Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Senatorial eulogies for the green countryside dream

The “Countryside Hustings” is now a part of the election process for Senatorial States Members in Jersey.
It’s an unofficial extra Hustings held at the RJAHS Royal Jersey Showground at Trinity and is a sort of homage to the agricultural industry but in reality is more like an Antiques Roadshow presentation where those with land and property interests make sure that their importance is recognised.

It would be tempting to compare this event as the country version of the ancient Cour d’Heritage which takes place every year at the
Royal Court
so that the Jersey Establishment – lawyers, the few remaining feudal Seigneurs and others - can renew their oaths of office and swear loyalties to the Crown etc.

At the “Countryside Hustings” all candidates without exception swear a sort of loyalty to the agricultural industry as the very essence of the “Jersey way of life” and to protect the 60,000 hectares of “green fields” from encroachment by the urban plebs. Building development – unless in the name of agriculture – is the ultimate threat to be resisted and he or she who dares to support that farmland might be built upon to provide homes for working heroes is likely to be shown the thumbs down.

Of course, the whole process is built upon very shaky beliefs and misinformation. It is curious at least that the Finance Industry does not feel the need to organise a similar hustings event. After all, it is Finance that provides the work for 23% of Jersey working population (12,500 people) whereas agricultural employees have diminished to just 4% (1,600). Thus the majority of “votes” are more likely to be found elsewhere. Also it is Finance that produces most of Jersey’s wealth - £1,550 Millions as against Agri’s puny £62 Millions per annum – so this event is clearly not related to the value of “agriculture” to Jersey in economic terms.

Here just three typical speeches are shown from candidates Mark Forskitt, Freddie Cohen and Philip Bailhache and are more or less similar to those delivered by all the other nine speakers ( Darius Pearce being absent for this Hustings).

Uniquely, Philip Bailhache alone made a one sentence call “to improve the living conditions and wages” of those employed in agriculture and he specifically mentioned Polish and Portuguese workers. It was the sort of progressive policy that might have been expected from others but they were silent on this - at least until yours truly asked a question from the floor.

The JEP censored the question from its report in true deferential style where the countryside power base is concerned - but it was “Why is it acceptable for some agricultural employees to live in portakabins but not for those in the finance industry.”

All the candidates agreed that it was not acceptable for anybody to have to live in portakabins in Jersey although Lyndon Farnham only went so far as agreeing with those who had spoken before. There were a few limp apologists for the poverty of agriculture compared with the wealth of finance or Planning Department policies, but none really tried to discuss this theme or the underlying reasons that cause such discriminatory housing standards in Jersey. None promised to do anything about it.

With average wages in Jersey agriculture being just £400 per week compared with £860 in finance and with the trend of ever reducing agricultural activity, the final crunch time cannot be far away. Who then shall look after the “green countryside” so that the wealthy squires from the finance industry can enjoy the rural idyll in the leafy northern parishes in future?

That question was not discussed at this “countryside hustings.”


  1. Tom,

    There is exactly one thing that undermines your argument.

    You can eat potatoes and milk. You cannot eat trusts, anstalts or managed funds.

    That agriculture generates far less money than finance is true: and an economy where it plays a significant part as once it did would be a thing very many people would find deeply unpalatable. But with oil reserves steadily being depleted, the ability to import food into Jersey at a reasonable price will sooner or later cease.

  2. Censored by the JEP? Surely not! I thought it was "Pravda" and always told the truth.

    Mr Forskitt is wearing a most suitable Country Jacket for the occasion. A squire indeed.

    It is ironic indeed that Philip Bailhache, the personification of Reaction, comes out with a few progressive comments that others seem to miss. Of course he is simply a conservative just like they all are. We have a choice of Right Wingers which is precisely why the situation is objectively so desperate. There is no way out with them. That few realise.

  3. Perhaps someone should have asked about the increasing horse population and the swathes of land now dedicated to paddocks and hay.
    Now, with the big hedge funds buying up vast tracts of agricultural land in Afica and South America with a view to making a future killing through food crises, we may be seeing a local version of this. The finance squires may well be keeping their horse loving teenage daughters happy at present, as well as maintaning a buffer zone to protect them from the unwashed, but I suspect they know that agricultural land will someday be at a premium. Just another example of shafting it to the plebs.

  4. The RJAHS had given candidates three questions or topics to answer. That guided the contributions and so it is not surprising there was some similarity in responses.

    60,000 hectares is wrong - that's rather larger than the Island. around 35,000 vergees under cultivations would be closer, very crudely 7,000 hectares or half the area of the Island.

    It is not an unofficial extra husting any more than the youth husting or the construction council event for candidates is. There are no official hustings, they are not part of the formal election process , and only covered by election law in so far as they may be counted to expenses limits.

    The structure of the agricultural industry is worth understanding. Treating it as one is like arguing the construction industry is typified by Dandara. Smallholders typically operate very differently in labour terms from large potato growers and differently again from specialised dairy farms.

    The issue is not about keeping people out , or keeping it pretty and green for 'finance squires'. It is about keeping people, urban and rural, fed when things get worse, as they will economically and ecologically and in critical resource terms.

  5. I have been flying back to Jersey once or twice a year since I left in 84 and it is interesting to see the creeping urbanisation of the island from the air.

    It looks like a big housing estate spreading out from St Helier and almost joining up with smaller housing estates in the country parishes.

    The areas of green land are getting smaller and smaller, so it looks like the agricultural future is smallholdings like yours.

  6. "Finance that produces most of Jersey’s wealth - £1,550 Millions as against Agri’s puny £62 Millions per annum "

    In pounds shillings and pence that may be the case, but the true value of a working coutryside is beyond simplistic price tags.

    It has strategic value (we may need to feed ourselves without imports), cultural and aesthetic value too, so it really is priceless.