Ah, St. Brelade – in the Parish’s own words, the Jewel of the West.
A landscape of contrasts, there’s sun, sea and sand, and a coastline whose beauty has sparked many a development debate…
There are several schools and a new skatepark in the works… a precinct whose vacancies continue to cause pain…
Down the way, there’s the ‘Digital Xchange’ at Red Houses, what is soon to be Overdale 2.0…
...and not forgetting the Railway Walk, a park of elephants, Winston Churchill Park, and probably the world’s most picturesque Pizza Express (where a delightful parishioner of the Platinum generation happened to think this correspondent worked in an amusing crossing of wires in a pre-hustings tittle).
Surely, all local talking points in their own right?
But, apparently following a trend in other electoral districts sparked by the absence of Senators in 2022’s edition of the GE, island-wide issues were for the most part the flavour of the day at this week’s St. Brelade Deputy Hustings.
To be specific: pounds (taxes, spending, wages, cost of living), pensioners and Parker.
The Parish Hall at St. Aubin was, in time-honoured fashion, a sea of silver. A welcoming Constable Mike Jackson (competing against NOTA to keep his role) played the expert captain, navigating arrivals to the few and far between seats as the time approached 19:00.
The parish’s great and good were, of course, in attendance - Ministers among them, one former Chief, one departing (points for correct guesses). The latter had cleverly adorned a black face mask. Points to him for safety first – covid hasn’t left us, after all – and bonus points for a convenient disguise should the evening become uncomfortable.
Both standing near the entrance, and standing, was the Jersey Alliance’s green tearaway, St. Brelade parishioner and friend of bats, Piers Sangan.
He decided to stand in Eastern super district of ‘Grouville and St. Martin’, which he has a closer connection to, after deciding party politics wasn’t the fit for him. Maintaining an engaged expression throughout, perhaps he was also wondering how he would have fit on the hustings table had he stayed in St. Brelade.
It was already packed with nine political thorns and a Rose in the middle – goodness knows how Reform Jersey’s poor Nigel Jones would have squeezed in, had he not been infected with covid (get well soon).
Thoughtfully, the two Steves had been sat apart, presumably to avoid “And I agree with Steve”-style repetition.
The room was warm, very warm. Herself a former Senatorial candidate with experience of hustings, our friendly Chair Advocate Rose Colley warned that things may get much hotter.
Indeed, it wasn’t too much longer after candidates’ three-minute opening speeches that parish officials threw open the windows.
Perhaps they had noticed temperatures rise after Karl Busch’s pointed words about a media story that had caused him much “frustration” (which he said he would be happy to clarify, should anyone wish to ask), before swirling into a rousing description of dancing with dementia patients.
It wasn’t a bizarre brag – but a reference to his tea dancing club, which he reminded attendees more than once throughout the hustings had operated all over the island, but more recently in St. Brelade at Communicare, and had numerous health and wellbeing benefits.
(As it happens, no one was able to challenge him on the story in an unnamed media, ahem, as Advocate Colley reminded parishioners after opening statements that no personal questions were allowed.)
Or maybe it was Jonathan Renouf’s opening gambit which sufficiently raised the temperature to merit opening the windows? He won one of the exceedingly few ‘hear hears’ of the night when when he stated he wished to undo the reforms ushered in by Charlie Parker.
Any hot air and nervous energy from both candidates and parishioners appeared to quickly dissipate and gave way to a measured evening of measured questions and responses.
The candidates appeared to be in agreement on many issues, save for slight variations.
When asked about high-net-worth individuals, there were varying views on whether they in turn brought “high-value” for the island – Jonathan Renouf was the only one to point out that there was no substantial data on this – but general consensus was that the system should be reviewed.
More consensus, again, when asked by “the lady in red” to answer, in just one minute, the audience-laugh-inducingly wide open question: “Where do you stand regarding the future of the hospital?”
Steve Bailey also elicited a good number of approbatory “mmmm”s when he spicily interjected that he felt it “unseemly” that the planning application was approved so close to an election. But candidates’ answers were, in summary: ‘We can’t go back in time, let’s move on, but keep an eye on costs.’ Moz Scott was the only one who stated she felt it should be reviewed.
Surprised/disappointed I was the only candidate at last evening’s hustings prepared to challenge (or support a challenge) against the building of the current plan for the billion pound hospital. Only one other mentioned economy and one other unsustainable public spending.— Moz Scott (@MozScott) June 9, 2022
On whether to bring in the Living Wage, which all candidates seemed to support, Moz Scott ploughed a slightly different furrow. She suggested a different approach for more seasonal, external labour-reliant industries (‘One to tell head office!’ your correspondent noted, briefly slipping into her ‘Pexpress’ alter ego, Fiorentina).
Another question on whether, as politicians are now expected to ‘put children first’, a Minister for Old Age should be created also yielded agreement.
On the whole, candidates favoured a ‘Community Minister’ to consider how to help the vulnerable generally. In the very closing minutes of the hustings, Montfort Tadier, who during the evening highlighted his fight as an Assistant Minister for arts and heritage funding, as well as support for a local university, even threw his hat in the ring for an amended version of the role, ‘Minister for Culture and Community’.
