Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Seven Deadly Sins of the States of Jersey

Seven Deadly Sins of the States of Jersey

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary, "James Madison.

“Value belongs to the individual and it is the individual who is the sole bearer of moral responsibility. No one is morally guilty except in relation to some conduct which he himself considered to be wrong … Collective responsibility is … barbarous. (HD Lewis 1948)

The Council of Ministers is proposing “The Seven Principles of Public Life” to follow, which include how Ministers should behave within collective responsibility.

Quite how keeping a united front, while disagreeing privately, helps political honestly and integrity is questionable. Certainly it would be better for Ministers to also be able to abstain from voting with the Council of Ministers, and to mention that they disagreed.

On the one hand, that would retain the idea of collective responsibility – Ministers would not be opposing the party line, but on the other it would ensure that Ministers did not become two faced, having a private and public view at odds with each other.

Once the principle is adopted that someone can have two faces, one for private viewing, one for the public arena, you may as well forget honesty and integrity.

The system is designed to change people for the worse by exercising what philosophers call ““coordinating control”.

Mark Reiff argues that in collective responsibility, while the range of our responsibility has been expanded, the ties between responsibility and morality have been weakened.

Keith Subero, speaking on “Two Faced Politics”, noted that:

“The ease with which politicians discard one "face", and make an attempt at a new persona continues to provide ongoing excitement to the studies of personologists, and political psychologists.

They continue to examine those factors, in organised power, which transform "nice" people, once in the office of near indisputable authority, into aloof, disconnected, but, eventually, caricatured characters.”

Consider this principle: “Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions”. How do you keep hidden your private disagreement under collective responsibility, and be as open as possible?

And here is another that is often abused: “In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.”

Sounds good, but it means contracts off-island, and Chief Officers who come from the UK. Merit can so often be an excuse for “business as usual” when it comes to appointments and contracts.

So by way of contrast, here is my list of seven – not “The Seven Principles of Public Life” but “The Seven Deadly Sins of States politicians.”


States members no longer seem to have affairs with one another, or if they do so, do it much more discretely. In the past of course, often overlooked by those looking at it with rosy tinted spectacles, there were a good many affairs, and one Deputy even stepped down from the Education Committee, perhaps thinking that his example might not be that good for sex education!

Nowadays, mostly we have just the lust for power, which isn’t quite as salacious. Naked lust for power is not so visible, but haggling over position after the elections if you have a good showing in the Senatorials may come close, as may taking over the Electoral Commission on the grounds that you can sort it out, although that may also involve pride.

E. Monroy notes that lust:

“can be best exemplified on the intense desires of politicians for money, fame or power. The will to do everything to obtain a borrowed comfort and glory at the expense of the people. This is what triggers abuse to satisfy their cravings eventuating to pseudo-concerns instead of genuine public service.”

Look for: politicians getting themselves into the newspapers and TV at every opportunity.


The leaving bash for retiring States members, and of course, all the other members, was a black tie example of gluttony. On the whole this is not so visible, and is probably lost, together with the figures for alcohol expenditure, somewhere in the entertainment column of departmental expenditure.

But perhaps we may also put a £200,000 movie grant in there, as an example of spending that a glutton would approve of.

Look for: Conspicuous consumption, perhaps of bottled water, or maybe of alcohol. And the little figures that are missing or unobtainable, unlike the larger States members with a beer belly.


The inability of the States to say no to pay rises, while simultaneously saying there must be pay freezes in the public sector, is a good example of greed. Of course, greed in the modern setting is dressed up in all kinds of excuses, such as having to obey the dictates of an independent body, however much they would like not to, and promises to give that increase to charity.

But there is also a kind of greed that invades everyone’s lives with stealth taxes (such as the proposed sewage tax), more “user pays” etc. That approach is the Treasury greedy for more revenue, the avaricious monster devouring our income.

