. (1)

Examples of Ministers setting their own agenda abound. Probably the most notorious was that of Deputy Guy de Faye when he signed a  Ministerial Order to allow Utility companies to be able to dig through anyone's gardens without needing permission, and that had to be rescinded after a States debate on the matter.

Deputy James Reed, more recently, decided to push ahead with his proposals on removing a large proportion of the subsidy to private schools, and clearly had not discussed it with his Ministerial colleagues.

So what is the answer? The response from the Chief Minister appears to be not to seek a more consensus style of Ministerial politics where the Ministers have to discuss plans with each other and their Assistant Ministers, but instead to move towards a what John Seddon calls a "command and control structure" which makes the Chief Minister the one with "dictatorial powers" to keep his unruly colleagues in check, and no doubt veto any plans they may have; it is a move towards a centralisation of power, rather than addressing the real problem, which was highlighted very clearly by Senator Ian Le Marquand, that Ministers don't really meet and talk with each other. This lack of consultation is also mentioned as of major importance by E.F. Schumacher, in his book "Good Work":

The style of management in a hierarchy should be the best possible style of management. If people don't consult, then it is just a bad style of management. (2)

Some of the centralisation proposed can already be seen emerging from current practice. The role of Economic Development Minister has been partly usurped by the Department of the Treasury Minister, who has been the Minister responsible for the overseas Finance delegations rather than - as was previously the case - the Economic Development Minister. And the Minister responsible, Senator Philip Ozouf, has mentioned in the JEP that the three departments - Chief Minister's Department, Treasury, and Economic Developments - need to work more closely together.

This may mean a step towards consensus politics, but it is more likely to mean that ultimate control devolves from Treasury to Chief Ministers Department, in much the same way that Finance delegations abroad seem to have been taken over by the Treasury.

And given the current structure of the States, a Chief Minister could be elected from a small Parish, and yet then have considerable powers over the whole Island, as well as considerable control and patronage over his proposed appointees for Ministerial positions. There are, as yet, no plans for reforming the electoral districts, and nor are there any plans in the pipeline for restricting the Chief Minister to two or three terms of office.

So instead of Ministers "driving their own agendas", I suggest we may well see a Chief Minister driving his own agenda, and Ministers reduced in all but name to Assistant Ministers, whose task it is to carry out a single agenda.

This is the kind of organisation described by E.F. Schumacher in his book "Good Work", when he describes a picture he has which is, of necessity, an oversimplification, but is nonetheless a good way of looking at the bigger picture:

I had two pictures in my mind: one the picture of a Christmas tree, with a star at the top and all sorts of nuts underneath, more or less nourishing and useful nuts. That is a monolithic organization. The administrators, as particularly epitomized by accountants, always tend to such an orderly setup. The biggest task in any living thing is initiative. But, with this monolithic structure, one normally looks to the star at the top for the initiative because all the rest are executors of the policy. One man's initiative, no matter how able, and then a diminishing scale downwards of initiative is just not good enough to keep the thing alive.

And Schumacher then comes up with another picture of how organisations can work:

Take the other picture--a chap at a fun fair, who in one hand holds hundreds of strings, and at the end of each string a balloon. Each balloon has its own buoyancy, a nice round thing. That is the ideal structure in a large organization. Of course you need someone to hold it all together, but it is not a star at the top, it is a man underneath and each balloon has its own buoyancy. Each balloon is somehow a limited thing, and thus, in a manner of speaking, the more the merrier.

Now Schumacher is presenting a parable, and turning the parable into action is difficult, as he was the first to acknowledge.  In his book he presents three very good case studies of different business organisations reworking and rethinking their administrative structures, but he notes that "you have to make distinctions. I insist that all this is hard work; there are no set formulas."

He returned to the same them in his essay "Towards A Theory of Large-Scale Organisation":

Once a large organisation has come into being, it normally goes through alternating phases of centralising and decentralising, like swings of a pendulum. Whenever one encounters such opposites, each of them with persuasive arguments in its favour, it is worth looking into the depth of the problem for something more than compromise, more than a half-and-half solution (3)

Nowhere is this more apparent than under the successive regimes of Margaret Thatcher and John Major and Tony Blair, where we can see the pendulum swinging backwards and forwards between different kinds of cabinet government, each seeking to be different, and to turn against the failings of its predecessor:

Thatcher was despised by her critics for many reasons, one of which was her domineering approach to her government and how she rode roughshod over the cabinet, emasculated them (in more ways than one) and deliberately made herself and her office in charge of the important decisions.

Major on the other hand was criticised for not having enough control over his cabinet. For not expelling 'the bastards' when he had the chance, not being decisive enough and allowing his cabinet and the party as a whole smother him and trap him into a corner. This was deemed to be weak leadership

Blair was attacked for being too Presidential. He took too little care to consult with the cabinet and run the government from his office and with the aid of his personal and press advisors. The argument was that he didn't really have time for cabinet and sought to do things his way with the government being very centrally controlled from No 10. (4)

In his essay, Schumacher enumerates one of his principles for organisations, and it runs counter to increasing centralisation as a means of making an organisation - even Ministerial government - work more efficiently, but it also avoids the wild swings between micro-managerial styles of government, and lack of control:

The Principle of Subsidiary Function implies that the burden of proof lies always on those who want to deprive a lower level of its function, and thereby of its freedom and responsibility in that respect; they have to prove that the lower level is incapable of fulfilling this function satisfactorily and that the higher level can actually do much better. (4)

The best Chief Minister, then, would not be one to wield ultimate control over other Ministers, and try and micro-manage other Ministers, but one who worked hard at deciding how best to delegate, what could be delegated to Ministers, and what could not, and how Ministers could avoid the trap of running Ministerial departments as personal fiefdoms, and engage with each other, and also hopefully better with the States and the general public.

And to repeat Schumacher - this is hard work; there are no set formulas - while the easier solution is just to centralise under a command and control structure, which is a set formula, and one that I fear is also a formula for failure.

(2) Good Work, E.F. Schumacher, 1979

Monday, 28 March 2011

In the Slow Lane

A Guernsey politician has called for the maximum speed limit on the island's roads to be reduced from 35 to 20mph. John Gollop, who is a deputy for St Peter Port North and also chairs the pedestrian safety group Living Streets, said "twenty is plenty." "Accidents do happen but you can reduce the risk of serious damage by driving as slowly as possible." The Environment Department has conducted a review and has promised a public consultation later this month. However a spokesperson said: "No decision has yet been made on any changes that might go further than the States resolution... which directed that a speed limit of 25mph would be applied around island schools." Deputy Gollop was critical of the time taken by the department to carry out the work. "The review is long overdue," he said. "There are quite a few back roads in the suburban parts of St Peter Port where the speed limits are too high."(0)

It started with a slow build up, with John Gollup's comments coming out on the 16th of March, and perhaps stung by the criticism, the transport consultation came out soon afterwards, and perhaps prematurely. On the 22nd March, Guernsey unveiled its transport consultation. Like Jersey, the emphasis is on simplification, but it goes much further, putting the main Island limit to 20 mph, and other speeds on "major roads" as an exception:

DRIVERS could be forced to abide by a 20mph 'island limit' under plans unveiled by an Environment Department-led working group. While some roads would see speed limits increase, new restrictions would almost halve the current 35mph imposed in the island. The draft proposals have been placed in the public domain for consultation and would need to be taken to the States for approval. A handful of 'major roads' could see the limit increased to 40mph, and school children would also be further protected with the introduction of a 20mph 'part-time' limit during set times. (1)
Quite why you'd need the 20 mph part time limit for schools if everywhere was 20 mph is another matter. Perhaps this is bad reporting of a series of different options, some of which are mutually exclusive, and some more likely to win favour than others. Certainly I think the 20 mph during set times at schools in Jersey works very well, although it also needs the extra care of a lollipop person to supervise younger children crossing.
Of Guernsey press readers who voted in the online poll, 13.54% said Yes and 86.46% said no.
Then a horse owner weighed in with her thoughts on 24 March:
A HORSE owner is backing plans to reduce the island's speed limit. Tracey Dowinton, 41, keeps her pony, BP, at stables in Route des Delisles Castel. She said when she takes eight-year-old daughter Rhiannon out riding on the roads she finds them treacherous. 'The cars just don't slow down, it really is quite dangerous,' said Mrs Dowinton. She said the speed cars drove at around the stables and the nearby Castel Primary School were 'far too high', not only for horse riders, but also for cyclists and pedestrians. (2)

But the backlash was underway. First from the environment department itself, where four out of the department's five board members were opposed to the review. How could the panel not have consulted with the politicians in its own department? Or did it, and ignored their views anyway?

