Sunday, 16 December 2012

Peace after Plemont

"In a quarrel, leave room for reconciliation" (Russian proverb)

It is recorded that there were arguments in the marketplace around the time of the Nicene Creed about the nature of Christ, and every shop keeper would have their opinion, often debated with some intensity. Sometimes matters even came to blows. This was a problem for the Emperor Constantine, who saw Christianity as the social "glue" for keeping a cohesive Empire together, hence the reason why a Council was summoned at Nicaea, to thrash out these disputes once and for all. There's an excellent audio drama called "The Council of Nicaea" which brings this very much to life.

But disputes never quite die, and while the result of Nicaea was a creed which gained universal acceptance in time, the same kind of disputes resurfaced in other forms. A peace came with the Nicene Creed, but it was an imposed peace, with Arius and the proponents of a different view sent into exile. Fortunately, we do not settle disputes this way today in Jersey, with the use of force.

Sides sharply divided between families were also present in the debates over Plemont this week. Like the debates of the 4th century, it was a debate that reached the marketplace, the workplace, and even a wedding party. It was divisive, with a fierce intensity. While it was a secular matter, there was nevertheless a fervour that was almost religious, and an imagery of an unspoilt, undefiled wilderness that undoubtedly had religious overtones. The President of the National Trust in Jersey did not exactly call her opponents heretics, but if she had, the language would have not been far away from the strong words which she did use speaking that "island jewels may be raped again", and saying that "It was the last chance to save the headland and they will be the cause of future damage."

The Jersey Evening Post further criticised those who had voted against the Plemont purchase - "Jersey is a sad and diminished place today, let down by small-minded, short-sighted politicians with a warped sense of priorities."

Hurts can fester and cause pain and divisions for many years. When Philip Le Feuvre proposed the introduction of social security, he was vilified by his fellow farmers, and then effectively sent to Coventry by them. He was a pariah, someone not to speak to, someone not to invite to gatherings of those who had been his colleagues and friends. That's something I think we need to avoid.

There's always a danger that the divisions caused by Plemont may rankle for many years. There have even been threats that this will be something brought up as an election issue. I think that would be a mistake. Just as the debate about the nature of Jesus was between fellow Christians, so the debate about Plemont was between fellow environmentalists. Pretty well everyone in the debate shared a concern about Plemont, but the additional factor was the way in which this concern was being addressed, which my fellow blogger Sam Mezec, has deconstructed in some detail.

Compulsory purchase and a blank cheque, with the prospects of litigation and associated costs probably swayed the issue against the purchase; if a figure, even a higher figure, had been agreed, it would have been concrete and definite, but disputed valuations of 4 millions did not help. The spectre of Le Pas Holdings must have been in the background.  The Fief de la Fosse cost £200, and initially the States were going to fight the ownership rights in the Courts, and even used compulsory purchase to secure the land in February 1998. But that didn't end the matter as the figures involved led to the possibilities of extensive litigation, and open ended costs.

So there were sound reasons based on the lessons of the past against thinking that compulsory purchase would settle the matter easily. But that didn't mean that those who rejected that, or thought the valuation unsound, were not aware of the value of Plemont in terms of environment. What was probably easier for them also was the developer's plans which looked nothing like the grotesque and giant white neo-Le Corbusier style development at Portelet. They didn't want to see that in place, but they wanted to make a decision based on fixed points, not floating clouds.

The Treasury Minister's role in this was, to say the least, slippery. On the one hand, he wanted to stress that monies could be available outside of the States budget for this kind of "contingency", but at the same time, he wanted to stress that the monies would have to be held back in "contingency" and would not be available for other projects if the States did not approve the purchase of Plemont. Why the States could not also back the use of this "contingency" for other projects was not really well addressed, and gave the impression that there was a contradiction at the heart of his financial magic. Now you see it, now you don't!

In the wake of this, it is unfair to demonise those the opposed the proposition as being narrow minded, or short sighted. On the contrary, it could be argued that some of the opposition was looking further into the possible implications of the proposition, and seeing possible outcomes that were not so positive.

What is needed is now reconciliation and an end to hostility on the subject, which is difficult, as it means understanding that different points of view can be very close, but not in agreement, and not all those who disagree are reckless.

There's an interesting book called the "The Torah Of Reconciliation" by a Jewish writer, Sheldon Lewis, and he has a good deal to say which is pertinent to this issue, and this quotation in particular, is worth pondering:

"Peace is often understood as synonymous with oneness. Rabbi Kook challenges that perspective. Instead he suggests a notion of peace encompassing diversity which includes all of the unnumbered dimensions and pathways to wisdom. To attain truth, in his view, is to encourage the full exploration of possibilities. In honest and passionate dialogue and dispute lies the greatest hope for unearthing the nuances of knowledge. A greater wisdom emerges from open discourse than from any other more limiting approach."

"Implicit in his approach is appreciation for those who hold opposing views in dialogue. Even when an argument is passionate, even when each party steadfastly holds onto its position and rejects the opinion of the other, there should be an underlying sense of valuing the other. Out of the give and take of dialogue and even polar division emerges a much richer vision of what is true and right. Peace and division are not antithetical."



Tom Gruchy said...

Reconciliation - yes by all means but in accordance with which political philosophy?
In Jersey without a party system, it is easy to fall into the cosy let's all be friends Bailhache camp - except that from his own mouth and actions - we now all know this to be a sham.
Consensus in Jersey means acceptance of the "free market, user pays, Thatcherite capitalism" beliefs of the Jersey government that so visibly failed under a vote of just one.
There is not going to be any acceptance of an alternative philosophy from Bailihace and Co post Plemont - reconciliation means carry on as always in accordance with the old establishment way.
It is time to cut off the political monster's head once and for all whilst it sleeps - but it won't happen of course because we don't want to upset anybody or make a disturbance amongst friends...

TonyTheProf said...

The Plemont vote, despite what the JEP said, was NOT on any kind of party or left/right lines - which Sam Mezec saw very well. Monty Tadier (for example) voted the same way as Sir Philip and produced a song in support (with some quite radical lyrics). It was an issue that right cut across the usual splits in the States.

Tom Gruchy said...

Norman Le Brocq put his name and reputation behind an Island Plan when he was President of IDC. But it was not a Socialist plan - it was just another standard capitalist promotion just the same as all Island Plans that have followed.
No doubt it would be argued that his plan was a consensus - but it wasn't because it merely satisfied the establishment by not rocking the boat. In other words, as now in 2012, the calls for everybody in politics to agree to a non-confrontational approach is really just a call to support the right. Nobody is calling to support the left or to substantially challenge the "right".
Unfortunately, the Plemont decision had an "environmental" aspect which could be exploited by left or right and Bailhache could, under that cover, be rude about the developer whereas on another day, for the purposes of another debate - he could equally be singing the devloper's praises.
That the whole States assembly was fragmented is not at all surprising since it is composed of 51 "Independents" and lacks any party cohesion to draw members and their views together, being mostly without any substantial degree of predictability, discipline, common philosophy or accountability.

Anonymous said...

"Jersey is a sad and diminished place today, let down by small-minded, short-sighted politicians with a warped sense of priorities."

Remind me, when did Jersey ever have open-minded, fore-sighted politicians with a clear sense of priorities?

Anonymous said...

Let it be an election issue. What was sauce for Freddie Cohen is sauce for Rob Duhamel also.

thejerseyway said...

Hi Tony.

Put up some Audio of Senator Bailhache attacking who ever doesn't agree with himself, the Jersey People need to wake up & see this man for what he is. A Bully & a Spoiled One at that.

You & your readers can Listen HERE