Look for: more stealth taxes which will be described as “user pays” rather than “user pays twice, once by taxation”, which would be the honest description, and a lot of hand wringing when States members pay increases.


This one is still very much alive and kicking, although that may not be the best way to describe inactivity. The wonderful Street Works Law, which was promised for the first quarter of 2015, after years and years of delays, will now finally see fruition in the first quarter of 2016. Or maybe not.

And don’t talk to me about Reform. States members love to talk about reforming the States, and the hot air alone should, if captured, be enough to heat the States Chamber for decades, But that’s all it ever is – talk. When it comes to actually doing anything, sloth is the order of the day.

Wasting time and energy when critical work needs doing, when others need help, or when excellence and achievement are possible. I think there’s marginally less than there used to be – former Senator Terry Le Sueur was a past master of sloth, but there is still room for improvement.

There is also intellectual sloth, which sets in when politicians fail to rethink their assumptions. There’s a lot of that about.

Look for: promises that are never fulfilled, and an excuse about complications, endless consultations with interested parties, and goal posts on wheels. At least they have stopped saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.


Nowadays the anger probably takes place behind closed doors. Threatened punch ups, microphones turned off, and shouting in the States Chamber seems to have gone the way of Michael Heseltine swinging the mace in the House of Commons. The current crop of politicians are more media savvy and would be unlikely to be seen on Newsnight using phrases like “shafting Jersey internationally”. Although whether they keep their cool behind closed doors in the corridors of power is another matter.

The last major outbreak of anger may well have been when Senator Ozouf discovered that his proposed property tax reform, and part of his election campaign, had been derailed by the Yes Campaign Group’s statement on the matter. But he quickly overcame that, and showed the therapeutic benefits of channelling anger into ripping pages out of the proposed document, in front of the general public.

But there are also leaks. Leaks can be a weapon of choice. Such leaks often come from disgruntled politicians, and that can come from suppressed anger, and disgruntled States members.

Look for: leaks of the kind that Jersey Water can’t plug, and Chief Officers who resign suddenly citing an inability to work with Ministers.


Disraeli spoke of the desire to “climb the greasy pole”, and there that can be seen both at the hustings, and at the desire for elected States members to become one of the elite, the Council of Ministers, or perhaps even an Assistant Minister, waiting in the wings for a chance to fly.

John J. Pitney notes that “jostling for position includes even the lowliest ranks”, and I’ve seen plenty of that over the decades in Jersey politics. Look at how the bargaining went on after the last election over who should be Chief Minister, and how the Treasury Minister got his job.

Look for: horse-trading between politicians, and people who grovel a lot, and think Uriah Heep is a good role model.


This is perhaps the deadliest sin of the politician.

John J. Pitney comments:

“Candidates exaggerate their own virtues, sometimes believing what they say. Once in office, they surround themselves with fawning staff. . "I'm good," thinks the politician, "and since good people don't do bad things, then whatever I do is OK." The agenda justifies the means. The "anointed," as Thomas Sowell calls them, believe that they know what's best for everybody else

The refusal to admit mistakes, an arrogance which treats the public with contempt – we’ve certainly seen examples of these in recent times. That’s why we have an incinerator which still doesn’t work properly, a £200,000 film grant to be written off, a black hole in the economy, lack of States reform, and bulldozers wrecking the car park on the esplanade.

And shrug off objects as “a minor irritation”, because you know you are right.

Look for: a refusal to admit mistakes, a patronising attitude towards any critics, and politics that think that Machiavelli was “a good chap”.

So there you have it. Seven deadly sins and I suspect examples of all of them can be found in the States today.

Traditionally, the opposite side of the seven deadly sins are not managerial precepts but what St Paul termed “the fruit of the Spirit” - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Now that would be something for politicians to aspire to!

1 comment:

Nick Palmer said...

This bit sums up what goes wrong with candidates once they get elected.

"I'm good," thinks the politician, "and since good people don't do bad things, then whatever I do is OK."

It's a version of "l'état, c'est moi"