Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Democracy - Now and Then

 The Jersey Way

“THE Bailiff called an urgent meeting with community leaders on Monday to ease tensions over proposed plans for Liberation Day – as Occupation survivors now threaten to boycott the 70th anniversary celebrations. Former Senator Terry Le Main, Daphne Minihane of Age Concern and St Saviour Constable Sadie Rennard – who have all expressed concerns about the plans to move the 9 May celebrations from Liberation Square to the People’s Park – met the Bailiff, William Bailhache, and Chief Minster Ian Gorst at the hastily arranged meeting.”

The first story to break on Liberation Day about a week ago when there were a number of people who were here during the Occupation saying they were not at all happy with the change of venue. The JEP reported that, and the following which was very much that the People’s Park venue and event would be going ahead – the tone of that was very much that the Bailiff and Chief Minister knew best! The pans were described by politicians as “brilliant”.

In essence, it was patronising to those people who had actually been here, and it must have been that much worse being patronised by people who hadn’t even been born at the time. So I can quite understand the present backlash against it, also reported in the JEP. The tone was perfectly caught by the letter from E D Rousseau:

“Most of the States Members were not even born then, yet they pretend to know what is better for us.”

“The powers that be believe that because it is the 70th anniversary, many more people will be attending. Well it’s pretty obvious that they are not thinking of those of us who were here during the Occupation. Do they really think we are all able to walk from Liberation Square to the People’s Park?”

I think the best quote came from Barbara Perkins (82):

The Bailiff has been going on about doing things the “Jersey way” but if this is the “Jersey way”, then I don’t think much of it.’

The People’s Park venue also means that the politicians who have met in the States Chamber earlier will have to make their way across Town. Do you think they will walk? I suspect that plans are certainly in place for the “upper functionaries” – the Bailiff and Crown Officers, the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers – to have transport to get them there.

I’ve heard nothing at all about transportation for those pensioners who were here during the Occupation, and who presumably have to make their own way. Fine years ago, when held in Liberation Station, there was also a meal held at the RJ&HS showroom in Trinity for the survivors of the Occupation, and a coach to ferry them about. Something like that would certainly go some way towards showing that if the main event venue is split between a brief flag raising, and events on the People’s Park, that due consideration is being given to those who should have been put first and consulted before making all these plans.

When it was first held in Liberation Square, no one could get much of a look in – that’s certainly true. But the last time, giant screens and speakers relayed the ceremonies to others on the large open space where the old bus stops used to be. That seemed to work very well in involving everyone, and why it could not have been done this time beats me.

Of course, the authorities assume that because it is the 70th, more people will want to attend than before. I think that is something of a chimera. As with every Liberation day, some people will take the advantage of a day off, or in most cases, a normal Saturday, and other events such as the Steam Fayre will also attract those people who want to go somewhere special – and Don Pallot’s legacy to Jersey is very special – but also enjoy train rides, Jersey wonders, looking at Vintage cars, land rover trials, organ playing, and the vintage Jersey cars and farm machinery – and who probably don’t want to hear a lot of speeches.

The best speeches in the past were those given in the States Chamber by those politicians who had actually been here during the Occupation – they had an authenticity that none of the other speeches had. I’ve read them, and they are great. They brought the memory of the day alive.

But I cannot think of anything worse than listening to long-winded speeches by some people who like the sound of their own rather plumy voices rather too much. And for a religious text, I suggest that the religious leaders bear in mind the good book – in particular, Job 16, verse 3: “Will your long-winded speeches never end?”

And in case you think this is exaggeration, some of the D-Day veterans had this to say about those ceremonies in 2014:

"I can also remember D Day , I am old too.. I bet instead of long winded speeches , I would have really wanted a comfortable chair in the shade and something to drink.. !! in fact if anyone organized such a thing again ever. Please cut short the ceremonial crap and have a tea where Vets can mingle with others ; chat ; relax, and the big wheels can feel (as they ought);honored to come over and meet the vets. sit down have tea or coffee."

