Category Archives: Media

The front page of the Guernsey Press this morning had a horrific story of how a young girl had her van vandalised with the words “DIE FILTHY QUEER” painted onto the back and her dog attacked in the night with a hammer, to the point that the dog will need to have the eye removed. For those reading this blog outside Guernsey, I’d like to highlight that we don’t see this behaviour often. Violent crime is on the decline and hate crimes (though we don’t currently have legislation designating it as such) are very scarce. The community is rightly shocked. I had time to think about things since this morning and what follows is what I wrote on the internet page of our local newspaper www.thisisguernsey.com. I thought that what I wrote was worth repeating here.

I was shocked when I read this story today. As an openly gay man I’ve lived in Guernsey for about 18 years and have never come across openly aggressive homophobia, passive yes, but never this type.

During the election campaign I remember saying that it was time to bring our laws up to date so that they reflect the tolerant and progressive society Guernsey is. It’s very disheartening when something like this happens that is at variance with that statement.

When I expressed my shock on twitter this morning, someone asked what could be done and I answered honestly that I wasn’t sure and would like to reflect on it.

I’ve spoken to Deputy Le Tocq as the minister of the Home Department and was heartened to hear that our violent crimes are consistently down as a trend, except domestic abuse (and this is a very worrying trend on the island, but I’ve recently written a blog post here http://www.elisbebb.com/blog/domestic-abuse/ about this problem).

I’m also heartened by the public reaction. People are rightly shocked and appalled as to what happened here. Attitudes are changing and incidents like these are simply not tolerated by people. This is a good sign that something has been happening over the last few decades that improves our expectation of each other’s behaviour. I know of people, only about twenty years ago, who were physically attacked for being gay, but the reporting back then was ambiguous and the reaction muted.

I’d like to suggest that the reason so many people are shocked about this incident (and the other two that were on the first three pages of the press today) is because we abhor this behaviour and that it is now so infrequent, we are shocked at its occurrence. The reporting and visibility of these issues are also far more transparent than anything in the past.

Of course we can’t be complacent about these issues, we can’t be until we eradicate violence and bigotry and that’s a very long journey. Education is key to this endeavour, and I don’t mean just in the classrooms, I also mean in the Churches & Pubs, on the street and in the home, in community centres and in the shops, we all need to stand up and reject the idea that hate crimes and violence are an acceptable reaction. We should never allow intolerance of the “other” to become acceptable again in Guernsey.

This is a dreadful incident and the hate crime towards Jenny Harding and the violence towards Alice is inexcusable. Having had time to think further I do believe that we now need to bring forward hate crime legislation (something that we don’t have) and revisit our laws in relation to attacks on animals, something I know is in the process, but where and what priority has it been given? But feel that there may be some other form of reaction possible and I’m interested in discussing any ideas that people may have. I’d be particularly interested in talking to Jenny Harding should she wish to.

Finally, I’d like to say that the reaction here is part of the reason why I’m pleased to call Guernsey home. I chose to live here and I feel that the reasons for living here remain strong for as long as we, as a community, continue to condemn violence, abhor hate crimes and confront it in all its manifestations.

Seasonal Affective Dissorder

SAD

Yesterday I read a tweet from @itvchanneltv highlighting the issue of seasonal affective dissorder (SAD). It was concerning what Guernsey Mind were doing to highlight this problem. The story is available here should you wish to read it.

Last year the States of Deliberation discussed the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy that we would implement and it was during that debate I revealed my own mental health issue of having SAD. The speech I gave is available on my website should anyone be interested, but what I wanted to talk about in this post was my experience of SAD and how it hampered my life, career and relationships until I was diagnosed and treated.

The Mind UK Website describes SAD as follows:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season. Most of us are affected by the change in seasons – it is normal to feel more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer, or to find that you eat more or sleep longer in winter. However, if you experience SAD, the change in seasons will have a much greater effect on your mood and energy levels, and lead to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.
Most people experience SAD during the winter. Less commonly, some people find that they experience SAD in reverse – with depressive symptoms occurring in summer.

and I would recommend anyone concerned to have a look at the rest of the website to understand what the signs of SAD are and what options are available for its treatment.

