Guernsey Press

‘We all have a responsibility’

Lord Digby Jones reflects on a recent incident that he believes is unacceptable in Guernsey’s civilised society.


REGULAR readers of my monthly offerings to these pages will be aware of my ‘thinking bench’, situated on the fabulous cliffs between Gouffre and Petit Bot.

I am an avid fan of the walking opportunities offered by Guernsey’s cliffs, lanes and beaches and the combination of thinking time and exercise hopefully fulfils the Roman poet Juvenal’s dictum of ‘mens sana in corpore sano’. Some 21 centuries ago he prayed for ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’.

When my editor gave me my copy deadline for August I took myself off for a walk and duly came back from my bench intent on writing this month in the interrogative:

u Why is it still acceptable for people to be charged nearly four quid a week (on pain of criminal prosecution for non-compliance) to own and use a television signal receiver when they might never tune in to the BBC which is funded by their money and that of millions of others, paid out of post-tax income? Surely choice (the shibboleth of social media and Generation Y, Z and more that haven’t been thought up yet) has been totally disregarded. And is it ‘worth it’? There is some fabulous programming, great news and sports coverage and an international reputation projecting soft power and influence on the one side of the debate, and the Bashir and Savile scandals, some unacceptably overpaid presenters, some biased news coverage and fully paid-up wokery on the other. But that argument becomes sterile in its unanswerability. The real issue is that shifting tastes, attitudes and social mores have rendered the BBC business and funding model broken in the third decade of the 21st century. And what’s to be done about that?

u Why are the major supermarket chains not being pressured into absorbing at least part of rising production and commodity costs into their margins rather than passing them onto the hard-pressed customer or refusing to accept increases from suppliers and manufacturers? The value-erosion of inflation should not all be borne by the producer or the consumer. A bit of transparent teamwork between all the parts of the supply chain would help everyone.

u Why, in a time when Big Oil and major refineries are wallowing in so much cash they basically don’t know what to do with it, don’t western governments and campaigners pressurise and tax them much more? When BP intends to give huge dollops of cash back to its shareholders (no investment in the UK of tomorrow with that policy) and Shell defends not reducing prices for the consumer at the pump with the words ‘we price on a competitive basis’ (that means ‘we charge what we can get away with’), why aren’t Greta and her motorway junction lovers not just, for once, channelling their self-indulgent hate for this sector by championing the person in the street?

But then I read of the disgusting behaviour shown towards one of the States’ deputies, with excrement being left on her doorstep and an appalling email being sent to her (I can vouch for its vileness – I’ve read it). All for doing what she was, in this free, democratic society that is Guernsey, elected and paid to do.

In my offerings to you all through this column I rarely comment on Bailiwick politics – as a recent immigrant, I feel it is not my place. Pat and I are just so very grateful to have been welcomed so warmly into the lives of so many wonderful people and to have been invited to participate in one of the most decent, courteous and safe societies on Earth. But when I saw this happening I felt so strongly that I now bring this article to its close with some observations that are close to home – not about the BBC or oil companies, but about our Sarnian rock, about our lives, how day to day we co-exist, how we get on with each other. Let’s call it ‘our community’.

Whoever left that excrement on that doorstep presumably didn’t leave their name and address with it. But to you, whoever you are, I say…

You are abusing the very bedrock of such a decent society. You are brutalising something precious. You clearly take such a benefit completely for granted. You have a responsibility – one that we all share. Our civilised society only functions properly when those who disagree do so peacefully and legally. It is in your personal interests, whoever you are, that those values endure. Just imagine how you would feel if someone did that to you for no other reason than they disagree with you on a matter of public policy. Think about it deeply; think about how you would feel if it was done to a member of your family or a good friend. This is NOT about you not liking them or objecting to what they do or what they believe in. This is about our society, our Guernsey, its values, that we all share. If a photograph of you putting excrement on the door of a public servant appeared on the front page of this newspaper and on the local TV news, would you feel quite so good about it? So in your anonymity, show you have thought about it, that you do wish you hadn’t done it – why not pop a note through the deputy’s letterbox (you obviously know where she lives) and just say sorry? No one will know you’ve done it, there’ll be no loss of face, but it’ll be one up for the better society that is so attractive about our island. When the chips are down, it is those values that make you prefer to live here rather than anywhere else.

The email was vile, both in the foul language that was used and the disgusting sentiments it contained. Surely the perpetrator can be tracked through the email system and then very publicly shamed, prosecuted and, if found guilty, put away for a long enough time (of years not months) pour encourager les autres. If our public servants do not have the protection of such a tracking system I, for one, would like to know why not.

Freedom is very precious. The right to free speech is vital. But so is the right of reply. So is the right to take a different view to you. There is no place for a cancel culture in a world that cherishes that basic human right. And there is no place for threats, anonymously sent and hiding behind technology’s veil.

Lyndon Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, said that ‘all politics is local’. What happened locally, with excrement left at the front door of an elected representative and a disgusting and frightening email anonymously sent to someone just doing the job she was elected to do, transcends pontificating about the BBC or Big Oil.

Guernsey provides one of the best opportunities on Earth to give meaning to Juvenal’s wish for ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’.

Please let’s keep it that way.