"Veterans of the beach landing.; over 90 years old now ; seated on hard chairs in the hot sun without so much as a bottle of water..while the world leaders and royals took an hour to arrive and were seated on comfortable chairs on a shaded raised platform in the shade. boggles my mind. those vets are soldiers and toughed it out.. some looking exhausted , while dignitaries gave long winded .speeches. very unoriginal "tributes" for another. hour..and the aged Vets , the one's the occasion was honoring, sat on. in the heat.."

But as then in France, now in Jersey, those who were present at that moment in time have been almost treated like afterthoughts.

Youth Assembly

The Annual Youth Assembly took place, and the following propositions were on the table:

Beaulieu: Jersey should introduce blasphemy laws
Victoria College: The island should introduce stronger immigration controls
JCG: Written consent should be obtained before sexual intercourse
Hautlieu: Jersey should welcome Asylum Seekers
De La Salle: Disband the States Assembly

The De La Salle one was interesting because apparently it was using electronic means of decision making to bypass a States Assembly, so that everyone could vote on propositions. That is harking back to the origins of democracy in Athens, although that did only have a franchise which applied to free men, not slaves or women. But the difference is well explained in Fred Hoyle’s novel “October the first is too late”:

“Our hosts were concerned with the structure of the seas beyond the Pillars of Hercules, with what we believed about the nature of the world. How was our political life organized? They didn't like the idea of elected representatives of the people. To them it was important that every free adult member of the community should be permitted to vote on every specific issue. It was impossible to explain that the very size of our population precluded their own democratic system.”

The idea of an electronic version was mooted by the science fiction writer Philip K Dick, in his novella “The Variable Man”.

“This gimmick makes it possible for citizens to raise and decide issues directly. They won’t have to wait for the Council to verbalize a measure. Any citizen can transmit his will with one of these, make his needs register on a central control that automatically responds. When a large enough segment of the population wants a certain thing done, these little gadgets set up an active field that touches all the others. An issue won’t have to go through a formal Council. The citizens can express their will long before any bunch of grey-haired old men could get around to it.”

Of course there are attendant risks involved, not least that a majority could act as tyrant. The California scenario, which allows a certain leeway on behalf of citizens also presents problems – people pass decision to cut taxes, and to increase services, which is why the State so often teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.

But there is also a fundamental problem in representative systems, where they break down, and people lose confidence in them. We can see this in the decision making “from above” regarding the Liberation day celebrations.

And this kind of decision making was well illustrated by a letter written by G.K. Chesterton against a correspondent, and in the way in which the “collective responsibility” appears to work, with the Council of Ministers making decisions and seemingly riding roughshod over the general public’s views, they are worth restating:

(1) I say a democracy means a State where the citizens first desire something and then get it. That is surely simple.

(2) I say that where this is deflected by the disadvantage of representation, it means that the citizens desire a thing and tell the representatives to get it. I trust I make myself clear.

(3) The representatives, in order to get it at all, must have some control over detail; but the design must come from popular desire. Have we got that down?

(4) You, I understand, hold that English M. P.s today do thus obey the public in design, varying only in detail. That is a quite clear contention.

(5) I say they don't. Tell me if I am getting too abstruse.

(6) I say our representatives accept designs and desires almost entirely from the Cabinet class above them; and practically not at all from the constituents below them. I say the people does not wield a Parliament which wields a Cabinet. I say the Cabinet bullies a timid Parliament which bullies a bewildered people. Is that plain?

(7) If you ask why the people endure and play this game, I say they play it as they would play the official games of any despotism or aristocracy. The average Englishman puts his cross on a ballot-paper as he takes off his hat to the King—and would take it off if there were no ballot-papers. There is no democracy in the business. Is that definite?

1 comment:

James said...

I rather think the Hedley Le Maistre column in the JEP summed it up better - that you might have got rid of the Germans, but a walk round the Waterfront would tell you Jersey was still under occupation...