The first thing I’d like to say in relation to my own experience is that I simply didn’t think I had a problem. I displayed very erratic behaviour, frequently confrontational and in hindsight I can confirm that I was irrational. But at the time I simply thought that I was right and that the other person was wrong. I would even go so far as to justify my behaviour and refuse to listen when someone criticised.

There’s one occasion that I’d like to recount here. I was working on the IT service desk in a finance company, answering the phone and trying to resolve the problems of the company’s users. It became evident that the number of people phoning the service desk had reduced considerably, but when we did receive a call the person was either exceptionally irate or very timid. It was only when my managers discussed this with various people in the company that it became evident I was being rude and difficult when people phoned, to the point where they wouldn’t even risk phoning for assistance (for anyone working in IT, this doesn’t make for a good IT strategy).

A few examples were when people had forgotten their password, I’d ask them if they’d manage to forget their credit card pin number. When someone told me that they’d done something and it no longer works I told them that it was their fault and that they’d get lower priority because of stupidity. One person asked for different access rights to their computer, I promptly told them that it simply wasn’t possible, even if they were the MD (and it was).
I’d like to highlight these as the worst examples. I was capable of excellent work as well, taking on the most difficult members of staff and their issues and resolving them to everyone’s satisfaction. Undertaking fairly large projects successfully with good user engagement and buy in. It was this bizarre dichotomy that led to my managers failing to understand why I would be so difficult one day and so calm the next.

Without me even noticing, the problem of my attitude was affecting the IT department’s engagement with the company. There was even one occasion when I remember shouting at a member of staff in the middle of the floor, something I still cringe at when I think about it now, but at the time, as I said previously, considered this behaviour to be acceptable and rational.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d had such problems at work, but the difference on this occasion was my manager’s engagement with me about the problem. Rather than call me into an office and give me a dressing down, I was advised that they’d like me to see the Learning & Development officer. I undertook a test to assess my behaviour and then had a discussion. It was through discussing matters with him I slowly came to realise that this was irrational and destructive behaviour. I learned about Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and realised that I needed to take ownership, not only for my actions, but also for the way other people perceive my actions (still working on this by the way).

It was as a result of this approach and further discussions I came to realise I had depression, but that it wasn’t constant. I saw my GP who offered anti depressants, but I thought it was worth making some lifestyle changes and exploring alternatives before starting on a course of Seroxat.

The behaviour that I displayed at this work place was no different to the behaviour I’d displayed in previous workplaces. I am known for having gone from one job to another over a period of around 13 years, some jobs lasting a year or less, with me always leaving because of annoyance. I’d wager that each and every one of my former colleagues, from a number of employers, would be able to recount a string of occasions when I was difficult, argumentative and even down right rude. The difference on this occasion was the approach of the management, they wanted to engage with me to resolve the issues rather than confront me about my issues.

I started making changes to my life, eating a more healthy diet, exercising more frequently and lowering the alcoholic intake, but that in and of itself wasn’t sufficient to deal with my health issue. I now take St John’s Wort every winter and I manage my symptoms well, I can honestly say that I don’t recognise the person I was. I’ve also learnt to recognise when I start to behave in the old way and take remedial action before things go too far. This usually starts anytime from September through to November depending on how good the summer was.

Now, when I look back, I notice that the workplace wasn’t the only place I had a problem. There were occasions at home when I would become argumentative to the point of insufferable. Getting out of bed was simply an exhausting task that I can’t really describe how awful it was. I would eat large quantities of bread and cereal craving carbohydrates and neglecting all other food groups. I would resort to alcohol on frequent occasions, feeling that having a drink somehow made me feel better about the awful day and allowing me to relax from the anxiety I felt (only to feel worse the next day). There were days when I would be racked with guilt and anxiety about something I’d said or done in the past, from the previous day spanning back to my childhood. There were occasions when I’d simply cry uncontrollably and try to lock myself away. There were the days off work with illness, both physical and sheer mental exhaustion or anguish. Finally there were the odd occasions where I simply wish I wasn’t here, had never been, those were the darkest days of all.

As I’m sure you can imagine, a lot of these behaviours made the situation worse. If you do eat badly, drink lots of alcohol and refuse to leave the house you’re likely to get worse. They allowed me to enter into a personal vicious cycle of self destruction. It also wasn’t advisable for anyone close to confront the problem since I would lash out at them as much as anyone else.

