"How can we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?"
The Barclay brothers, millionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph, claimed that they were bringing democracy to Sark. In a series of court cases, they overturned Sark's rule of primogenture, which laid down the rule that property should pass from the father to the eldest son, and then gained a judgement that replaced Sark's feudal system with a general election.
It all sounded fine. Sark is one of the tiniest inhabited Channel Islands with a population of about 600. Its laws and customs have seemed quaint rather than dangerous and, to the outsider, this tiny island where transport is by bicycle, tractor or horse-drawn vehicle seems picturesquely old-fashioned. Until the Barclay brothers bought the neighbouring island of Brecqou, no-one really worried that the island was run by the absolute power of the Seigneur, who held the island in fief from the Queen. I'm a republican and a democrat so not in favour of the system and I'd worry that it might favour the rich and established families over the poor workers. If I'd been asked, I'd have said Sark should have free elections, just like the rest of Europe.
Sark had its first general election yesterday. I don't know the details of the campaign but there were fifty-seven candidates for the 28 seats in Chief Pleas, at the parliament is known. The Barclay brothers involved themselves in campaigning, using the Sark newspaper they own as well as The Daily Telegraph, which they also own. They warned the voters not to vote against the candidates they supported, using personal attacks and threats. The voters were warned that a vote against the Barclay brothers' candidates - for instance, in favour of income tax or against the introduction of motor vehicles - would risk the withdrawal of the Barclays' investment in Sark. Perhaps as many as a quarter of the inhabitants of Sark work for the Barclay brothers. Their employers were threatening them: "Vote as we say, or you'll be out of a job." There is no social security on Sark.
It sounds like a lively election campaign - a difficult one, too, with major disagreements. Almost 90% of the electorate turned out and the result went to a recount. The voters didn't respond to the Barclays' attempt to win the election - they resisted methods which look like bribery or blackmail to me (but I suppose the Barclays had expensive legal advice to tell them how far they could go). The methods of the Barclay brothers don't sound democratic to me - they sound like an attempt to purchase power.
It turned out that the voters of Sark were brave enough to defy the two men who thought they had a right to say who sat in Sark's parliament. The Barclay brothers don't have control of Chief Pleas because Sark voters chose not to be intimidated. But now the Barclay brothers are carrying out their threat.
The businesses owned by the Barclay brothers - hotels, restaurants, building firms, estate agents, shops - are being closed down. People are thrown into unemployment and poverty just in time for Christmas. It's a more brutally feudal attitude than Sark is used to. The servants didn't do what the bosses wanted and now they're being punished.
The Barclay brothers are the owners of a number of newspapers and magazines, including The Daily Telegraph. I don't think that people who use threats to try influence the outcome of an election are proper people to own a newspaper. I'm going to boycott The Daily Telegraph, which I've bought on occasion, for as long as the Barclay brothers own it. How about you?