REDUCING the speed limit to 20mph for most island roads would be ridiculous, an Environment Department board member has said. And four out of the department's five board members have already effectively ruled out the suggestion of a 20mph 'island limit' instead of the current 35mph. An Environment-led working group - made up of two civil servants from the department, two from Public Services and a police inspector - conducted a review of Guernsey speed limits and suggested a variety of changes. These included reducing the general island limit to 20mph and cutting speed limits around schools only during set times. There was some discussion of increasing the limit on a handful of major roads to 40mph but no firm suggestion.(3)

This also showed who was involved in the group making these suggestions, and included a police inspector. He must be currently trying to explain to his colleagues why he didn't consult with them before these recommendations were made, as on the next day, this appeared:

POLICE have said they would struggle to enforce the law if there was a widespread reduction in speed limits.
The comment comes after an Environment Department-led working group, which included a police inspector, suggested Guernsey should adopt a 20mph 'island limit', down from the current 35mph. 'Should there be a widespread reduction of speed limits, there would be an issue about being able to police these effectively with existing resources,' a police spokesman said. But the force also reassured islanders that it takes enforcement of traffic laws very seriously.(4)

Clearly there are issues on some roads - I think the horse owner is right to call attention to areas where drivers are reckless and need limits to their speed. But equally, a police of "one size fits all", especially when it is 20 mph, is unrealistic, as it cannot be policed adequately, and there would also be a political backlash against it.

What this does show, I think, is that the working group did a remarkably poor job of consulting with major stakeholders - the public, the politicians, and the police. Consequently, the web site now has a "clarification" document which precedes the main report, and notes:
In particular, there has been a great deal of comment regarding the possibility of introducing a general speed limit of 20 mph across the Island. It does not seem to be widely understood that this option is linked to the idea of "signing up" for speed limits, as opposed to the system of "signing down" that is presently used. Put simply, if all roads were designated as 20 mph apart from those signed to be higher, then it would not be necessary to place signs on the very many small lanes and country routes for which 20 mph might well be a suitable limit; instead signs would appear on the major roads indicating the higher speed that would apply. This avoids street sign clutter in the rural lanes.

There also seems to be a misunderstanding about the possibility of introducing 40 mph limits on some roads. Clause 11.5 in the review mentions a few roads where the results of the survey indicate that such a limit might be appropriate, but is careful to make clear that a full examination of the geometry and layout of the roads would have to be conducted before any recommendations could be put forward.

and in bold print, just in case anyone wants to lob any further criticism, there is:

It must be remembered that these are only suggestions; no decisions have been made on the different matters and the comments received as a result of the public consultation will help inform any changes that might be considered appropriate.

as well as this comment, indicating that the panel is now extremely twitchy about the matter:

Please remember to read the clarification statement at the start of the Review before submitting any comments.

Jersey's road review is coming up in the States soon for debate. One thing I noticed where it differs from a Scrutiny review is that the Scrutiny Panel has transcripts of all hearings, and all the written submissions available to read in their entirely. The Transport and Technical Services reports, by contrast, pick and quote only those bits of the consultation submissions that they choose to do so, and do not, as far as I am aware, list the people who have made submissions.

This means, on the one hand, that one has no idea where the bulk of the submissions are coming from - the general public, the road lobby, environmentalists, etc and secondly, that those submissions quoted - only in part - for the report - don't show their total context, so that any substantive arguments are reduced to sound-bite quotes, which is rather like those people who cite verses from the Bible in isolation, with no details being given on the context, but which is used to support their case.

If we don't see the context - the full submissions on transport policy - which is what Scrutiny is  very good at, but Ministerial "consultations" very poor at - we have no way of judging whether there is a good case being made, with supporting evidence and arguments, or whether phrases are being wrenched from their context and placed in the Transport departments' own presentational structure.

Matters are not helped, of course, by the "one size fits all" kind of online consultation, which asks particular questions, and again atomises the discussion, and fits it into a particular bracket. There is room for more detailed comments, and other comments, but when the report produces what counts as the bulk of statistics for the response, that will invariably focus on the structure of the online consultation.

Will Jersey's transport debate be as problematic as Guernsey? Our major proposal is a reduction to 35 mph in most areas, which is why, no doubt, most of the "leaving speed restriction signs", no longer have a speed limit crossed out, but just a more generic sign. The other feature is the idea that "simplification" is what is required, and this will somehow improve matters.

What really will improve matters, however, is common sense. The tiny twisting back hill, for example, beside St Brelade's Church, is at the end of a 20 mph zone, and the sign cheerfully says the speed limit for the hill is 40 mph, which obviously would only be safe to a lunatic. This is not an isolated example, but the consultation, with its emphasis on "standardisation", seems to think that making it (presumably) 35 mph would be better! The most obvious solution is to continue the 20 mph zone up the hill.

What doesn't seem to have been looked at is the safe speed for narrower roads, and I'd sooner have Roy Taylor, the Advanced Driving Instructor - who seems to be full of common sense in his letters to the JEP-  to give his suggestions than some traffic management guru who hasn't the slightest idea about safe driving.

Wait and see!


Sunday, 27 March 2011

Counting Half-Truths

The Telegraph points out a considerable deficiency in the UK Census forms:

Question H6 seeks to know how each of these persons is related to every other member of the household (including me and their old man as Persons 1 and 2). If household members are not related, the form-filler is instructed to tick "Unrelated". Simple.
Or not so simple. Considering that Person 3 is the child of my husband's first marriage, her relationship to me is "Step-child" and there's a box for that. Persons 4 and 5 are our son and daughter. Since all three have the same father, their relationship with each other is so obvious that I felt stupid when I couldn't find it on the form.

To my absolute puzzlement, the census form defines the relationship between children of the household in only two ways, as either brothers and sisters or as step-brothers and step-sisters. Half-sisters and half-brothers aren't mentioned.(1)

Jersey doesn't do that - it hasn't relationship to other members of the household. But it does have relationship to main householder (section 2), and while it is not perhaps that probably that half-siblings might be living in the same house, it is not impossible, and again there is no option for it, apart from "other related". 

The USA has a far more comprehensive list, ranging from

Adopted Ad
Adopted Child Ad.Cl
Adopted Daughter Ad.D
Adopted Grandchild Ad.Gcl
Adopted Mother Ad.M
Adopted Son Ad.S


Half Sister H.Si
Half Sister-In-Law H.Sil
Half Brother Hb
Half Brother-In-Law Hbl


Jersey does have "partner" on relation to main householder (section 2), so things are moving ahead from the days when "husband or wife" was the only coahibiting relationship, but the status includes never married, married (first marriage), remarried, separated (but still legally married), divorced, widowed. These are supposed to supply some useful information, but actually they have huge gaps in them.

For instance, I have a relative who lived with a lady for around 25-30 years, then left her and married the lady he had left her for. He will be married (first marriage) on the form, but because it is tightly focused on the legal aspects of marriage, it is going to exclude a good deal of information, and if it says x number of people are still in their first marriage, then his example, and I suspect it is not unique, will give a very false picture of the real state of play.

And of course, not counting people who have not remarried, but have committed to partners after a divorce, also gives a  very false picture of family life. In the days when legal marriages were everything, section 11 would be useful information. But nowadays, in getting a complete demographic picture of the population, if that is the intent, it is very deficient, especially if the assumption is made that divorced does not imply a current (non marital) relationship.

Of course, the worst part of the census is the so-called "cultural and ethnic background". Why don't they just say "race", because that is essentially what it is in Jersey (section 8), with categories split between White, Asian or Asian British, Black or Black British, or Mixed - with sub groupings beneath that. It is a nonsense. I have a Jersey mother, and an English father, and back 2/3 generations, French ancestors. I defy anyone to prove I am in any one of the discrete categories so beloved of the idiots who decided on this, because it predates genetics, and has its origins in racial stereotypes. It is intellectually incoherent.

