'You can make a case economically for totalitarianism but I prefer the good old-fashioned Jersey crock'

Lindsay Ash

By Lindsay Ash

Here’s a question for you… would you prefer Chinese, Indian or a good old-fashioned Jersey crock?

Now the obvious answer would be that you’d prefer an Indian every time, preferably a king prawn madras with boiled rice, a naan bread and a few papadums washed down with a couple of pints of Cobra and a bottle of red. This would, as I say, be the obvious answer but it would be wrong! Why? Because I was referring to what sort of system of government you think you’d prefer.

I ask this because in the JEP recently the editor quoted an economist called Fukuyama (that was his real name I haven’t made it up) who stated that the great benefit of the Chinese system compared to India was that China could move quickly whereas India was still constrained by being “a law-governed democracy”. If that is the case, in my opinion we must be even more so. So should we use some of the Chinese methodology here if we are to keep up?

This is very interesting because it raises several points – could we? Should we? – being just two of them. Firstly it would be fair to say that both India and China are global powers compared to a small rock in the Channel but let’s look at the lives of the people and the lessons we could learn and whether they are desirable or not.

In India much is still done by who you know and what you know and yes I know there are those who feel that applies to Jersey as well, but in reality the population is much better protected from incursion than in India and way better than China. One needs only to look at the properties around Overdale to see those displaced were well compensated.

There was a wonderful documentary about 20 years back which focused on Goa which looked at one of the top hotels in that area, which was, it had to be said, stunning. The problem was they had diverted the water supply from the local village in order to create a mini Venice, leaving the village with no water. I did in a strange way like the hotel owner’s comment. Not for him the mealy mouthed comments seen from British developers or politicians, no. “You British have an expression, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. These people have now moved to other areas and are very happy.” Which translated of course as, “I don’t really care about these villagers just look at the beautiful hotel”.

So although India is a democracy it perhaps differs a little from our own at times. Can you imagine anyone getting away with that in the UK or Jersey? BBC news: “A new hotel has been created in Yorkshire, this has meant that the people of Barnsley are now being moved to Bradford where they are very happy.”

But, of course, as Mr Fukuyama says India is fairly lax in the regard of forcing things through compared to China, perhaps demonstrated by them even allowing a journo to question why it’s being done.

Much of India’s bureaucratic problems stem from the days of British rule which left a legacy of civil service rubber-stamping that has since been expanded upon. It also left behind a democratic system that means a government can be replaced by the people. This may have slowed up progress but it also means there is legal recourse, if you can afford it. Whether a totalitarian system is better I leave it for you to judge.

China is very different. Dissent is not tolerated and I think in a west where women’s rights are more and more important the predominance of boys, often by use of abortion, in the days of the limitation of children to one per household would rightly be seen as quite unacceptable. Uniformity of thought is greatly encouraged and those who think otherwise are often taken to learning centres where they can be persuaded as to the error of their cerebral process.

Yes, we can assume they would have built the Hospital on the Hill and that the path to the road would have been cleared along with any houses in the way with a minimum of fuss.

And a State-controlled local media would have reported it as a great success. There is little doubt that things are done at a great pace as they were in Germany under Hitler and as is oft quoted, at least Mussolini got the trains running on time.

So could it work here and would it be desirable? We have an answer to the question as to whether it could work here from recent times and from history. During Covid we managed to build a hospital in a matter of months basically by telling anyone who got in the way to bugger off. That may sound harsh but it was what happened.

Following Covid we returned to more conventional planning times with people objecting to roads and placing various objections in the way and have consequently run up a bill of many millions. In China those responsible for causing the delay would quite rightly be languishing on the Ecréhous Thought Rehabilitation Centre instead of being Health Minister, cycling round St Helier or scanning Lewin’s catalogue for new bow ties.

Historically we have many examples, such as the German Occupation where construction moved ahead at an unseemly pace and without a trade union in place, albeit with a disgusting disregard for human rights. Going further back we had the work of General Don who built roads all over the place without, I would imagine, referring very often to the Constable of St Helier or the local bowls club as to whether everything was tickety boo.

There are people who will opt for various systems and you can make a case, certainly economically, for totalitarianism but on balance I rather like the good old-fashioned Jersey crock because I think freedom both of action and thought is more important in society than being able to build a road swiftly. Although, what has sadly happened over recent times aided by the media (especially social media) is that freedom has been abused allowing a vocal minority to hold sway over the interests of the majority and that has to be dangerous for a democracy.

  • Lindsay Ash was Deputy for St Clement between 2018 and 2022, serving as Assistant Treasury and Home Affairs Minister under Chief Minister John Le Fondré. He worked in the City of London for 15 years as a futures broker before moving to Jersey and working in the Island’s finance industry from 2000. Feedback welcome on Twitter @Getonthelash2.

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