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Monday, 30 November 2009

In Jersey

Arriving over Jersey in a gale
So after getting home on Friday with the joy of seeing Lin - in the flesh - since we'd been chatting on Skype all the time I was away, and also Richard and Amy and Oscar dog, I've flown south to Jersey for two days, descending through driven clouds across a south westerly gale joyously stirring white caps in the distinctive blue of the English Channel below;
that dreaded tide rip harrying the rocks beween Alderney and France, as our medium size prop plane descended for a brief stop in rain and wind swept Guernsey.
Last time I made that journey was in Two Pearls - and it was summer, but she was a sweet sea boat. One advantage of so-called jetlag is that there's a whiff of an antipodean afternoon in my time clock even though I'm sitting preparing for tomorrow's seminars for members and officers of the States of Jersey at 2.00am in my hotel room in the Pomme D'Or. Tomorrow - well - later this Monday morning, I'm leading two seminars on Chairing Scrutiny. I'm not to say 'Chair'. Members, including women, will remind me they aren't 'furniture'. Trickier is members' animus against the idea of scrutiny as a 'critical friend' to the executive.
CHAIRING SKILLS FOR SCRUTINY
Seminars for the States Assembly of Jersey
30 November 2009, 0900-1300 and 1330-1730
The effectiveness of scrutiny depends on refining the skills and knowledge needed to raise the profile of a process still relatively novel. Scrutiny chairmen, and those who work with them, are usually the first to recognise that steering scrutiny differs from more traditional chairmanship tasks in government. These workshops offer an opportunity to rehearse the competencies involved. There will be brief presentations with discussion to guide analysis and reflection with a refreshment break during each seminar.
AIMS:
to identify and review the responsibilities of scrutiny chairmen in the government of Jersey,
to explore and clarify the skills and knowledge required by those chairing the scrutiny function, including scoping, questioning and weighing evidence,
to consider how chairmen, members and officers can plan to develop and maintain these skills.
PROGRAMME
Introductions and overview of the seminar
The roles of scrutiny chairmen
Challenges of chairing scrutiny
Skills and knowledge before, during and after meetings
Future learning
Summary and final observations
What is it about that term 'critical friend'? It's an issue on the horizon of nearly every chair/chairman of scrutiny I encounter. The political context in Jersey is of course unique to the history and personalities involved and despite studying their impressive website - 'Scrutiny: ensuring transparency and citizen involvement in our government' - I am strong in my ignorance of its traditions, but the matter of scrutiny's relationship to the executive has generic qualities existing in the relationship between the government and select committees at Westminster, where scrutiny has a 30 year start - at least - on its equivalent in sub-national government in the UK. In our Parliament there've been recurrent attempts to whip chairmen, resisted with increasing success after many more years of select committee existence than constitutionally established scrutiny in Jersey and similar functions across English local government. It's an inevitable constitution conundrum; one of the more recent of the stream of attempts to tweak that cumbersome system we call 'democracy' into better working order. It would be foolish of me not to anticipate opinions on this, if for no other reason that if I try to ignore it, the concerns I've been cautioned about will rear up anyway, because anyone seeking to make headway with scrutiny will have encountered this tension. If they do not give it thought, they'll be reminded of it by their colleagues. Understanding and handling relations with the executive is part of effective chairing of scrutiny, which doesn't mean there shouldn't be reciprocity, and readiness among executive members to agree quid pro quos, and indeed an understanding that ineffectual scrutiny can mean ineffectual executive. Is there a problem that being a 'critical friend' runs counter to the long tradition in law and government of adversarial debate, so that being 'a friend' - critical or otherwise - suggests collusion, collaboration and weakness. I was first introduced to the important principle that opposing the government of England was not treason when I was about 12 - when introduced to the term 'Her Majesty's Opposition', an idea that enshrined the notion that it was for certain subjects of the sovereign their duty to oppose.
* * *
In Birmingham before going to Jersey I had Saturday clear. From the bike kennel in our cluttered garage I chose - not my usual Brompton - but my full sized bicycle. The habit of using my folder has been interrupted by the cycling in Australia. Feeling slightly disloyal I took out the Eco Real to enjoy the extra speed of a full sized bicycle. The contrast is marked. The wind rushed, chilly, despite my warm clothes, into unguarded crannies around my neck as I swept over the Hockley flyover, enjoying the choice of 16 rather than 6 gears. But the bigger bike can't be taken inside places. I have to keep locking it. I can't take it on buses or trams. On the inter-city trains I have to buy a ticket to have it with me and put it a special compartment and worry whether there'll be space on trains back if I take it to other cities. For work I'll be sticking to my Brompton but I'm exhilarated by the novel sensations of the larger bicycle as I was on Geoff's Orbea in Melbourne and John's MTB in Bendigo. The additional pleasure here is being free from the Australian compulsion to wear a helmet.
At the city centre I worked my way into the cheerful crowd enjoying the German Market, sipped a mug of mulled wine and savoured a plate of fresh fried mushrooms and diced potatoes mingling with a generous covering of creamy garlic sauce. Then out again to Handsworth for an excellent haircut at a little barber in Nineveh Road. I'll go there again, especially as I can see the large bicycle through the window, where it's locked to a lamp-post. I was reading something I wrote about 9 years ago about the trend towards urban utility cycling - wondering how things would be in ten years time. There are more people relying on bicycles but the car continues to proliferate - still the preferred way to get from A to B. Is there any acceleration of change?
I doubt it, though in London increases in cycle commuting are evident. Lin drives. Richard drives. Amy drives, though she's been experimenting with cycle commuting "but not now it's turned cold and dark" she admitted to me slightly ruefully on Friday. So while I have fun, my hopes that many more would share it, seem confounded. I console myself by enjoying the benefits of escaping the inconveniences of autodependency, while little by little people of vision lower the profile of the car in plans for the city.
* * * * *
The Agiot Newsletter for December '09 has used an old piece of mine on the Parthenon Marbles - pages 8-10. Written in November 2007 when New Democracy are still in power it looks odd, but the argument survives - more or less. And to show my hopelessness as a predictor of political fortunes, Dora Bakoyannis lost a fight with Antonis Samaras for the Leadership of New Democracy, in opposition since PASOK won a General Election in October '09. Op-Ed from Kathimerini

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