Nowhere is this plainer than in America::

According to the Census Bureau, a little over 12 percent of Americans are "black, African American or Negro." According to geneticist Mark Shriver, "the level of European ancestry in African-Americans averages about 20 percent." Many notable "blacks" have been 50 percent or more "white."

In its American incarnation, blackness emerged as a social category in the seventeenth century as part of Southern whites' attempt to justify the economic and social subordination of Africans who had been brought to the country in bondage. The legal interpretation of blackness was accompanied by laws barring miscegenation between whites and blacks. The one-drop rule endured after the Civil War and after emancipation as a justification of racial segregation and of the tiered economy of the sharecroppers.

Today, the laws against miscegenation have been thrown out, and a Louisianan with Susie Guillory Phipps's ancestry might win her case for being classified white, but the one drop rule persists in the way Americans, including me in this piece itself, think about race. And to the extent these mutually exclusive categories of white and black endure, they perpetuate all kinds of stereotypes and pseudo-scientific nonsense, like American Enterprise Institute fellow Charles Murray's The Bell Curve.

Let Harry Chang have the last word. In The Critique of the Black Nation Thesis, he wrote that "the overthrow of racism will . involve the abolition of racial categories. . What is meant by the abolition of racial categories is simply that human genetical variation or genealogical diversity would not be pushed into the Procrustean bed of racial distinction. Instead, the genetic and genealogical richness of mankind will probably remain, but with this crucial proviso: truly democratic spirit would be completely indifferent to it . and assign to skin-color the same kind of social significance as weight, height, or hair-color."(3)


Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Devil's Hole

Sending off a glancing kiss, to those who claim they know
Below the streets that steam and hiss,
The devil's in his hole

(Led Zeppelin, Achilles Last Stand)

The original of the naming of the "Devil's Hole" came up in a conversation I was having the other night with some friends, and I decided to pursue the matter further. For those who don't know, the "Devil's Hole" is a quite spectacular natural geological formation on the coast of St Mary's Parish. There is a steep path to the top of the "hole", but the very flimsy looking wooden ladders used by Victorian tourists have long since been removed.

Here are a few of my gleanings.

The name Devil's Hole derives from the wrecking of the ship La Josephine in 1851. Or so we are told, in the story which says:

"it is the vast figurehead from this ship, with its eerie green patina and satanic horns, that appears in the middle of a leafy glade. The 'hole' is certainly spectacular, arguably one of Jersey's most scenically dramatic spots - a cavernous blowhole, gouged into the headland by centuries of sea bashing. "(1)

and here is another description of the feature and its name:

"The Devil's Hole is a natural crater in the solid cliff measuring about 100ft across and 200ft deep. The hole is a natural formation probably caused by the sea eroding a cave until the roof of the cave collapsed to form the crater we now see. In 1851 a ship's figurehead washed up inside the Devil's Hole and if that was not strange enough someone decided to create a statue of a devil out of the figurehead and this was then set up above the Hole. The wooden ships figurehead could not last forever exposed to the elements and was replaced by a succession of modern versions in the 20th century." (2)

However, this gives the original name, and suggests the latter name came along later. What is not clear is why the ship's figurehead was transformed into a Devil, but perhaps it was something to do with providing a "feature" for the tourists to come to see:

"The name 'Devil's Hole' is a dramatic one but only invented in the nineteenth century. Formerly it was called 'Le Creux de Vis', 'Le Creux de la Touraille' or Spiral Cave. One possible derivation for its modern name is connected with the shipwreck of a French boat in 1851. Its figurehead was thrust by the tide straight into the hole and someone had the idea of getting a local sculptor to transform the torso into a wooden devil, complete with horns. Today this devil's metal replica stands in a pool on the way down to the crater, to lend atmosphere to the winding - and in one place quite steep - path down to the Devil's Hole itself. The hole can be peered down into from two safe vantage points."

"Today the devil's metal replica stands in a pond on the way down to the crater. There is a winding, slightly spooky and in one place quite steep path down to the Devil's Hole itself. You can look into the otherwise quite dangerous hole from two safe vantage points."(3)

Another source is slightly more skeptical about the whole business, especially the history which seems almost too good to be true:

"Devil's Hole in St Mary is said to refer to the eerie noises of the sea being sucked in and blown out by the rock formation. The devil sculpture may perhaps have come from a wrecked ship, but there is no certainty about this."(4)

Going back to the original names, the explanation for the name as an Anglicized corruption is given on the "Waymark site", which notes that:

"Devil's Hole is also known as Le Creux de Vis which translates as 'the screw-hole'. It has been suggested that the French name 'de Vis' became altered to 'Devil' by English speaking visitors." (5)

Another explanation comes from Sound*Dust's Blog, which says:

"The origin of its name is harder to trace than its formation. There are three ways it could have come about. One source is from its original name 'Le Creux de Vis' (the cave of the bay). But, 'Le Vier Vi' is a Jersiais nickname for the Devil and, as there was certainly a hole through the cave, 'trou du vi' or "Trou du Diable' could eventually have been turned into the English 'Devil's Hole'." (6)

This blog is drawing on Philip Ahier's suggestion but G.J.C Bois, in "Jersey Folklore and Superstitions" points out that while 'Le Vier Vi' may be a Jèrriais expression, "it is not recorded either in the Glossaire du Patois Jersias or in Dr Le Maistre's Dictionnaire", and "vi" is translated in the Glossaire as a form of "vier", old. Bois thinks that this derivation is therefore inherently unlikely, and Ahier was simply trying to find an explanation for how the Devil came to be associated with the site.

Sound Dust gives another suggestion:

"Another reason for it's name is a tale told of how Viking ships got wrecked near by and all that got washed ashore was the grotesque figure on its prow. This so resembled what the superstitious natives thought of as the Devil, that the place was forever called 'Devil's Hole'. Another tale concerned the wrecking of a French ship in 1851. It's figurehead was washed straight into the hole. Someone then had a brain wave and called in Captain John Giffard, (a well-known sculptor in his day) to add the arms, legs etc to the torso and thus the 'Devil' came into existence."

"But lastly, the name may merely have come from the seemingly superhuman and eerie sounds of the water sucking in and surging out of the cave."(6)

So how did the name come to be? A few matters can be stated with relative certainty. One is that the name "Devil's Hole", and the figure of a devil on the site is of recent origin, from around the 1850s. There was a wreck, "La Josephine" in 1851, and the figurehead was retrieved.

Whether the name derived from a ship's figurehead, or whether that was just a story told to credulous visitors, which seems equally plausible is uncertain, but the Victorian era saw a good many inventive and creative tales around localities to provide visitors to the Islands a colourful and memorable experience. The Wolf's Cave is almost certainly another Victorian fictional attribution of this kind. History as a discipline was in its infancy, and a good tale was almost certain to trump any more prosaic explanation. Around the same period, the dolmen at Faldouet also cheerfully appears in guide books as a "Druid's temple".

Whether there was an older Jersey version of the name, or it was a corruption of the original name is also unclear, but the Fisherman's Chapel may also derive from a corruption whereby "pêcheurs" (fishermen) was derived from " pécheurs" (sinners), so that explanation is plausible.

There doesn't seem to be any history of any connection to the Devil until the 1850s, and I suspect the original attraction of the site was in its peculiar architecture, and the sounds the water made. Like Rocqueberg, the supposedly notorious place where witches came, the stories don't appear in any of the witch trial records of much earlier, and as the "confessions" often took the standard form (because of leading questions) of meeting in covens to worship the devil, the absence of both places - the Devil's Hole and Rocqueberg is, I think, most significant. They were not mentioned because at that time, no one had associated them with any folklore.

It is also significant that both sites possess certain geological peculiarities, and we know that the sounds at St Clement gave rise to a story about a spectral bull until it was explained by geologists. The origins of geological oddities can quite easily lend themselves to explanations attributing some kind of supernatural agency to their formation, especially in an age before geology was well established as a science.

