12 November 2010

When is a Categorical Assurance not a Categorical Assurance?

'It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.'  ~Aeschylus
Practical politics is a funny thing. For example, you are allowed to lie, and often with impunity, but you are not allowed to suggest that same person may have lied, or else you face being shot down by the Chair, with the full weight of Standing Orders behind him. This is to make sure that we all behave like civilised gentlemen - even the ladies.

However, this blog is not about lying, per se, rather about election promises and the consequences for society when those promises are not kept or worse -  broken. In researching for this post I came across several relevant quotes that I loved. I think my favourite was: 
Promises are like babies:  easy to make, hard to deliver.  ~Author Unknown

It is a quote that is quite relevant and it is most relevant to all politicians, but particularly those who are not 'in power'. In the UK, for example, it will be difficult for Labour MPs to deliver on promises, because those promises were conditional on them gaining power, and thus setting policy direction; and with the Liberals, even though they are in (a position of) power (sort of), it has been necessary to make compromises which, in some cases, are completely opposite to the principles on which they originally stood. Such is the nature of realpolitik

In Jersey, where there is no overt party system, this is even more pronounced. I might stand on a platform of free Coca-Cola (I won't by the way), but unless I can get another 26 of my colleagues to agree with me, the policy is academic. (I hesitated to say 'worthless', but this is not the case. Policies do (if they are held genuinely) give us some insight into what the candidate is about). So, it is necessary to distinguish between what are promises (i.e. what one is capable of delivering) and what are policies. Generally speaking, most electors are satisfied with their representatives, so long as they have tried to get their policies through, even if they fail. Better to try and fail than to not try at all.

However, there are those who are capable of both making promises and delivering on them. These are the Ministers, who set policy - even if it is the assembly as a whole which approves or rejects it. It is therefore reasonable for the public to expect that when a candidate stands for election, and he becomes Minister, he will do all he can to carry out his (key) promises - and not do the exact opposite.

In his manifesto in 2008, Senator Ozouf stated, 'I will robustly oppose any attempt to increase GST above 3%.' This can still be seen on his website under the large heading TAX & SPENDING. The wording could not be less equivocal. If I vote to re-elect Senator Ozouf, not only will he not support any increase, but he will oppose it robustly. 

This commitment to keeping GST at three percent was reinforced once again on 11th December 2008 in response to a question from Deputy Debbie de Sousa, when the Senator was seeking to be elected as Treasury Minister (by the States Assembly): -

Deputy D.J. De Sousa of St. Helier:
What guarantees can the Senator give that if the economy really does slow down, as expected, that he will not raise the rate of G.S.T.?

Senator P.F.C. Ozouf:
I can give the Assembly a categoric assurance that I will not bring proposals to increase G.S.T.  We have created the Stabilisation Fund and this Assembly has agreed to put some £120 million to £140 million.  That is the Fund that will enable us to take the economy through difficult times and I will have no hesitation in preparing scenarios for a downturn to keep Jersey people in jobs and our economy thriving.  Unlike most other jurisdictions, we have the wherewithal to do that.

So, one can quite understand how those who elected him, both as Treasury Minister and into the States, might be angry, disappointed and quite frankly disillusioned to see that far from robustly opposing any proposal to increase the rate of GST, he is actually the very one proposing it!

Of course, the Treasury Minister has reasoned that his comments were 'made in good faith' and that the economic outlook has now changed, but it must be remembered that when he gave his promise to the States Assembly, this was already 2 months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and at any rate, the question was already conditional on the fact that the economy really would slow down.  

But, perhaps something even worse than breaking a promise that you could very easily keep is that as a society we have come to expect and even accept that is it what politicians do. For my part and the part of many of my colleagues, we do our utmost to stick to our manifestos. But when high profile politicians like the Minister break promises, there is a general mistrust of politicians, which can in some cases lead to a general disillusionment with all government. Those more wise will simply put it down to experience, and remember these broken promises AND vote accordingly next October.

It is not the place of this blog to speculate whether the comments of the Senator were made in good faith or not, however Aeschylus was right when he said, 'It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.'  


  1. Montfort.

    One must not forget Deputy Ann Dupre who stood on an anti GST platform to get elected. Told us how bad it was, how the government had got it wrong, how it effects the elderly etc. Then the minute she is elected votes against any GST exemptions. And I agree with the first commenter, it's politicians like that, that give you all a bad name.

  2. Monty, how else should this money be raised?

  3. There may have been many people, through their own foresight, envisaged things could get worse at the last time of voting and may may have voted for Ozouf, taking his assurances at face value, thinking, surely this guy would not be stupid enough to make such a strong statement without pursuing it robustly.