I look back and I can’t believe how bad things were. But now that I have set myself a set of rules for diet, drink, exercise and the daily dose of St John’s Wort it’s all manageable. There are the odd occasions when I notice I’ve stayed in bed too long, drank too much, eaten nothing green for a few days, have been a little argumentative or felt a welling up of emotions that result in my crying, but I recognise the problem and correct the situation. Instead of months of destructive behaviour I now have a couple of weeks a year when I don’t feel too well, but know that I’ll be fine in a few days.

In relation to my work, I know that I had a poor sickness record and that my productivity in winter was bad (to say the least). Once I started treating the issue, my sick days became virtually non existent, my productivity soared and I enjoyed the prospect of going to work again.

Given all of the above, I suppose I’m sharing this for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly I’d like to assist Guernsey Mind in highlighting this particular issue.
  • Secondly, those who may have SAD should know you can change things and manage the situation so that you enjoy life a lot more, no one should feel it acceptable to write off six months of the year for the rest of their lives, the first step is to recognise the problem.
  • Thirdly, I’d like to advise employers that if someone displays erratic behaviour, work with the person to resolve the issues, nothing could be worse than confronting the person and asking them to explain their behaviour.
    For more on this, Guernsey Mind have a wonderful training course that they offer to managers and employers to assist them in identifying and working with people who have mental health issues. Guernsey Mind are running a workshop on the 17th January next year so please contact them to book your place. When I identified my issue and treated it, my sick days became vanishingly small and my productivity soared, something every employer wishes of their staff.

The last thing that I wanted to say was sorry to all those people I worked with and had to put up with my behaviour; and a very big thank you to those managers and colleagues who helped me identify the problem and deal with it. My life now is almost unrecognisable to those years when I allowed SAD to rule my winter, that happened because of people whom I’m no longer in touch with, but to whom I’ll always be grateful.

THANK YOU

Given my reference to my taking of St John’s Wort I’d like to clarify that this works for me but may not work for everybody. I’d recommend anyone thinking of taking it to discuss it with their GP and do the research, a good place to start is the Mind UK website. I’m more than content to discuss both SAD and St John’s Wort with anyone who’d like to, but I can only offer my personal experience and direct them to the best service and research.

Civil Service Accountability

Some will know that I’ve recently written, and am leading, a requête titled “Clarification of the Responsibility and Accountability of the Civil Service to the Political Boards and Committees”. I’m rather sure that the first reaction of most people having read the title is “why should I care?”. If not, the reaction may well be “how dull”. So I’m writing a blog to say why it’s not dull and you should care (though I won’t pretend that it’s easy).

Lets start by looking at our current system of government known as consensus government. What does it mean? Well in essence, every department is a committee of five deputies that make the political decisions. This is different from executive government, such as they have in Jersey and the UK (and the Guernsey Press wishes we had here), where individuals are given responsibility for their department and form the executive (that then acts as a cabinet in the UK or council of ministers in Jersey).

Next I’ll talk about the Civil Service. Effectively it’s the body of people that carry out the will of the political establishment. No one would disagree with that statement in the UK, but here in Guernsey we frequently find that civil servants have much more power and ability to effect change. Why is that? Well it’s mainly because we don’t have political parties. When I’m elected I don’t have a political party that I’m a part of with a manifesto that I must deliver. I don’t have a majority of members who’ll always vote with me to deliver that manifesto, therefore civil servants in Guernsey bring forward ideas and policies for the politicians to consider in a way that would be unimaginable in the UK. This isn’t necessarily all bad, because I don’t have a party that I’m part of, I don’t have political think tanks that have considered the delivery and change of service, I don’t have policy formation within a party set up, therefore the civil service have filled this void. There are good examples of this and bad examples and I don’t disagree with the civil service doing this in many respects as the ideas need to be approved by the politicians to be progressed.

So given this happy arrangement, why do I think there’s a sufficient problem to raise a requête and face the horror of the Policy Council, Treasury and Resource Department and the Guernsey Press?

The problem is simple. In our system of Government, as a member of a department (HSSD in my case) I’m held responsible for the delivery of service within that department. How is it therefore that I have no say into the appointment of the most senior civil servant of that department, the Chief Officer? How is it that I’m not involved in determining how effective the Chief Officer has been in delivering what we, as the politicians, have deemed it necessary for him or her to deliver? I can ask for something to be done, for something to be stopped and something new to be offered, but the only person that can give the Chief Officer an appraisal is another civil servant. If I ask for something to be done and it isn’t, that means nothing as long as the civil service are happy with their own work. Is that your understanding of government?

