Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Liberation Day - Vive la difference?

My hairdresser - yes, I do still need to go to one, still have some hair clinging to the sides of my head - was delighted to discover that they needn't have transferred all their bookings for Saturday to the previous day (and cancelled those that couldn't be moved). I was in there last week submitting to the shears and explaining that they didn't come under the provisions of the Sunday Trading Law. While I was there watching the pathetic quantity of clippings tumble onto the floor, they had an assistant busily rebooking the diary for Saturday.

Presumably it's not illegal to get your eyes tested on Liberation Day either, in between shopping for an engagement ring, getting essentials from the chemist, a good book to take onto the beach, some flowers to give your beau, and sitting down to a fine meal in one of our many town restaurants. And food is on the list of things that are okay to buy on a Sunday (or on Liberation Day) too, so corner shops and supermarkets can open if they choose. There's no restriction on cleaners, gardeners, plumbers, decorators, builders, scaffolding-erectors - the list goes on and on.

A couple of months ago I was asked by Chamber of Commerce to allow our shops to open on the afternoon of Liberation Day, once the majority of the commemorations were finished. It was put to me that in these straitened times town retailers could ill afford to lose the trade that is expected on a busy Saturday in May, with extra tourists on the island to take part in the Liberation Day events. The compromise - closed a.m, open p.m - also had the blessing of the Dean and the Bailiff.

Having agreed to the request, I waited for the public reaction - I did not have to wait long. Lots of people, from members of the Parish's Roads Committee, to traders (large and small), to parishioners (young and old), to States' Members, told me by email, by letter, by letters to the JEP, that they wanted Liberation Day to be kept special. When I pointed out that the Sunday trading law (which includes Liberation Day thanks to an amendment to the law brought by Senator Routier) allowed a large proportion of shops to open ANYWAY, and that surely it was unfair that, for example, a clothes shop would be closed but a jewellers could open - the response was that two wrongs don't make a right; ideally we would - we should? - give future Liberation Days even more protection than they currently receive.

The Town Centre Manager came up with the compromise of designating the Sunday after Liberation Day as a fete or festival which would enable all shops to open under a blanket Sunday Trading permit. This is what happened last Christmas when all Parishes participated in the Fete de Noue, or Christmas Festival. Only the other 11 parishes weren't enamoured of the idea this May, so St Helier was left (as often happens) to plough its lonely furrow, and the St Helier Fete de la Liberation was born.

Quite why the Economic Development minister, Senator Maclean, has now declared the whole weekend a 'fete or festival' I'm not sure, as it's still up to the Constables of the individual parishes to issue Sunday trading permits, and it's not as if he's seeking to allow any more shops to open on Liberation Day than have currently got the ability to do so.

My guess is that there's going to be an awful lot of business going on this Saturday, most if not all of it perfectly legally carried out, either because the businesses concerned already have a Sunday Trading permit, or because they don't need one. In most cases it won't be motivated by greed, either, but because times are tough.

The question for the future is this: can Jersey's government do more to keep Liberation Day special? Or should it be left to the public to vote with their feet - to turn out in force in the morning to the commemoration in Liberation Square, and in the afternoon, to the slaveworkers' memorial at Westmount Crematorium. Isn't it all a bit reminiscent of the Pharisees, to insist that everyone shuts up shop? Thou shalt not buy or sell anything on Liberation Day, thou shalt not buy a shirt or a pair of shoes, thou shalt not take a taxi, thou shalt not get one's hair cut?