    But, now I mark him down as someone who I cannot believe whatever he says, as he could change with the wind.

  4. Not applicable to this post except to say you are ignoring the biggest elephant in the room of Jersey politics, since the occupation.

    Do you not understand the situation Stuart Syvret is in & the issues he is raising ? Why are you sitting on your hands? You should be supporting his fight for justice against the Jersey Way.

    Your (& others who should know better) silence is nothing more than cowardice of the worst kind. "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing"

    I voted for you to fight for change. Bowing down is not an option.

    Do the right thing.

  5. Team Voice, you are quite right to point out that Senator Ozouf is not the only one to renege on his word. No doubt there will also have been parishioners in St Clement who took what now deputy Dupré said in good faith and cast an 'anti-GST' vote in her favour. What a disappointment it must have been for those to see her change tack shortly afterwards.
    But nothing can match the kind of double-speak we have seen from Senator Philip Ozouf. Of course, not all of us were fooled. We have known for a long time that we have a majority in government who favour protecting the wealth of the few over the welfare of the many. GST, especially without exemptions, is merely a symptom of this nefarious ideology

  6. You may be interested to know that Senator Le Marquand is still sticking to his election promise of opting for exemptions to GST for food.

  7. In answer to Anon's question about how we raise the money: first of all, we do not raise the money by misleading the public - by saying we will do one thing, getting elected and then doing another. The answer to your question about 'raising' the money, really depends on the nature of the deficit. Again, the Treasury Minister and Chief Minister, I believe, have been equivocal about this. On the one hand we are told that the deficit is structural. This certainly was the case when GST was initially brought in, and it was down to 0-10%. It is still unclear to what extent the current £30m is down to 0-10%, and the lost tax revenues that entailed, and the economic downturn. Senator Ozouf maintains it is due to the recession.

    If this IS the case, then this is a need for short term funding. This can be met by using a small percentage from our savings accounts (the Strategic Reserve - via the Stabilisation Fund). This is what any sensible household would normally do for one off shortfalls. This would give us time to see whether we are nearing the end of downturn, or still in it and act accordingly.

    The fact that the Minister is opting for an increase, however, is worrying on two counts. Firstly, hiking up a consumption tax during a downturn, is likely to have a pernicious effect on recovery and may delay the recovery even longer (not to mention on the individuals who can ill-afford it, potentially increasing poverty and dependence on the State, and so more State spending). The second worry part is that the Minister himself may not believe that this 'new' black hole is simply due to the recession, but rather that it is due to the dreaded 'beginning of the end' and that finance has now peaked (for whatever reason), and falling income tax returns will be a trend rather than simply a 'blip'. If this is the case, this will explain why he and his advisors are so keen to keep the 'Rainy Day Fund' intact. Hopefully, this is not the case, but if so a withdrawal of £28m from it for this year to delay GST will be the least of our worries.

  8. Other anon., I welcome your past support and I agree with the meaning behind the excellent quote, "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing".
    Can I ask you to specify exactly what it is that I should be doing that I am not doing though? I do not believe my values have changed since being elected. Taking personalities out of the equation, the wrongs that happened to Stuart are simply one manifestation - a symptom- of a broken system. Clearly we need to keep on fighting for constitution reform (separation of powers, being key. Even Sark have conceded this now). As long as we have the current Judges presiding, and future judges giving legal advice to the States Assembly, there will continue to be problems and the potential for gross injustices.

    It was interesting to note that in Bob's Hill's debate on whether or not in certain cases, vulnerable children should automatically have lawyers assigned to them, one of the arguments against was that it was important for the court (the judge) to have discretion. We were all too polite to say it on the day (and it would not have helped Bob's cause), but 'how can one have confidence in the likes of 'one current commissioner', who in his time as Attorney General and head of the honorary police, allowed a known child molester join the force, and when it became known to him, did not even ask him to resign. Subsequently, that honorary went on to abuse another girl. And it was all avoidable. This is what we are up against. What do you propose, anon?

  9. Oh don't say use the rainy day fund, its a typical "I don't really know how to deal with this problem" approach which is now under fire.

  10. Not at all. If the deficit is not structural, as Senator Ozouf seems to be implying, then this is just a one off, right? So why increase an existing tax, when we have 100s of millions in the bank just for a short term defecit? Of course, if this is not the case, then we should look to raising funds (after any efficiencies have been found) and do it by taxing profit, not simply wages and consumption. Those who benefit most from Jersey's favourable tax system should be the ones contributing most. It is in their interest to do so.