When I was elected I expected to set the direction, make decisions and be held accountable for them. For better or worse, I’m the one that you can phone, email, tweet, talk to in person or (yes it does still happen) send a letter to, complaining or complimenting me on my action (more compliments would be welcomed by the way). My name and contact details are freely available in the front of the phone book, on the government website and a whole host of other places so that you, dear electorate, can give me a piece of your mind (and you frequently do).

But how can I be held fully accountable if I’m not fully in control?

I’m not asking for some silly system of patronage where I’d be appointing a friend, indeed, given that I’m only one of five in the committee of the department, I don’t see how such nepotism would be possible (believe me when I say that not all five members of the department agree with each other all the time). But I am asking for us to have an input.

Why would you trust me on this issue? Well strangely enough, just after I published, signed and delivered my requête the UK cabinet office published a report asking for exactly the same system that I propose. If they have an executive government, how much more appropriate is the same system for a consensus government.

Given all the above I’d also like to clarify a few things:

  • I’m not harking back to some golden era, this was never the practice before in Guernsey and it would be a bold move to undertake.
  • This is similar to what is already done in
    • France,
    • The United States of America,
    • New Zealand,
    • Austria
    • and a whole host of other countries.
  • This wouldn’t scupper existing initiatives as we’re all bound by the resolutions of the States of Deliberation.

Sorry to dispel the myths promulgated by the opinion column of the Guernsey Press.

Why should you care? Simply put, do you want a government by deputies or by civil servants? If it’s the latter, sleep easy; if it’s the former, lobby your deputy now the contact details are as above.

So how interesting was that? I suppose it’s as interesting as I can make it. Yes I suppose you can complain that deputies are once again concerned with themselves to some degree, but I’d also suggest that this is also a concern for you. If you voted, aren’t you expecting your deputies to be responsible? If you didn’t vote, don’t you expect your deputies to be responsible?

Let me finish by stating that I make no judgement on the quality of our civil service here in Guernsey, it is like any other company or body of workers, some are excellent, a lot are good, some are questionable in their ability. I’m not bringing a requête to attack them, simply clarify their responsibilities and reporting lines.

Whatever your opinion, leave your feedback below. I know that I’ll read it and take account of it. I’m not sure that the civil service would have to and I’m not sure that it’s their job, but I know that it is mine.

Why Blog?

So why Blog? Isn’t it enough that the political world of a small island is sufficiently covered by the excellent coverage of the BBC, Channel News and the omnipresent Guernsey Press? Virtually every day we have another news story concerning deputies that appears in the pages of the Guernsey Press or over the airwaves on BBC Radio Guernsey; add that to the endless rounds of government consultations, presentations, the monthly meeting of the State’s of Deliberation and we have as much political discourse as you’d need on an island of sixty thousand odd inhabitants (I know that the last number will be considered contentious by some of you due to a recent debate) isn’t it?

Well maybe not. I mean no disrespect to anyone when I say that I find the Guernsey Press is most extensive in its coverage but has its own agenda that it pushes; BBC Radio Guernsey are a little on the timid side not wanting to enter into a political discussion, hence the incredibly weak format of the Sunday Phone In where all political questions are passed over to the public; and Channel TV that only have a half hour slot every day to cover events on all of the islands (who cares what’s happening in Jersey?).

Given that I’m not known for being a timid wall flower (well I don’t think so anyway) and given that I get rather frustrated with people’s view of the political discussions I thought it time to start presenting my view in the round rather than the narrow view that’s so frequently presented in the conventional media. I frequently talk to people on Twitter (yes please follow me on @elisbebb) and discover that a subject that has raised passions hasn’t been well explained. We lack the PR machinery that is ever present in other jurisdictions (thank the Lord) that seek to give flesh on the bones of an argument.

There is also, I suppose, a selfish view that if I blog successfully I may not be subject to quite so many questions or (on a less frequent basis) attacks for my position. But then that may be considered altruistic rather than selfish.

Finally, yes I will consider writing a political blog on requests that I receive but no, I don’t guarantee that I will and no, I won’t necessarily agree with everyone.