But could it have been an ancient pagan site? If it was, then no remains have come to light. The nearest similar example - a natural feature like a giant menhir - is the Pinnacle rock, but as well as the site being of significance to ancient pagans, there is evidence that they were present.

A complex multi period site positioned below an imposing pinnacle of rock. Two earth and rubble ramparts have been attributed to the Neolithic/Chalcolithic periods and a third to the Bronze Age. Iron Age occupation is attributed to 6 pieces of iron. In Roman times a rectangular (11.2m x 9.15m) Gallo-Roman temple was constructed. Amongst the large number of finds from various excavations are flints, hammers, rubbers, polishing stones, a copper arrow head, bronze spear head, wheel turned pottery and a Roman coin (7)

Nothing has, as far as I can discern, ever been found around the Devil's Hole site - no flints, stones, arrow heads or traces of pottery, or even coins. There are no dolmens in the vicinity, or earthworks. If offerings were made, it is likely that at least some of them would be solid objects, or even remains of dried seeds that haven't been washed away - that's certainly what's been found at some other ancient sites. There are also no Neolithic sites in the immediate vicinity.


Other references
G.J.C Bois, "Jersey Folklore and Superstitions" (2 vols)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Salaries and Services

My letter to the JEP recently regarding the Hospital Manager:

The Chief Minister's recent statements concerning the Hospital Manager raise more questions than they purport to answer. While it is true that as a service contract, the appointment was not the responsibility of the Jersey Employment Board, it was nevertheless a decision by the Minister for Health, who should be held responsible. At the end of the day, the taxpayer is still funding the cost, even if it appears in a different column in expenditure. Is this simply a disingenuous way of keeping within the budget for pay by transferring costs elsewhere?

What is more, while an increased payment to the Manager would reflect the fact that he has no pension or sickness contribution in his salary, there are no figures to show what would be parity if he was an employee on, for example, a two year contract. In the private sector, employees who forgo contributions taken from wages to a pension scheme usually receive an increased salary, which is what the pension contribution would amount to if it were commutated to a cash value for the period in question. But there are no costings coming from the Chief Minister, only the blanket assurance that the equivalent salary for a short term contract would be less because of the pension contribution.  Moreover while the Hospital Manager can choose where to stay while in Jersey, that is his choice - he could quite as easily rent a small flat whose cost would surely be less than staying at a Hotel.

Also I hope that questions are raised about the tendering and advertising for this position. For a service contract, one would expect a tendering process which could surely have also allowed for local applicants. I hope that details of this will be forthcoming in the near future.

Lastly, may I say that I have no personal animosity towards the Hospital Manager whom I'm sure is a very capable man. It is the lack of transparency by the Council of Ministers and the reluctance to disclose any figures until pressed that is dismaying to  the average taxpayer, though perhaps not unsurprising given Ministerial government's "proven track record" in this regard.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Benefit Cheats or Witch Hunts?

ISLANDERS are being encouraged to shop benefit cheats through a new confidential phone line and website.
In a bid to crack down on benefit fraudsters, the Social Security Department has this morning launched a  multimedia campaign to tackle the problem. Three full-time staff have been employed in the department's fraud team and will start visiting claimant's houses to check on their existing claims and circumstances. The department hopes to claw back at least £400,000 through the campaign, which will be used to fund the new staff members. 'Benefit cheats will not be tolerated,' Social Security Minister Ian Gorst said. 'By introducing these new measures, the department is sending out a clear message that it will ensure value for money for hard-working taxpayers.' (1)

I've looked at the online forms for reporting benefit thieves, and they fill me with a degree of disquiet, basically because of the mechanisms, or rather the failure of mechanisms in place to detect false accusations.

"If you think someone is committing benefit theft you can report them online"

What is really of most concern is the section on "Your details", which says:

The information you have provided is strictly confidential. You do not need to tell us who you are, but if you would like our investigators to be able to contact you for more information, please tell us (2)

Now why this causes me disquiet is that history is full of examples of neighbours settling scores with people whom they have grudges against by spreading malicious gossip. One has only to look at the McCarthy Communist Hunt of America, or the Witch Trials across Europe and in Jersey. As Edward Bever noted about the Witch Trials:

"Recent investigations have emphasized that the women most likely to be accused of witchcraft tended not to be poor, marginal outsiders, but integral members of their communities: married, not single; part of the broad middling peasantry, not the poorest of the poor. Certainly some witch accusations stemmed from conflicts between poor old widows and their better off neighbours, but others involved well-to-do women accused by poorer villagers, and still others, probably the majority, involved people of roughly equal station. The conflicts were often economic, but they could arise from a wide variety of interpersonal conflicts. Indeed nearly every human relationship which went wrong might lead to a charge of witchcraft. "

Replace "accused of witchcraft" with "accused of benefit fraud", and you can see the dangerous effects that accusations, especially anonymous accusations, can have when people are jealous or have grudges against other people - they "must" be benefit thieves because they are "better off neighbours" than we are! I know of at least one individual who was false accused - not of benefit fraud - but of vandalising flower beds in a States Housing Estate. They were completely innocent, but once accusations start being made, and a whispering campaign gets going, it picks up a momentum all of its own.

A small Island community, like Jersey, is especially prone to such a "grapevine", and once that gets onto an official form - and with the benefit of secrecy for the person making the accusation - it will cause trouble.

And of course, the UK is littered with examples of this - here is a typical example:

I'm a single mum, I've been a single mum for a year now , lived with my parents for the first 6 months then got my own place from the council. This morning I had a knock at my door, hello I'm from the DWP can I come on so we can have a word about your claim ??? They had an anonymous tip off that my ex was living with me, they were told in October he'd already been living here for 3-4 months  I know who did it too > the thing is though, its totally unfounded, he doesn't live here, yes he visits and sometimes stays for tea but that's because we've kept it amicable for the sake of the children. My word is not enough though and they are now about to start more investigations, what I want to know is what will they look at and what are my rights under the the human rights act? (3)

The strains of the welfare system in the UK have been well documented by David Vincent who gives an example of Ernie Benson (from the autobiography by Benson, "To Struggle is to Live: A Working Class Autobiography"):

Yet just as gossip was a means of both resolving and generating conflict amongst hard-pressed families, so the new welfare system both consolidated and fractured the unity of the poor locality. Whilst households struggled to conceal their secrets, their neighbours secretly attempted to expose them. Ernie Benson recounted a particular interrogation about his spare-time activities:

'Well I have a letter here which says you do quite a fair amount of boot repairing for other people,' and he held up an envelope with a letter inside. 'That's interesting. Can I have a look at it?.' 'No, you can't.' 'Who is the writer?' 'I won't tell you that.' 'Is it an anonymous letter?' 'Yes' he admitted. 'Well, in that case chuck it in there' I said, indicating the waste paper basket. 'I can't do that, I must place it before the committee. (4)

Vincent notes that this is nothing new - anonymous letters had been a stock in trade for making false accusations for centuries, but at times of high unemployment, the welfare system brought out a new social strain between what was seen as "the deserving and undeserving poor":

The unsigned letter to those in authority, which a century earlier had been a device for collectively threatening the well-being of the privileged, was now a means of individually endangering the last resources of the deprived. In essence, the National Insurance system was a means of redistributing resources within the working class. Those in work made an enforced and rising contribution to those out of work, placing an inevitable strain on structures of mutual sympathy and trust. The common currency of gossip--who had found what new job, who was sharing whose bed, who had purchased which new commodity-suddenly became charged with an official significance. Too indignant to let an unjustified advantage pass, but too ashamed to make an open report, someone along the street wrote anonymously to the inspectors. (4)

One notable example of anonymous accusations, of course, stands out in Jersey. During the German Occupation, anonymous letters were sent to the Germans denouncing people for having radio sets, or hiding slave-workers etc. The presentation of an opportunity to settle old scores may be too good for people to miss, especially as there is no need to declare who you are:

Some locals settled old scores by sending anonymous letters to German officials about their neighbours. Jersey Post Office workers did their best to intercept these letters, but a few got through, leading to terrible consequences. (5)

During the middle of the year (1942) there were several cases of homes being searched by the Gendarmerie for radio sets. These searches had been prompted by the receipt of anonymous letters...