  11. Well Ted Vibert of the JDA has been wanting to raid the rainy day fund for the populist vote for years. Says nothing about his ability to take tough decisions.

  12. I won't speak for Mr Vibert, but the underlying thesis of your point is nonsense. It is not about taking tough or easy decisions, but the right ones. Tough decisions can also be wrong.

    What is your analysis of the current deficit? Is it structural or temporary? Caused by the recession, zero-ten or a combination of the two? Do YOU have any answers?

  13. Leave the rainy day fund alone!

  14. There are a lot of anonymous contributors, but I am not sure whether they are all one person, or different ones. No one from the Finance Party seems willing to answer the question about the nature of the projected deficit. Again, no analysis from the last anon. contributor, just trite slogans.

    I will be asking Senator Ozouf the above question in an email tomorrow and copying it to all States Members and the Media, that way he might respond. He must know that the nature of the deficit is a structural one, and not down to the recession right, otherwise why would he be promoting a 'structural' solution to it?

  15. Why is a Deputy of the States of Jersey having to ask members of the Public for an answer on own his blog as to whether a deficit is a structural one and to top it up analysis? Your responses to many economical questions come across as very green at the best of times and this is no exception. If you do not understand how this Island economic woes work during recession or world recession than stay out of the subject. Using the rainy day fund is the easy way out and Roy Travert knows more about this than you do obviously.

  16. am not asking members of the public, I am asking one blogger who is adamant that the rainy day fund should not be used, but does not justify why. And s/he still doesn't say even now. I am not sure where the reference to Roy Travert comes in, unless you are subtly inferring that the last poster is he. Strangely, though, I thought he and Ted Vibert were very close politically, certainly in their ideological out look. May Roy can come on here and let us know himself what his take on it is.

    The comments about not knowing how economies/recessions work are facile. There are many experts on economics who do not even agree about the nature of this recession, what type of recession it may be and to what extent Jersey is affected. It is also not clear, partly because it is early days, because much of the redundancies in the finance sector remain hidden, because we do not have reliable or meaningful statistics on unemployment etc, what state Jersey's economy is and will be in.

    So in reality, anyone who claims to have concrete answers is must be treated with due care, but this does not mean that valid discussion cannot take place. I am here as much to listen (moreso infact), than to preach my own opinion.

    However, the point which one must take away is that I believe, and it is also the case for many of colleagues - and not all the 'usual suspects either) that Senator Ozouf is not being completely frank with us (if you get what I mean). If he were then there would not be all these muddy waters. However, he cannot come out and say, hey guys - we b*llsed up 0-10 and we now have an ongoing structural deficit which is worse than we first thought, because Jersey companies are moving into UK ownership and not paying tax here. So what we are going to do is increase your tax bill by increasing GST, reducing your allowances and your social security.

    The bottom line is that whether it is the recession - created by the greed of the banks - or 0-10% - Jersey money men in hock to the greedy banks, it is unchecked neo-liberalism that has created these problems, and it is the 'ordinary' worker that will have to foot the bill. Not in my name, but maybe in the name of Mr/s/Miss 'Anon'

  17. Ted Vibert has sent me the following comments to post for him:

    I normally don't respond to anonymous contributors to blogs because I regard people who express views and are not prepared to put their names to them as a waste of space and displaying cowardice- a human failing I particularly despise.

    As is the case with many people criticisng the JDA, they inevitably misrepresent our position and exaggerate it. By saying that I advocate "raiding" the Rainy Day fund impliesa that we should do domething improper. What I have been advvocsating is that we use some of the £560 million we have stashed away for emergencies to tide us over economic downturns. That is what it is there for.. As an example, a numberr of cuts passed by the Statres to front line services at the hospital, and in cluding free school milk for prinmary children totalled just under one million pounds. If that money had been drawn out of the Rainy Day fund, we would have £559 million in the bank--does that create any problems for us.

    A lot of the money in the Rainy Day Fund should not even be there. The fund has been built up by annual surpluses( ie money left over after all of our costs have been met) and then profits earned by investing that money which is ploughed back into the Fund. But in many cases some of those surpluses have been exaggerated by a failure to maintain our properties in which we house people unable to afford to own or rent property privately . I went to a meeting last week of States tenants lving at:Pomme d'Or Farm, First Tower, who were assjured by the Housing Ministerr six months ago that work would start in October on their homes which are in a disgusting state with leaking roofs, windows that are falling out,. gutters and drainpipes corroded and holed. Damp permeats almost every flat-even moss growing on the inside walls. Wallpaper peels off.. There is no insulation anywhere in the buildinge and the costs of heating -most of which is wasted is -prohitive. Truly disgracdeful. They were told that as a result of the budget cuts the 7 million that had been earmrked to revamp the whole estate was hno longver avilable and the housing department could give no indicaatgion as to when this was done.

