A Week in Politics

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Some take excitement from physical exertion, some from culture, while others lean towards travel, mind-altering chemicals or competition.

And there are 53 people, who for reasons beyond normal understanding, choose the States Chamber as the place to get their kicks.

Their thinking is as wrong as it is possible to be. The States Chamber is not the place to go for life-affirming drama, for high-octane thrills or white-knuckle action.

There was precious little excitement in the States last week. At times, there was little evidence of life, either.

A few Members had a go at rustling some up out of nowhere by attaching gravitas and weight to what they were doing – Deputy Andrew Green described a debate as being ‘about the beginning of the end of what is left of family life’ and Deputy Montfort Tadier informed his colleagues that the matter was ‘about respect for humanity’.

It was a valiant effort, which was hampered somewhat by the fact that they were talking about re-arranging the Boxing Day holiday when it falls on a Saturday (which happens every seven years). But it was a death rattle, a last spasmodic kick from a corpse, a final flip from a grounded goldfish.

By the time that the States finished up at 7 pm on Friday they had clocked up more than 30 hours in the Chamber. To be honest, it felt more like weeks.

It would be easy to blame a couple of speakers – Deputies Paul Le Claire and Daniel Wimberley spoke more than most (although Deputy Wimberley redeemed himself, more on which later) – but last week’s Order Paper, or schedule of debates, was one that the last Assembly would have polished off in three days, tops.

Could the main difference between the current 53 Members and the last lot be that this bunch are just a bit slower?

Napoleon is thought to have prized luck, beyond all other attributes, as a desirable commodity in his generals. On the basis of last week’s performance, Senator Terry Le Sueur must be a man born outside of his proper time and place in history.

For he is a lucky, lucky man. He may not know this – he may think that the reverse is true, that a time of recession, spending pressures and hostility from Europe is not a auspicious moment to be handed the job of Chief Minister.

But however much he could privately bemoan his lack of fortune, he should thank his guardian angel – in the slightly unlikely form of Deputy Debbie De Sousa – for getting him out of an embarrassing defeat over plans to expand the Waterfront Enterprise Board.

When she proposed the reference-back – a procedural device that stops a debate and effectively tells the person behind the politician to go back and do it properly, without actually rejecting the proposition – the Chief Minister must have been a very happy man.

But whatever it was that possessed him to take the proposition for the Jersey Development Company – which would empower ministers to sell or develop States property without recourse to the States Chamber – to the States is something that he needs to address.

At the end of the day, the proposition meant expanding WEB with more powers, a wider remit and more resources. Nothing wrong with that, except that WEB are widely held, both inside the States Chamber and outside of it, to be a mess. An ill-conceived quango where salaries and costs rise atmospherically while projects that they are meant to be supervising do not.

A States Member who you wouldn’t think of as opposition-minded remarked privately outside the Chamber that it was nothing but pig-headedness that drove ministers to bring a proposition that was extremely unlikely to succeed. If even Senator Le Sueur’s friends knew that, then why didn’t he?

I guess it’s a privilege to watch government in action, but it doesn’t often feel like it. After a while you can have a pretty good guess at who’s going to say what (more or less): you learn that there’s no little point trying to write down what Senator Terry Le Main says because he is a complete stranger to the world of grammar; you learn that it’s more fun to watch Deputy Geoff Southern with the volume turned off, and imagine that his frantic arm-waving and pointing relates to an unfulfilled ambition to direct traffic; you learn that Deputy Le Claire will speak at every single opportunity, and say very little over a very long period of time; and I thought that I had learned to expect a strange, rambling, slightly self-important and haphazard quality to Deputy Wimberley’s speeches.

And 99 times out of 100 that’d be right. But credit where it is due, the Deputy said something genuinely beautiful in the States during the aforementioned Boxing Day debate.

He was talking about Christmas, and trying (I think) to make the point that even outside of religion, it is important that people have time off from the business of living, so that they can live.

This is what he said: ‘Underneath it, so many people are stirred in a very special way by Christmas. It is a day in the middle of winter when we look up and see the stars.’

And that, folks, is actual honest-to-goodness oratory. And it brightened up a dismal winter’s week in politics.

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