There continued a steady stream of arrests for radio and other offences. One person was said to have been found with three sets, cameras, revolver, ammunition and photographs of gun emplacements, etc. As usual, the search was the sequence of an anonymous letter from some "Britisher"! (6)

Now some of the accusations on benefit fraud, although anonymous, may be true, just as some people did keep wireless sets. But presumably they must all be investigated, especially as the site does not say words to the effect that "we need your name but it will be treated with complete confidentially" which would at least deter some of the more specious accusations. And all of the investigations take time and money, and this may well end up with a lot of time spent going down blind alleys because of the acceptance of anonymous tip-offs.

There is also a shift, noted in the BBC Radio 4 programme analysis, to rethink the idea of welfare, and who deserves it, and how much. As the presenter, Chris Bowlby notes:

Recession has sharpened the debate: unemployment rises, but so do welfare payment bills. Those who say the system's  unsustainable seem dominant. (7)

Mark Harrison, Professor of Economics, Warwick University, noted that:

I think of what people call the squeezed middle. There's millions of working families on middle incomes who feel that at present they're not getting what they deserve. They look at the upper ends of the income spectrum and they feel very resentful of bankers' bonuses and MPs' expenses and so on, but they also look at the lower end and they see many people with entitlements that seem to exceed their contributions. (7)

It is here, I think, that the same kind of debate is being played out in Jersey, especially with lurid attention grabbing headlines in the JEP saying that "income support is unsustainable".

Against this kind of thinking, Rowan Williams takes a different note, and warns against making snap moral judgments' about the "lazy poor":

People often are in this starting place not because they're wicked or stupid or lazy, but because circumstances have been against  them, and to drive that spiral deeper does seem a great problem. (7)

I can understand why an honest person who thinks there is serious benefit fraud would not want to have a neighbour whom they are accusing knowing about it, because there could be unrest (and even possibly physical danger) for them in the community in which they live, but I do think they should have to give their name - to be treated in confidence - before any accusation is accepted, as a deterrent against malicious and unfounded accusations. Fling enough mud, and it has an unfortunate habit of sticking, as George Orwell reminds us in "Burmese Days":

'Well, Kin Kin,' he said, 'you see how it has all gone according to plan! Eighteen anonymous letters already, and every one of them a masterpiece. I would repeat some of them to you if I thought you were capable of appreciating them.'

'But supposing the Europeans take no notice of your anonymous letters? What then?'

'Take no notice? Aha, no fear of that! I think I know something about the European mentality. Let me tell you, Kin Kin, that if there is one thing I CAN do, it is to write an anonymous letter.'

This was true. U Po Kyin's letters had already taken effect, and especially on their chief target, Mr Macgregor.

The merest breath of suspicion against his loyalty can ruin an Oriental official. Mr Macgregor had too just a nature to condemn even an Oriental out of hand. He had puzzled as late as midnight over a whole pile of confidential papers, including the five anonymous letters he had received, besides two others that had been forwarded to him by Westfield, pinned together with a cactus thorn.

George Orwell, Burmese Days

(4) The Culture of Secrecy: Britain, 1832-1998,  David Vincent, 1998

Monday, 21 March 2011


It was the Spring Equinox yesterday, and I penned this meditative piece for that.

The cold air was sharp, like a knife stabbing, as I ran onwards through the blizzard. And I remembered what I had left behind, the fear, the sorrow, and the loss; it was the ending of our world.
I could still hear the cries of our people as they engaged with the Roman enemy, but the Roman army held its ground, kept its tight formation, and remorselessly, relentlessly, came on. Anglesey had been our last stand, our shout of defiance against the Romans, but it had been in vain.
We had shouted our defiance, and waved blazing torches. Our druids had raised their arms, and invoked the gods to smite the enemy, and cast incantations against the Roman Army. Our women had shrieked and cursed the enemy. But the gods did not hear our plea; they were deaf to our entreaties. We knew that our time had come to an end, and our gods had deserted us, but we still prepared to fight on.
But still the Romans came on, keeping together, and held fast against us. Without such discipline, our warriors soon broke ranks, and fell back in disarray, and everywhere was a clash of metal, sword against sword, and still the Romans came on, shields held upright, short swords stabbing without mercy, and the air was thick with the cries of the dying. And I could smell the thick smoke, the pungent smell of burning wood, as the soldiers set fire to the trees of the sacred groves, and the holy oaks were destroyed.
"Go now," said my mentor, an aged druid, "and take with you our wisdom, our knowledge, and keep it safe, so that once more the sacred flame of our tribes may burn brightly; let not all trace of our peoples perish from the face of the earth. You will be the last of the druids, and in you rests all our hopes."
And so I fled, the cries, and the wailing laments behind me, and ever on my trail, I could hear the pounding footsteps of the Roman soldiers, marching remorselessly onwards. The snow was deep, and my footprints left an easy trail for any enemy. I clutched the precious Ogham sticks, bound together with twine, and wound my way through the thickest forest, hoping that I would succeed, that I might escape.
I passed a frozen stream, and saw the otters padding over the ice, trusting to the crust of the water with such skill. And still I hurried on, my breath catching in the cold air, and still the shouts of pursuit behind me, my feet sinking in the deep snow, and glanced at the icicles, which hung like spears from the branches of the trees.
And so it was that I came to the grove, the bare branches of trees heavy with snow. There was a well, and seating behind it, an old woman, her tattered shawl wrapped around her against the winter cold. And she turned and looked at me. Only her soft blue eyes did not seem worn with age, but gazed at me with a clear bright gaze, glinting with tears, as she said:
The truth is in the depths.
It is time to descend into the dark
And there you must rest, asleep
Until the time of awakening draws near
And the spring comes to this land.
She took me along a winding path to a hillside, and she beckoned me to go there. I had been here before, long ago, and I could see a fine cave, and I entered the cave mouth. There was a blazing torch burning in a stone socket, which I took, and descended into the darkness. I looked back, and she stood there, at the entrance, and softly spoke a word of power. Then the earth groaned, and rocks fell, blocking the way out. All was silence. The only way for me was down.
I passed glittering stalagmites and stalactites, and saw the strange markings on the cave walls that our ancestors had left behind, calling on the deep magic of the earth, and then I came to a wider cavern. There was a large flat slab of granite; a sacred table, and beside it, a neatly folded linen blanket. I placed the torch in a carved stone socket. Then I took the gourd from my belt, and drank the bitter draught of herbs, as I had been told, and lay down upon the stone table, and drew up the linen blanket.
I had a feeling of time passing, I saw circles turning, and felt the darkness pressing heavy upon me, deep within the earth, but it was a feeling of holding and safety, and so it was that I passed out of consciousness, and out of time itself.
I lie there, in the darkness of the mind
The future dims, and I feel so blind
Around me, enfolding, is a sheet of white
Tightly wrapped around with might
Holding me fast within its clammy grip
A shroud so strong, it will not rip
Despite my efforts to break this bond
There is no give, it will not respond
I let go, and fall into the deep abyss
The darkness closing inwards so amiss
And then the strands part, threads break
With screeching sound like a mandrake
Into dust, the shroud dissolves away
Leaving me free, loosed from its sway
To rise up, and see the dawning light
The new day will be so very bright.
And then I awoke with a start, and I knew that many years had passed. The linen garment fell away to dust as I sat up, and I could see a beam of sunlight shining at the far end of the tunnel, for the cave had been so chosen that this would happen when the time was ripe, and the spring equinox had come again. I picked up the dry bundle of my Ogham sticks, and stood up.
I made my way towards the light, groping along the cold, damp walls of the cave. The light grew larger as I approached, and the air inside began to get warmer and drier. And then I was at the entrance, the cave mouth, and the boulder in front had fallen to one side. Gradually I eased my stiff limbs passed it and out into the sunshine again.
The sunlight was warm and gentle, and suddenly there was a burst of sound all around me. I saw a path threading its way through the meadow, bordered by a patchwork of wild spring flowers; there were straggling clusters of cowslips, the soft blue petals of ground ivy, the delicate purple of heartsease, the bright yellow daffodils, all swaying gently in the breeze.
Below my feet, the wild grass was coloured by the shining gold of meadow buttercups, with differing hues of yellow. The air was thick with the scent of flowers, and alive with the gentle buzz of bees as they flew from flower to flower, and all around was the call of birds.
I passed beside a wide stream, no longer frozen, but now swiftly running, water sparking in the sunlight, and shaded by the brilliant green of a huge willow. Birds were singing over the shallows, and I saw a trout darting among the gravel and pebbles. Mayflies drifted slowly with the current, and I saw sand martins flit across in front of me, seeking a safe site to nest.
And there is the clearing once more, and by the ancient well, sits a woman whose outline I seem to know so well, the blue flowers of forget-me-knot in her hair,. She turns to look at me, and at first I do not recognize her, but then she raises her young, fresh face, pushes aside a lock of shiny brown hair, and I see again the bright blue eyes that I knew so well, so long ago, that same clear bright gaze, and I know who she is.
For the seasons have come full circle. The old woman of winter has been reborn, and I go forward to greet and embrace, once more the maiden of spring.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Tax Information with Teeth