    Had money been put aside for proper maintenance of States housing instead of going into the Rainy Day Fund those properties would not be in the state they are in and people wojuld not be living miserable and unhealhy lives. If that 7 million was drawn out of the Fund, we would have £552 million in the bank. Is that a problem?
    T he fact that your anonymous blogger feels that it is right that we should let 70 hard working Jersey families live in such disgracegul conditions in properties where we the public, are rhe landlorfds, at the same time as we are sitting on over half-a-billion pounds of cash in the bank, is immoral and Jesey should be ashamed of itself.

    Finally, I should acknowledge that Roy Travert and I are friends and we have a mutual respect for each other. At times, he disagrees with me and I with him but we are mature enough to beg to differ on issues Jefsey's economy and the way it should be run is one area of difference we have. He is a good bloke and his heart is in the right place. He is also a fine car mechanic and an excellent karate teacher. But he would be amused--and flattered- at the suggestion that he is some sort of economic guru whose pearls of economic wisdom should be held up as the panacea for Jersey's ills

  18. Has somebody hit a nerve with Ted Vibert? Nice to see you are good friends with the man who trashed Stuart's chances of getting re-elected Montfort.

  19. There are no friends in politics, just those that you are able to work with and those that you are not. Practically, of course, things are never that clear cut. You work with those who share common aims and who are able to be worked with. One can work with most politicians on some areas and not others.

  20. Monty who do you work with then? Or do we just guess from the voting patterns? I wish all States members would get away from personality politics.

  21. Perhaps it should be also mentioned that Alan Maclean was also first elected on an anti GST promise, renaged on it and then lied about it in his 2008 manifesto - and got a senatorial seat.

  22. Latest Anon: You have hit the nail on the head. We must move away from personality politics, in particular the cult of the personality. Even Stuart Syvret came round to this point of view (ironically) and said so in the recent hustings. Just because you do not generally vote the same way as another member, does not mean that you cannot have areas of shared interest and common goals. Scrutiny and working panels allow for just this. I have recently been speaking to Deputy Power and Senator Le Gresley because I am very keen to get involved with looking at housing issues, which are of critical importance to the island, and where there are also many issues. Apart from that, I work with anyone who is willing. I am not going to do a name and shame on here, but some members are more amenable to this than others.

  23. In defence of anonymous

    [Ted Vibert] "I normally don't respond to anonymous contributors to blogs because I regard people who express views and are not prepared to put their names to them as a waste of space and displaying cowardice- a human failing I particularly despise."

    Why are some blog contributors, concerned with those who wish to contribute ‘under a cloak of anonymity’!!

    A contributor may decide to; voice an opinion; suggest a remedy; complain about bad service or whistle-blow. Adding a name or pseudonym does not alter the content of the post. Unless the post is personal, or the person is claiming to be an expert in a particular area, there is no logical reason for anyone to leave their name.

    I can debate a point with anyone, my name might be Mr Smith, so how would that help someone debate an issue any better! However, in contrast, it is not unknown for someone who starts to loose a facts/logic based argument or find it difficult to maintain a particular view, to revert to personal attacks in an attempt to undermine the other person, which may be easier if you are known to them.!

    I might be John Thomas living in Wales intending to live in Jersey, any the wiser!

    I might call myself Steve Syvret today, maybe tomorrow it will be Ted Walker or Dave Ozouf. As you can imagine, leaving a name still doesn't add to the debate, except for those who are representing the public.

    Lets' face it even Politicians hold a secret ballot, why? I assume they could be considered as a waste of space and displaying cowardice by some!!

    Secrecy is fragile. Once it's broken all its protections are gone forever. If secrecy is your only defence you only have one fragile wall of protection. It's probably best to use discretion as your primary defence, with secrecy as a second wall in case your discretion fails.

  24. A very good point devil's advocate. And I entirely agree there is no need to resort to verbal abuse. By all means be robust and call a spade a spade, but don't sink to the level of calling (as one recent commentator has done on my comments - which remain unpublished) you f***ing **** etc. It is the hallmark that they have already lost the argument.

  25. Thanks to all of those who have posted legitimate comments. I am now going to put up another blog, but suffice to say, it seems that the satire of the cartoon was effective. The personally abusive comments have started coming in again (I wonder from whom?), so it has clearly hit a nerve :-)