It was clear that Senator Sarah Ferguson, a former parish representative who is leaving politics this year, had left a strong legacy in the parish.
Indeed, age was a dominant theme throughout the night, with chatter of impoverished pensioners, the challenge of caring for the ageing population and inter-generational relations – fertile ground for Karl Busch to sashay in with references to his social enterprise.
At times, however, it also seemed to give way to an age contest – Steve Bailey was a “baby boomer”, while James Corbett described himself as “youthful” 70s, and Montfort Tadier described his absent colleague, environmentalist Nigel Jones, as a “youthful pensioner” who had put him to shame by clocking up more than 24,000 steps in a day on the campaign trail.
Champion of Samarès, Senator Steve of Progress-JLC, was most confident when decrying the state of the health service and Ministers’ “misuse” of the Health Insurance Fund (any confidence wobbles, he need have only looked over to the left wall where his own Connétable portrait was winking back at him), but also spoke strongly on the other dominant issues of transparency and accountability.
On this, Helen Miles – who in her opening speech had spoken of a government that had “lost focus” – was clear that the shift of power from Ministers towards civil servants was to blame, and that the island should return to a ‘one Minister, one portfolio’ set-up, as opposed to the three-Minister super-departments that were created through OneGov, echoing calls by an outgoing St. Brelade representative, whose reaction remained hidden.
The audience were approving of Jonathan Renouf’s observation that he wanted to see less hiding behind press officers, and more open communication.
Moz Scott was expressive and animated when discussing transparency, accountability and Parker pay-outs, clearly in her element.
One did wonder, however, whether she and some of her colleagues’ remarks on these themes got lost on some audience members less fluent in the language of governance, PAC, CAM, STAC, P1 (the proposition that gave Charlie Parker more power, which Montfort Tadier was keen to point out that Reform opposed).
There’s been much talk of the “Charlie Parker” at hustings. But we must remember it was politicians who invited him here and gave him more power. It was p.1/2018 that devolved more power from the Assembly to an unelected to p civil servant. @ReformJersey against. We were right pic.twitter.com/HSL4L4ctsH— ???????? Monty Tadier???????? (@DeputyTadier) June 9, 2022
Indeed, while the topics were clearly of public interest, at this point, some of the public’s interest was directed through one of the open windows and towards some of the flowery blouses wafting on a washing line outside (whether that says more about the blouses or the candidates we shan’t presume).
It was in this topical realm that Montfort Tadier and Steve Bailey threw the only party-political shade of the evening – or indeed shade of any kind.
Deputy Tadier quipped that voters who want more of the same should vote for the government, who had “rebranded to the Alliance Party” to hearty laughter. In a cross-party show of solidarity, Mr Bailey said he wished to echo the Deputy’s words, instructing those who want more of the same to “vote Alliance!”
The comment appeared to coincide with lapsing enthusiasm for James Corbett’s offerings. At the beginning of the evening, he had received a fair amount of nodding when he spoke of his vision for a vibrant and successful island where there is equality of opportunity for all through education and the Government just “gets out of the way”.
Perhaps, as the evening went on, some in the audience just weren’t able to get on his corporeal imagery-laden wavelength.
On the topic of accountability, Mr Corbett said that, as well as ensuring politicians understand their “supreme responsibility” and that Ministers follow a code of conduct, Scrutiny should “tear the hairs out of the back of the neck of every Minister” - a surprise to those who thought it was simply about backbenchers conducting reviews. He also spoke of giving his “right arm and a few fingers on [his] left” for his children and grandchildren. Or maybe they didn’t quite understand his simile that there are pockets of communities, like pockets on a jacket?
Pictured: All the candidates at the hustings.
The latter came in response to a final question about parties. Real parties. Like the Jubilee and Liberation Day. It seemed to interest parishioners a great deal more.
Specifically, the asker wanted to know how the candidates would, if elected, bring the community together, perhaps with a view to a big Liberation 80 celebration?
Steve Bailey made everyone wonder where their invites were, speaking of a Jubilee celebration on his Rue that “rocked and rolled”.
Helen Miles said she was disappointed that there were no parish-wide events – to the only combined foot stamp, clap and ‘hear hear!’ of the evening. Why was there no kids party or even something at Communicare or the Elephant Park? she asked. It was her final contribution of many which secured her award for most locally focused candidate of the evening – from her opening speech on creating a ‘Parish Improvement Group’ and western “front door” for parishioners to visit and discuss problems to a nuanced answer on the merits of bringing back ‘Prison Me No Way’ and ‘Building a Safer Society’ (projects junked by Government) when asked about vandalism.
As the clock struck 21:00, Advocate Colley thanked the audience, noting that they had been most kind with their questions. Not so heated after all. Indeed, some onlookers had popped on their jumpers and coats long ago.
Another St. Brelade hustings is taking place at Les Quennevais School on Tuesday at 19:00. Election Day is on 22 June.
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