The JEP reported that "TREASURY Minister Philip Ozouf today declined to comment on why the signing of an historic tax agreement with India had been called off. The signing of this tax information exchange agreement was due to be the centrepiece of the current trade mission to Mumbai and Delhi, which has been months in the planning. Senator Ozouf was expected to put his signature to it today, alongside the Indian Minister of State from Revenue SS Shri Palanimanickam at the Ministry of Finance, in the capital of the sub-continent. However, the ceremony was called off and the document is having to be redrafted, apparently because Indian officials were not happy with what it said." (1)

It is clear from press released before this occurred that this was to be one of the planned highlights of the trip to India. Indeed, it is described in one report as the "culmination" of the trip, which is why no doubt Senator Ozouf went off on this trip rather than the Economic Development Minister, Alan Maclean. After all, when he was Economic Development Minister, it was Senator Ozouf rather than the Treasury Minister Terry le Sueur who jetted off to the Far East:

A Jersey delegation consisting of States of Jersey Ministers, the Director-General of the Jersey Financial Services Commission and representatives of Jersey's finance industry arrived in India on 13th March for a five day visit designed to highlight and promote the new Jersey Finance representation in Mumbai and Delhi and which will culminate in the signing of the TIEA on 18th March. The signing of the TIEA is an important step in facilitating business flows between Jersey and India and demonstrates Jersey's commitment to operating within the highest international standards. The move will take the total number of similar agreements Jersey has signed to 21, including agreements with countries such as the USA, UK, France, Germany and China. (2)

Jersey finance is playing this down as a "delay". Now I can't see how "refuse to sign" gets turned into "delay", but that's the new message coming from Geoff Cook, which contradicts the earlier "culmination", and puts the blame in the hands of back office officials. And didn't it "take months in the planning"?

Jersey Finance, the body responsible for promoting Jersey's finance industry, has said that the delay in signing a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with India will not have an impact on business flows between Jersey and India or planned future growth.   Responding to news of the delayed signing, Jersey Finance CEO, Geoff Cook, said: "TIEA's take a number of months to prepare and so it is understandable that on this occasion the formal signing could not be completed to coincide with our visit to India marking the introduction of permanent Jersey Finance representative in the country. We have every confidence that the agreement will soon be in place and when it is, the platform for growing business between Jersey and India will be strengthened further."(3)

But there is a more obvious reason for this happening. India, according to the Economic Times of India, is looking for more teeth to the TIEAs. In 2010, this report was published:

New Delhi is expected to present a detailed paper on the issue at the forthcoming Seoul meeting, urging that domestic laws of countries must support such agreements for effective information exchange. "These agreements should ensure that there is actual flow of information and benefits for countries entering them (agreements) in checking evasion," said a finance ministry official privy to the discussions. In some countries, for instance, domestic laws relating to privacy protection tend to come in the way of sharing information with other countries, defeating the very purpose of such pacts.(4)

And in February 19 2011 - this year, the same paper notes that:

NEW DELHI: India will seek strong action by the Group of Twenty (G20) nations against tax havens as it feels any unilateral action can act as a deterrent against foreign investment. "Multilateral action is more effective," a finance ministry official said, ahead of the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in Paris. India also wants improvement in the quality of information that is shared under TIEAs to make such agreements more meaningful. India will urge the G20 to pressure tax havens into revealing more information on black money from India, the official added.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is under pressure to bring back illicit funds stashed abroad, but finds itself facing jurisdictions with which it has little leverage. A report by Washington-based think-tank Global Financial Integrity (GFI) puts such fund flows at about $16 billion a year from 2002-2006. "Any form of curbs on a country cannot work at unilateral level, as such an action can discourage foreign investments," the official said. India has already made a strong pitch for tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs) with greater teeth at the G20 to facilitate a meaningful exchange of information on fund flows and monies parked in such jurisdictions.(5)

It is unclear exactly what this entails, but it is likely that it means more than signing to the standard clauses on TIEAs, which guard against any fishing expeditions. Interesting the recently signed agreement between India and the Bahamas has all the usual stuff, about needing the name of the individual, and what is being investigated, but also has this interesting Article 6 on Tax Examinations abroad, which might be the point at issue in the drafting and approval of the Jersey TIEA. It certainly seems to have more bite than just requests for information:

Article 6: Tax Examinations Abroad

1. At the request of the competent authority of the requesting Party, the requested Party may allow representatives of the competent authority of the requesting Party to enter the territory of the requested Party, to the extent permitted under its domestic laws, to interview individuals and examine records  with the prior written consent of the individuals or other persons concerned. The competent authority of the requesting Party
shall notify the competent authority of the requested Party of the time and place of the intended meeting with the individuals concerned.

2. At the request of the competent authority of the requesting Party, the requested Party may allow representatives of the competent authority of the requesting Party to be present at the appropriate part of a tax examination in  the requested Party, in which case the competent authority of the requested Party conducting the examination shall, as soon as possible, notify the competent authority of the requesting Party about the
time and place of the examination, the authority or official designated to carry out the examination and the procedures and conditions required by the requested Party for the conduct of the examination. All decisions  with respect to the conduct of the tax examination shall be made by the Party conducting the examination. [6]


Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Grave of Arthur

Came across this tucked away in a Chesterton journal. I'd not come across it before. It's a bit like his narrative poem "The White Horse", but shorter and punchier..

The Grave of Arthur  by G.K. Chesterton

This Chesterton poem was first published in October 1930 by Faber & Faber, London, as Number 25 in a series of what were called "The Ariel Poems."

Down through the rocks where the dark roots dry,
The last long roots of the Glaston Thorn,
Dead is the King that never was born,
Dead is the King that never shall die.

They found him between the pyramids
In the subterranean land, men say,
And there was not rending nor rolling
Of linen nor lifting of coffin-lids,

But the giant bones like the columns lie,
The far-flung towers of a flattened city
That is dead with a doom too old for pity
(Dead is the King who does not die).

Coiled on his left from neck to knee,
Huge and hollow the horn is curled,
White as the worm that devours the world,
Carved with the cold white snakes of the sea.

Flat on his right, in the dust grown grey,
Is patterned the vast cross-hilted sword
Graven with the Coming of Christ the Lord,
Gold with the trumpets of Judgment Day.

Between the first and the last he lies
And between the false and the true dreams he:
Born without birth of a fabled sea
Amoured in death till the dead shall rise.

And back and forth as a tolling bell
And forth and backward the Roman rhyme
Rolls in a ring that mocks at time
Tolling the truth that none can tell.

In the high still hollow where Time is not
Or all times turn and exchange and borrow
In the glass wherein God remembers tomorrow
And truth looks forward to times forgot.

Where God looks back on the days to be
And heaven is yet hoping for yesterday;
The light in which time shall be taken away
And the soul that faces all ways is free,

The rune shall be read though it twist and turn,
And the riddle be learnt that is past all learning,
Of the Man unborn who is ever returning
And ever delaying, till God return.

And for ever and ever till death discover
Why truth speaks double in dreams and day;
And the Myth and the Man that wandered away
Make tryst together as lover to lover,

A dream shall wail through the worm-shaped horn
"Dead is a King that never was born"
And a trumpet of truth from the Cross reply
"Dead is the King who shall not die."

