Why is Reform Day not being recognised?
Almost 250 years have now passed but the fight for reform goes on
Reform Day was allowed to pass unmarked again this year, despite the States voting in 2012 to annually recognise the events of September 28, 1769. As no one made a decision as to how it would be recognised it never has been. As Senator Andrew Green stated in the States Assembly in 2015:
“while we agreed — and I was fortunate that day, I was having a hernia operation, so I did not have to go through that debate [Laughter] — that we should mark it, they did not agree any budget or any allocation of any resources to do it. That is the difficulty”.
When further questioned by Deputy Mike Higgins on the lack of acknowledgement of the day and whether it gives the impression that “democracy is not important”, Senator Green responded “It is open for Members to bring ideas forward, but at this time I would not be, myself, supporting the expenditure on things that are not absolutely essential.” Senator Green finally confirmed that he would take the comments on board and discuss with the Chief Minister, so, forgotten the day has become. States Greffier, Mark Egan, has recently described the situation as “not satisfactory”.
So why is September 28, 1769 such an important day that requires recognition? According to local historian Mike Dunn hundreds of the good people of Jersey, having had enough of poverty and exploitation by rich folk through high wheat and corn prices, rose up and risked their lives to reform a corrupt Jersey government.
As the 18th century political writer and pamphleteer John Shebbeare writes of the government at the time: “Such is the influence which this lieutenant [Bailiff] possesses over the Royal Court of Jersey, that he has made the majority of Jurats, without one syllable of reluctance...to resign their authority into his hands. Judge then of the degrees of his power and of their subserviency”.
Shebbeare speaks of two brothers, the mentioned lieutenant bailiff, Charles Lempriere and Philippe Lempriere, who is described as “so odious to the people of Jersey , that in order to quiet their minds, he should no longer hold the place of attorney general”. Shabbeare continues with a summary of those powers which these brothers “had invented themselves” with the Jurats having so “serviley surrendered” their rights to the lieutenant bailiff that he possessed an “absolute command” over the majority of them.
Philippe, being in the position of Attorney General, is understood to have used his brother-in-law, Edouard Ricard, as front to collect the profits of receivership from imports and exports into Jersey. Edouard, according to Shebbeare, was said to have shared “little in the receipt” while Philippe was the “actual receiver” of those profits. As Attorney General he also had the benefit of prosecuting all person who had offended the laws, receiving the “fines to which they are subjected” and as farmer of the revenues they became his property along with his “two brothers”.
This corrupt situation along with the manipulation and exploitation of wheat and corn prices ultimately led to an uprising by the Jersey people. On September 28, fifty year old local man Thomas Gruchy and Amice Durell from St. Helier, “carrying a long stick with a lantern”, arrived with four to five hundred “revolutionaries” at the Jersey Court House and subsequently forced their way in to demand of the Governor and Court, then sitting, to sign an order of 13 Articles containing various reforms.
As a direct result of their brave actions, the States of Jersey was separated from the Court and it further paved the way for important reforms including the famous “Code of 1771”, thus creating a more democratic and representative island for the people. Thomas Gruchy and the “dissenters” were ultimately pardoned for their actions, sadly no monument exists for their important role in shaping Jersey’s future.
Today, parallels can be drawn as the separation of the dual role of the Bailiff comes under renewed pressure based on recommendations of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry report. The current Bailiff and former Attorney General, Sir William Bailhache, who is supposed to remain an apolitical figure in island politics has recently made open attempts to influence the governments decision on the dual role.
This included writing a letter to the Chief Minister — who has voiced his intentions to implement the recommendations — to influence his decision, as well as conducting an interview with ITV Channel TV where he criticised the Care Inquiry for not seeking his views, suggested the decision on separating the dual role was “illogical and unnecessary”, despite three independent reports now recommending it, and crucially that the decision should be put to a referendum.
That suggestion has now been followed up by none other than the Bailiff’s own brother, Sir Philip Bailhache, who has also held office as Attorney General and Bailiff for the island. Now an elected States member, Sir Philip currently has the position of Assistant Chief Minister and in an interview with Channel ITV he accused the Chief Minister of joining the opposition by taking over responsibility for the proposition originally submitted by Reform Jersey member Deputy Montford Tadier.
In what’s been described as a “wrecking” proposition, and despite Collective Responsibility, Sir Philip has openly defied the Chief Minister by placing an amendment to the proposition to put the issue to a public referendum. This despite a suggestion to split the dual role via referendum being put to the Electoral Commission back in 2012, of which Sir Philip was the Chair at the time.The suggestion was rejected but now that there’s a real threat of the role being separated it is apparently an imperative that the public have their say on the matter.
Rather than high wheat and corn prices, today the ruling class drag their heels over high property and rental prices, that each year extract more wealth out of the good people of Jersey, pushing many into poverty and leaving those with rents and mortgages with less disposable income while land owners only get richer.
Moves to try and resolve this situation have met resistance. Island Constables apparently “weren’t keen” to change a law to even oblige landlords to declare whether a property is vacant or not. And Jersey’s director for social policy said with property owners they are looking for “carrot” incentives, rather than “stick” solutions when it comes to property owners. How some things change, and others stay the same.
It is for these reasons that Reform day is and should be considered important. It reminds us and the government that the true power of democracy resides in the people, and that change is always possible if the people are willing to demand it. The African-American social reformer, Frederick Douglass, said:
“power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.”
Each country has had its own people led movement, Reform Day is ours and should be celebrated and recognised as such. By promoting it we could help reverse the low political engagement in the island, especially in the young, who need to learn about Jersey politics and history with a story that helps inspire them and demand their own stake in their future, one that increasingly looks harder.
History demonstrates that change is inevitable and democracy hard won. Recent events such as in Spain also shows us how fragile democracy can be and that people will always be willing to fight for their independence. Maybe the dual role of the Bailiff is a long held “tradition” here but so is the people rising up and demanding reform. A message that the current “apolitical” Bailiff, who is usually responsible for recognising such historical events, seems unwilling to promote.
If those in government can acknowledge and recognise the mistakes of past governments then they will be less doomed to repeat them.
Better to recognise Reform Day than live it.