Keith Kahn Harris

professionally curious, communally engaged

Why I want to visit Alderney

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This is the first in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

I’ve always been fascinating by ‘things in between’, things are not the biggest or the smallest, the famous or the unknown, the successful or the unsuccessful. Wherever there is a spectrum or continuum you’re likely to get attention paid to both ends but the middle gets neglected.

Alderney is an archetypal place in between. Of all the Channel Islands, dependencies of the UK near the French coast, Alderney is probably the one that outsiders know least about. Jersey and Guernsey, the two largest, are well-known as tax havens and holiday destinations. Sark and Herm, the two smallest (excluding a number of tiny islets) are reasonably well-known as Lilliputian, idyllic havens (although Sark has received quite a bit of attention recently due to the machinations of the Barclay Brothers in the island’s affairs). But Alderney? Well it’s somewhere in the middle and so it often drops off the map.

Alderney_map

Alderney is small – 3 square miles with a permanent population of around 2,400. From photos it looks lovely, but it is by no means untouched by civilization. It has the only railway on the Channel Islands, it’s dotted with fortifications left over from the wartime Nazi occupation (as well as the remains of the only concentration camps ever set up on British soil) and although it hasn’t opened itself up wholesale as a tax haven, it does host various e-commerce and offshore gambling companies. It also has a reputedly vigorous nightlife, with numerous pubs – islanders sometimes joke they are ‘2000 alcoholics clinging to a rock’ – and parties held in abandoned World War Two bunkers.  

Alderney_bunker

But while Alderney may have some interesting and quirky features and may well be a great place for a holiday, this isn’t really why I want to visit. What really attracts me is how power and politics works on a small island with a small island.

And that’s why my mission for the book is to find ‘the most powerful politician on Alderney’.

As with all the chapters of the book, the mission doesn’t just involve meeting one person – it involves finding out about an entire small world. Because the question of who is the most powerful politician on Alderney isn’t a simple one.

Of course, Alderney’s elected representative body, the States of Alderney, has a President (currently Stuart Trought). But pinning down who holds power is often an elusive matter, like nailing jelly to a wall. For one thing Alderney’s constitutional status is complex – it is a British crown dependency, part of the Balliwick of Guernsey, but with a high degree of self-government. On top of that, politicians are never the only people with power – who are the real movers and shakers behind the scenes of Alderney politics?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am really looking forward to finding them out. I’m looking forward to meeting the key people in Alderney and hearing their stories. Above all, what I want to know is what it’s like being involved in the politics of a small island. How do people deal with political disputes in a place where everyone knows each other? Does that make for more civil disagreement?

So that’s my Alderney mission. Please support it!

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