A Week in Politics

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What he doesn’t want to hear is ‘Um, yeah … over here, at the back, excuse me, can you all hear me back here? OK, it’s like this …’

That’s the danger of asking questions – sometimes the answers aren’t what you’d hoped for, and sometimes they force you to wipe clean the blackboard, grab the chalk, and start again.

I had a bit of that myself last week. I had a story that emerged, long-legged, shimmering, and flashing an inviting smile, right out of nowhere early on Tuesday morning. And let me tell you, this story was a beauty.

It had everything – money, Planning, legal hassles, a bit more money and some general States craziness.

But when I tried to stand it up, it all just fell apart. The moment I started asking questions, my long-legged shimmering beauty quickly evaporated, as the guy on the other end of the phone tried to work out what the hell I was talking about. Sorry pal, came back the message, no story here, don’t know what you’re on about.

Well, easy come, easy go, right?

Yep – there’s plenty of stories out there. And while I miss my long-legged shimmering beauty, there are, as the saying goes, plenty more fish in the sea. With or without long legs. That’s where it’s different for me and Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur.

I can ask questions all day long – you could almost describe it as part of my job, I suppose – but he’s on much more of a one-shot kind of deal. When he starts posing his questions next week about the new Strategic Plan and the future of ministerial policy over the next three years, he’s got the answers that he’d like to hear stored away in the back of his mind.

Like the priest in the intro – that’s the first paragraph, journojargoneers – he’ll have his fingers crossed. I’ve got no doubt that he’s serious about the process of consulting States Members, lobby groups and the public about the Strategic Plan – partly because he has been promisingly silent on the possibility of another Imagine Jersey ‘exercise’, and partly because he doesn’t seem to be a fundamentally dishonest person.

But when he asks the public these questions he’s got to be ready to hear things that he doesn’t like, and that he doesn’t want to hear, and be prepared to do something about them.

That’s going to mean, at some point, shifting away from the original plan because of the results of the consultation – and while I stand to be corrected on this point, I think the only time that has been done over the last three years is when it was decided to keep duty off boat fuel. Anyways, we’re back to that act of faith.

If he and his merry ministers are serious about ‘connecting with the public’, then there’s got to be something tangible in it for the public to connect to.

Whether it’s a bit more urgency about the increasingly-inappropriately-titled Millennium Town Park, an extra holiday to take us off the bottom of the EU table, or even an agreement to consider dipping in to the Strategic Reserve rather than hitting already creaking wallets with a new water/sewerage charge, increased utility bills and Health insurance levies – there has to be something at the end of it.

Because at the moment, the bits that are being leaked out of the plan look suspiciously like bad news that isn’t going to do anything but alienate people more.

Increasing the retirement age, new charges, public sector redundancies and – most sinister of all – ‘managing public expectations’ don’t sound like anything that’s going to reconnect the public with anything much at all.

All this, of course, is leaving aside the curious idea of politicians getting elected on a set of promises, then getting elected to ministerial office on further promises, then asking the public what their priorities should be.

I’ll admit to being a little confused about this.

Is there a paper-rock-scissors hierarchy here? Does an election promise top a commitment in the ministerial elections? Does the Strategic Plan beat a hustings pledge? How is this going to work?

War on the Waterfront wages on. Senator Ben Shenton may have more than a hint of mischief in his eye when he casts longing glances at one of the many empty seats around the table at the Waterfront Enterprise Board.

But that’s not to say that the ministerial proposal to essentially kick all the States Members off the board and hand it over to Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf is entirely without its inherent dangers either.

The ministerial proposal is pretty quiet on who’s going to take the States Members seats – I’m sure we’d all be a lot more comfortable with an assurance it isn’t going to be the same old approach of tossing the jobs to friendly former States Members that doesn’t seem to have worked spectacularly well so far.

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