the Friends of the Earth (FOE) and ‘Concern” years
Although I would argue I was born an environmentalist my first forays into pro-active environmentalism did not begin until I transferred to the local grammar school, Hautlieu at the age of 16. The school and many of its teachers were of a social/green persuasion and one in particular, Sid Le Bail ran and encouraged a green student activities group. I was keen to join and in doing so got my first taste of direct action; recycling aluminium cans and clearing ditches on a nature reserve: I was sold.
That said it would be another 6 years before I again became involved and whilst it would be nice to claim that the publishing of the Brundtland report “Our Common Future” in 1987 is what subsequently catalysed me into getting back into environmental campaigning; but it was not. I can’t actually remember why. Perhaps it was a letter I wrote to the local paper, my interest in environmental pollutants: who knows? But within a year I had joined and been elected to the committee of Concern, a local environmental pressure group originally established to campaign against the nearby French nuclear facilities of Cape de la Hague and Flamerville but had over the years grown to become the environmental voice of Jersey. It was with Concern, a highly respectable and well organised group, that I learned how to organise and run a meeting properly and how to maintain a proper and productive decorum. Much of this though was down to the effective chair, one somewhat reluctantly occupied by Sid Le Bail.
At the same time I also became involved with Nick Palmer, the co-ordinator of the local branch of Friends of the Earth (FOE) and with which I became the spokesperson and co-ordinator for water and pollution issues. Nick, whilst good at the role was not good at delegation and lacked the organisation and efficiency of Concern; however his approach was much more radical and direct so what he lacked in managerial skills he made up for in inventiveness.
Through these two organisations I concentrated my efforts on the agricultural environment specialising in the problems associated with pesticide and nitrate contamination of water. A specialisation that culminated in authoring a joint response from Concern and FOE, “What’s Your Poison?” to the States Working Party on Pesticide and Nitrate Contamination(1995). I used and I would aver successfully so the opportunity to campaign for the introduction of a water protection law; something Jersey did not have at the time but subsequently did introduce. However whilst successful my efforts did not win me friends within the civil service and whilst at the time I didn’t realise it I became blacklisted: a situation that still remains today.
My one other publication at this time was entitled “back yard biodiversity”, or ‘how to turn your garden into a nature reserve’ which appeared in a 1996 edition of the Rainbow Alliance Magazine; a local alternative rag run off a photocopier and with a likely circulation of under 100. That and few letters to the editor or the local evening paper.
taking it to the polls
Not satisfied with just telling politicians and civil servants what to do I decided to take my views and ideologies to the poll. Sadly this meant ending my committee membership of Concern which, quite rightly, defended its independence by operating a strict A- political policy.
My first foray was to contest a by-election in my own district in 1992 where I took a respectable 13%. Following which I struck a deal with another unsuccessful candidate that I would not contest the same seat as we clearly split the vote). As a consequence I went to the polls in the island wide general elections of 1993 (taking 30%) and 1996 (taking 25%). Both times contesting the two seats of the Parish of St Clement: which whilst a large and difficult district to gain I wanted to oppose one incumbent, the then Deputy Len Norman, who’s ill conceived social polices threatened and sadly have led to a huge financial burden on the taxpayer.
references and downloads
To read my old politcal campaign literature please visit the publications page where you will find : 1992 manifesto, 1993 leaflet, 1996 leaflet and poster.
Free Cultural Works (CC-BY-NC-SA) Malcolm McEwen 2011