Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Tide is Rising

A Tide is Rising

A lot of scary stories about rising sea levels in the JEP recently, coupled, of course, with photos of flooding because of the tide.

In fact, the tidal range has hardly risen at all over the last 10 years, and not by any significant amount at all. So why do we see more flooding now?

What we have, I believe, is a higher incidence of strong winds. Strong winds, when they are coupled with high tides, often cause flooding, and that is nothing new. But the prevalence of high winds has increased, and so the coincidence of high wind with high tide has become more likely.

So that does mean we need to improve coastal defences, but that’s not against rises in sea level, but a against high tides and winds bringing flooding. It is still a problem to be tackled, but it is not quite the same problem, so the solutions might be slightly different. It is flood defences that are needed, not higher sea level defences.

The reason nothing happened in the past was that the coincidence of wind and tide was much less frequent, and people just lived with the occasional event. And given its rarity, politicians – as you might expect – buried their heads in the sand. That’s not an option now, because a wind is rising, and the tide is coming in.

Rise of the Dictators

In the Roman Republic, the dictator (“one who dictates”), was an extraordinary magistrate (magistratus extraordinarius) with the absolute authority to perform tasks beyond the authority of the ordinary magistrate (magistratus ordinarius)

Dictator, noun: A person invested with or exercising absolute authority of any kind; one who assumes to control or prescribe the actions of others; one who dictates.

In Jersey, the ministerial powers to decree orders has a resemblance to the trappings of power of the Roman dictators, used in a technical sense. This was not in the sense of someone seizing control, but rather – as in the Republic – one who legitimately has a measure of absolute power bestowed upon them.

Ministerial decisions, such as that by Susie Pinel, seem very much like that. They are brought forward without any States debate, which they simply bypass. It is notable that laws are now often framed in such a way that Ministers can amend something in place by a Ministerial order, whereas in the past, they would have had to brought significant changes in a law to the States.

As a recent example, Susie Pinel has just extended by Ministerial decree the period from 6 months to 12 months with respect to allowing unfair dismissal claims.

Now it could be argued that this will help the economy. The problem of unfair dismissal claims has almost certainly driven the move to zero hour contracts, where there is effectively little provision for unfair dismissal.

So doubling it might encourage employers to take on more staff on permanent contracts rather than zero hour ones. But, of course, we don’t know, as this kind of economic decision is more a matter of guesswork than hard science. Nevertheless, this is a case which could I think be made, as Deputy Pinel does:

"I also believe that this change has the potential to motivate employers to offer more permanent terms and conditions of employment to employees, rather than entering into casual staffing arrangements."

That’s a nice supposition, but it would have more merit if some kind of poll backed it up statistically with employer intention on permanent contracts. Getting lists of employers who sign up to change their employment practices before making a change would have also been a good move, especially if it was known that the information could be released into the public domain; that would ensure employers kept their pledges.

But what I find wholly reprehensible is for a Minister to make such a radical change without putting it before the States to debate. This is the kind of decision making which calls for arguments for and against to be aired, and a measured debate, whatever the vote.

The way in which Ministers can simply effect change by Ministerial Decree, even with the approval of the Council of Ministers, is something I find profoundly disturbing. There should be guidelines in place to suggest a kind of threshold as to when something can be passed by decree, and when it should go before the States.

That would be democracy, but it is worth noting that even the city state of Athens, with its democratic assemblies, was troubled instead by those who came, took power away from its citizens, and simply dictated to them. I think we are in danger of losing the democratic sovereignty of the States.

Liberation Day: Will Islands Diverge?

“In Guernsey, the anniversary of the liberation is celebrated on 9 May, the day in 1945 the German garrison surrendered during World War Two. But that is a Saturday in 2015, so seven deputies have called for Friday 8 May to be a public holiday in lieu.” (BBC News)

And the BBC news notes:

“The last time Liberation Day fell on a weekend, in 2010, the States agreed to make Monday 10 May a public holiday in recognition of the momentous event in Guernsey history.”

I seem to remember that there were Scrooge like mutterings and nothing like that happened over here. The general argument was that it was celebrated on one day, and that was it regardless of which day that was. So there! These are no doubt the same pedants who celebrated the new century on 1st January 2001, a year after the rest of us.

The notion that liberation might just also give rise to a spirit of generosity, of exuberance, of celebration, that might be best recognised by an extra weekday, much as when Christmas or New Year’s day falls on a weekend, seems to have passed by in Jersey.

The economic argument, I recall, was that it was another day of business lost. Or to put it in terms that Ebenezer Scrooge would have approved of: "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every time Liberation day falls on a weekend.”

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