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Media Release to States Members

Just seen the Council of Ministers comment on this proposition which calls for government media releases to be given to States members before - and not after they have been given to the press:

In principle, the Council of Ministers agrees that news releases should be sent to States Members before they are sent to the media. However, communications within the States of Jersey are not centralised and only news releases and statements issued by the Chief Minister's Department and Treasury and Resources Department are released through the Communications Unit. The current policy is to send news releases to States Members before the media. The Chief Minister can only recommend that other departments follow the same policy, therefore implementing and enforcing this proposition would present problems.

In addition, issuing all news releases to States Members an hour before the media is also impractical. The media work to very tight deadlines and coverage would be hampered if we were no longer able to use embargoes for complex documents/policies. This would mean we would no longer be able to release information, like the budget, to the media in advance, in order to give them sufficient time to understand the key issues before broadcasting/publishing.

This is a complete nonsense. For a start, while communications are not centralised, there is no reason why each department should not have a written policy in place, so that the civil servants involved are aware of it. To say that only material coming via the Communications Unit can be subject to a policy is an abrogation of responsibility. Even if the other departments have their own policy, the Ministers are responsible, and one would expect a degree of co-ordination:

Ministers are the primary spokespersons for the Government of Canada both individually as heads of their departments and collectively as the Cabinet. It is their role to provide leadership in establishing the priorities and overall themes of government communications. It is a ministerial responsibility to define the communications duties of the staff and to establish procedures for liaison between their own office and public servants within their departments, so that communications are coordinated, particularly media relations and special events.

Moreoever, it is not best practice for departments to "do their own thing", in an unco-ordinated way, as the Council of Ministers suggests. The OECD paper ""Effective Communications Between the Public Service and the Media", notes that:

A key theme which participants and invited speakers returned to time and time again was the need for a co-ordinated governmental communications policy linked from the beginning to the process of formulating, adopting and implementing a policy. They noted that government communications strategies which are well co-ordinated across the public administration, timely, pro-active, and sensitive to the needs of journalists are more likely to be successful than those that are not.

Secondly, when it comes to embargoes, in order that the media have "sufficient time to understand the key issues before broadcasting/publishing", shouldn't this also apply to other States members. Can't they be given documents on an embargoed manner so that they too have sufficient time to understand the key issues? Or is it thought - as this seems to suggest implicitly - that journalists can be trusted to keep to an embargo, where States members cannot. That seems to me to take a very low opinion of States members.


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Attention Span: It's the Limit!

A question he had been meaning to ask for his own clarification popped into his head. 'Tell me, Ruther-or Mergrave... If this is the "condensed" history of Castrovalva, where is the full version?' The two Castrovalvans were amused by the question. 'The volumes before you contain a condensation of the actual history itself,' said Mergrave, and Ruther added: 'What you are pleased to call the full version has taken our ancestors centuries to live through. However fond you may be of reading, sir, you would not want to spend that long with a book.'(Castrovalva, Christopher H Bidmeade)

I've been looking at the Hansard transcript for the limits to speeches in the States, the proposition by Paul Routier (which failed on the 30 minutes for proposer, 15 minutes for members) and there are some gems. Please note that I've taken only sentences here and there; while the original speeches were, for the most part, less than 15 minutes, it is particular moments that I find stand out as quirky.

Deputy Trevor Pitman:

I know for a fact that Senator Routier is concealing his best white rabbit stopwatch behind his desk and he is going to be timing every one of us and no doubt telling us how long we have rambled on for

 It would, I think, unfortunately take out those little joyous moments when in a speech about the Waterfront Deputy Fox manages to remind us how much better Jersey was when we had a police motorcycle team or the Deputy of St. John manages to work in the main drains into some completely different debate.

Meanwhile, Deputy Paul Le Claire took us on a trip down memory lane. Things are not what they used to be.

I sat in St. Thomas' Church at the funeral of my late great uncle Gaston Le Miere last week and I heard a lady from Jersey, obviously from temps passé, who said she did not think the new Ministerial system was working well.  She complained about the salary levels of the Civil Service and she also said that she thought the old committee system was much better when there were several eyes on the issue and several views taken.

Deputy Montfort Tadier saw this as a reaction against one or two long speeches, which did not happen that often, and had led to a proposition which would penalise States members. He also managed to get in a quotation from Orwell, which the transcribers of Hansard got wrong, putting "Wilson Smith", instead of "Winston Smith" ( - it is now corrected -)  which gives a quite different image, if Orwell had based his hero on the somewhat sly and Machiavellian Harold Wilson!

I think what has happened is somebody has identified what they perceive as a problem for themselves, perhaps against one or 2 individual States Members, and they are trying to bring in draconian and unnecessary legislation to cater for what they perceive is a minority problem, which is going to have a nefarious effect on the rest of us.

My favourite quote from the book 1984 is: "Sanity is not statistical" which is quoted by Winston Smith, and those who are aware of the work by Orwell will remember that he is pretty much the only sane one, or the only sane one that we know about, in a world of mad people.  Sometimes it can feel like that for States Members and it might be necessary, as I have said, to come up with a speech and if you have heard 52 arguments, which you think are completely speechless and spurious, you may well want to address all of those and you should be quite entitled to do that in order to deconstruct the arguments and if you allow, let us say, even 30 seconds for each of those 52 arguments you are already approaching half an hour which is a lot longer than the 15 minutes which Senator Routier is proposing.

Deputy K.C. Lewis of St. Saviour came up with an interesting definition of a speech and lecture:

If a Member speaks for up to 15 minutes that is a speech; 1 and a half hours and above, that is a lecture.

I'm not at all sure this is valid at all. A speech can be short, but it can also be long. The London Illustrated Times had a letter which noted that: "Every one knows, on his rising, when Mr. DISRAELI means to make a long speech. When he only intends to offer a few Interlocutory remarks he leans over the table, speaks in a low tone to the gentlemen opposite, and shows by his manner of standing and speaking that he intends soon to sit down". And the the longest continuous Budget speech was by William Gladstone on 18 April 1853, lasting 4 hours and 45 minutes. No one said those were lectures. What differentiates a speech from a lecture? Surely it is that a lecture is a special kind of speech, to an audience, on a subject, which may have a question and answer session afterwards. A speech in the States is opening up the debate, or making points along the way. It may share some similarities to a speech; it may cite facts, make arguments. But it is not given by one person, who has the floor, and who people have come to listen to. Speeches in the States may instead say some very unwelcome things; the case of Harcourt and their court case in Nevada is one example. A lecturer, on the other hand, addresses, for the most part, an audience who have come to hear him.

Senator Sarah Ferguson

Basically, to get back to the subject, I think this particular proposition limits free speech, which is one of our basic freedoms.  In business, or in Scrutiny Reports, you may have a superb 50-page report but Members are busy people and will only read the executive summary.  I do have hopes of Senator Perchard venturing deeper into the Corporate Services Report, but I concede that he is a busy man.  [Laughter]

Connétable P.F.M. Hanning of St. Saviour was short and succinct, and said nothing of substance at all. This was all he said, and we have no idea what parts of what had been said that he actually agreed with.

Very briefly, most of what I was going to say has been said in the previous ramblings and therefore I am not going to repeat it.

Deputy Bob Hill of St. Martin came out with some comments on the lengths of speeches, and a comment on Deputy Routier's habit at the moment of having restrictive propositions which seek to place limits on what backbenchers can do.

This is the eleventh speaker this morning in just under the hour so we are averaging about 6 minutes a speech

Earlier on this year Senator Routier brought a proposition to the States asking to have 7 signatures for anyone signing a proposition and one of the reasons that came up in the debate was it was to stop someone waking up in the morning thinking: "Oh, I will bring a proposition to the States."  Well, now I know what Senator Routier is on about; I think he woke up one morning and said: "Well, maybe I will bring a proposition to stop people speaking" so that is what we got.  It is very much like that.

Connétable Len Norman of St. Clement came out with some extraordinary pictures of what long speeches meant - members going off for haircuts, or a cabal of Constables!

In fact, I welcome some of the longer speeches that we have enjoyed recently; it gives some Members time to go for a haircut or visit the dentist, without missing anything significant. 

