I’VE just arrived home from a meeting in town. En route to my flat I bumped into Eric, a neighbour. He asked me what was going to be in my column this week. I answered honestly: I don’t know.
I spent the stroll back mulling over so many things.
Last week I wrote a story about the Chief Minister lacking a plan. It was based upon a quote from Senator Kristina Moore, who was less than impressed by his performance in a Scrutiny hearing she was chairing. Since then there’s been further to-ing and fro-ing about the chief’s plan to set up a series of advisory policy development boards. Politicians who head up Scrutiny panels don’t seem happy that their work is, in their minds, being taken off them.
It was then that a light bulb lit up in my head. Perhaps Senator John Le Fondré is actually playing a blinder. While those elsewhere in parliament, and indeed elsewhere in the Island, are openly and privately airing serious concerns about his ability to lead, could he actually be undertaking a quiet power grab? By the time we’ve all realised he’s sewn up the work of Scrutiny, appointed scrutineers to his own panels, and ensured they all answer to him directly, maybe the masterplan will be in full effect? He’s got a ragtag of left wingers and right wingers in his cabinet. He’s given most of them the jobs they want and has dangled just enough of a carrot to each of the others to keep them happy. This ‘leader without a plan’ plan could actually be the canniest of the lot.
So that was my first thought. Then I got onto the response I’ve had to the front page story I wrote which appeared in Monday’s JEP. It was the account of a whistleblower about a series of perceived failings in Children’s Services. Since then I’ve had phone calls and emails galore from both those inside the department, and from those who are on the receiving end of the services they provide.
Somebody, quite rightly, questioned the validity of the claims of the whistleblower given their choice to remain anonymous. All I can say is that people who have shared their identity with me, but won’t put their heads above the parapet for fear of repercussions, have spoken to me in enough detail, with example after example of things going wrong, that I am left in no doubt that there are problems to be fixed in Children’s Services. Indeed the States accept that. What I am not sure about is whether the scale and seriousness of some of these allegations is either fully understood or, most importantly, taken seriously and acted upon.
All I can say is that, as a journalist, it is my intention to keep asking the questions in the hope that the answers are forthcoming.
And then I arrived home to find an active discussion on a Facebook group which revels in local politics. It’s called Jersey Action Group. Some of the stuff they post is on the money, some is cheekily disruptive and some is – I suspect – knowingly inaccurate, but it fits their chosen narrative. A tactic straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. On this occasion they were making claims and assumptions about why a letter-writer’s allegations had prompted the offer of a right of reply in this newspaper. To me it was obvious. There were strong allegations in the letter, which could have been reputationally damaging, and so offering a right of reply is not just normal, it is also the right thing to do .
I posted a short message to that effect, and then deleted it when it became obvious that other particpants involved in the debate were clearly not interested in hearing from anybody who didn’t agree with their view. And while I regretted deleting the post (I just decided I didn’t need the agro), it’s representative of so much of the echo chamber that exists online where people only want to debate with those they already hold common ground with. Once upon a time we’d ‘agree to disagree’ and move on, or have a decent, robust debate. But these days it seems to be about tribes. If you’re not in my gang and you don’t share my world view, you’re not welcome. That makes me sad.
I’m all for debate – I relish it. Indeed I love having my journalism challenged, and some of the comments I get as a result of writing these columns make for uncomfortable reading. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, there you go, Eric. I’m still not sure what I’m going to write about in this column. But working through the possibilities that are occupying my mind has got me to the requisite word count. Result!