In the future, for example, you could have a group of deflective and maverick Members - probably Constables, following that description - who might decide for whatever reason to disrupt the proceedings of the States and arrange for each of them to speak for an hour or 2 hours on any and every debate, which would totally disrupt the progress and business of the States.

The Deputy of St. John, Phil Rondel managed to get a mention of main drains sneaked in after all:

When this first came out and Deputy Routier mentioned this I thought: "Yes, that probably is a good idea to have a limit on speeches" but when you go home and you think about it you think: "No, I am here to represent the people of St. John and anybody else who wants to contact me - and they do - to represent their views" because I am an elected Member.  Because it may take me ... it is not often I speak for longer than 10 or 15 minutes, very rarely, but it might be an occasion to do with main drains.

Deputy Daniel Wimberley took Deputy Norman to task for his frivolity, and asked for speeches with some substance, not collections of pithy aphorisms:

Of course most speeches in this House are short.  They are short and of course they are because most issues do not need too much to say, but sometimes I feel I am being short-changed and I would take up Deputy Le Hérissier's comments saying you can be short, you can be punchy, concise, to the point and so on, but sometimes when I listen to the good Deputy I feel I have had a break and had a Kit Kat.  I just wish that I could have a meal.

I just wanted to make one more point about the going out for a haircut.  It is quite a nice line, is it not?  "Let us go out for a haircut because someone is going to talk for a long time."  I wonder how many people were out for a haircut when the euro fiasco went through the States, nobody asked the question, and nobody had done the research, and bang went £8 million.

Senator Jim Perchard decided to comment on the longest speeches - interestingly he called them speeches rather than lectures:

It is possible that someone could speak for hours.  Henry Peter Brougham on 7th February 1828 spoke in the House of Commons for 6 hours on law reform.  The longest speech ever was 124 hours - 5 days and 4 nights - by a Frenchman, Lluis Colet, and he spoke about Salvador Dali.

He was pulled up by Deputy M. Tadier who asked:

I have a question of clarification.  Senator Perchard mentioned the Frenchman who is Lluis Colet who spoke for 124 hours about Salvador Dali, but could the Senator confirm that that person was not a politician, it was just somebody who set a world record for that particular purpose and it is perhaps misleading to suggest, in this context, that he was a politician filibustering.

Senator J.L. Perchard:

I am not sure of the profession of Mr. Colet but I did give the subject matter of his speech.

In fact, the 62-year-old Catalan and local government worker Lluis Colet spoke for five straight days and four nights (124 hours) about Spanish painter Salvador Dali, Catalan culture and other topics-setting the world record for the Longest Speech. But this was not a parliamentary speech at all!  Colet began speaking at Perpignan's railway station by reciting the works of famous authors or using some of his own writing. He also spoke profusely about Dali, a painter he admires, and Catalan culture.  Large crowds turned out in support of Colet, who received a rapturous applause at the end of his speech.

Deputy Geoff Southern looked at some of the more bizarre illustrations of speeches by Len Norman and Jim Perchard, and had some fun with them:

[The statement] from Constable Norman,  was the most absurd premise I have ever heard: "I am going to vote for this proposition because it is possible that the entire bank of Constables will stage some sort of coup each speaking for 2 hours and block some vital piece of legislation in a revolutionary way." I look forward to the day when it happens.  It would be the equivalent of Scheherazade 1001 Knights, and I look forward to hearing a Constable speak for 2 hours on any particular topic at all.  I would be a privileged man if I heard that.

Then we had the possibility from Senator Perchard and, again, equally specious of the possibility of someone holding this Chamber to ransom with a 124 hour speech on Salvador Dali.  [Laughter]

Connétable Mike Jackson of St. Brelade looked at attention spans. It reminded me of some sermons I had heard at Exeter University, which were at least 20 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes. Someone complained, and the Chaplain, Ken Moss, said that students at a University should be expected to have a better attention span that the rest of the population, who needed shorter sermons because they couldn't concentrate for so long. I've looked at this online, and the average student's attention span, according to one authority, is between 15 and twenty minutes. I also came across a note that "the typical attention span for a 4-year-old is only about five to ten minutes, and while this may seem short, it is usually a huge improvement from the three-to-four-minute attention span most 3-year-olds have", which is interesting, given Mike Jacksons comments about "the order of ten minutes"!

Some Members adopt a lecturing style, and I do not believe this is the appropriate Chamber for that.  It is a debating chamber and I think a debate needs short succinct speeches.  I think one of the most fundamental points for Members to consider is that of attention spans.  My understanding, and I think was alluded to by Deputy Tadier earlier on, that this is in the order of 10 minutes. 

Deputy M. Tadier came in on Mike Jackson making a point on longer speeches costing money:

Can I ask for clarification on a point?  The Constable implied that longer speeches cost the States more money.  Can he justify that statement?

The Connétable of St. Brelade:

Yes, indeed.  The presence of this House sitting in this Chamber costs money in terms of transcription time, officer time sitting here, and I think that is quite important to consider.

Senator Philip Ozouf made the point that longer preparation meant shorter speeches, and Deputy of St. Mary, Daniel Wimberley, took up that point and asked who was doing the preparation for Minister's speeches; evidently not always the Minister themselves:

Can I ask a point of clarification?  The speaker is quite correct that more time on preparation the shorter the speech may be, does that mean that Ministers are going to write their own speeches from now on so that there is a level playing field?

Senator P.F.C. Ozouf:

Ministers are asked by this Assembly to carry out functions on behalf of the States of Jersey.  I write a lot of my own speeches but I do get assistance in preparing some of the set piece speeches in business plans and budgets.  I think that if the Deputy of St. Mary was in my position he would expect that too in the work commitments and what we have to do.  So I do not think the criticism is fair.  Ministers work hard and their speeches are delivered on their own work in large measure.

Deputy M. Tadier then came in with a very sharp question about costs. Obviously if the civil servants are preparing the speeches, then that's costing money as well:

I have a point of clarification about something that was raised in Senator Ozouf's speech.  He mentioned that the shorter the speech ... a short speech might require hours of preparation time.  Now, if that preparation is being done by civil servants how much are these short speeches likely to cost the taxpayer?

Deputy John Le Fondré of St. Lawrence thought that the limits section (b) was impossible, and gave the example of the Island Plan:

I think I am slightly losing the will to live.  I think, in essence, firstly I will try and drag us back to, I think it was, Senator Ferguson expressing her unease on the whole subject and that is where I am.  Fundamentally I do not think I will support any of it.  I am slightly ambivalent on the suggestions by Senator Perchard.  I think part (b) is inherently flawed anyway, although it might be of attraction to at least one Member because, for example, it makes specific reference to the Strategic Plan, the Annual Business Plan or the Budget but, for example, leaves out the Island Plan.  Unless Senator Cohen or the Minister for Planning and Environment is going to present all, I think, 11 sections of the Island Plan in 30 minutes ... which he may be able to do it in 5.

Senator F.E. Cohen piped up with "I could try.". I bet he doesn't though!

Deputy Sean Power also came in on this, and challenged Senator Routier, again coming in with the 10 minute rule of thumb:

I would issue this challenge to Senator Routier, comparing it to what happened to me.  I brought the Residential Tenancy Law through the States in the middle of 2009 and I think when I calculated the amount of time I spent in proposing the proposition, then replying in the debate, I was about 4.5 hours on my feet all told.  I would suggest that Senator Routier, when he brings the migration policy to the States, I would think he would be a better man than me if he can do it in 45 minutes because it is such a massive piece of legislation that is about to hit this Assembly.  Somebody referred to the principle and discipline of churches and rectors, ministers, priests and whatever, most of them are advised that you do not hold people's concentration for more than 10 minutes, and I think it is a very good rule.

I came across this when looking at attention spans:

A child's attention span is normally related to his/her age. On an average it is two to five minutes per year of the child's age. A ten year old child should normally be able to focus on the job at hand for anything between thirty minutes to an hour. This for some reason does not relate to watching television.

And substitute "politicians" for "children", and this could almost be a description of the States:

Children with short attention spans are likely to be impatient while listening, waiting for their turn to speak and have a hard time returning to an unfinished task once they are interrupted.