St Helena opens up to world trade

The remote island is due to open its airport, and is looking for a statistician to deal with the con

A fascinating job advert on the Guardian's board:

Statistician, St. Helena Government

A self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom, St Helena is an island of 47 square miles and around 4,000 people in the South Atlantic. With Cape Town in South Africa some 1,700 miles distant, the Islanders enjoy a unique lifestyle in truly unspoilt, friendly and peaceful surroundings.

St Helena is poised for the biggest transformation in the island’s history, with the imminent construction of an airport. It will grow from a centralised economy with 1,000 visitors per year to a market economy with up to 30,000 visitors per year. In order to prepare for air access Saint Helena Government is introducing a package of reforms aimed at stimulating economic growth and social development. During this period of significant change the importance of assessing the impact of policy decisions is heightened. Similarly, increased funding from donors increases the demand for reliable and timely economic, social and environmental analysis.

The island is one of the most isolated in the world. At the moment, the only access to it is a two day trip by boat from "neighbouring" (810 miles away) Ascension Island, which itself has two RAF flights a week. It is most famous as the site of Napoleon's second, more successful, exile, and much of its tourism is based around that. However, due to the difficulty of access, the three hotels on the island are around 10 per cent occupied over the year.

The creation of the airport began in 2005, and was originally planned to be ready in 2010. Inevitably, of course, the £40m building project overran, but when it does open it will radically alter the islands economy. Currently, the majority of its exports are to the UK and South Africa, and consist almost entirely of canned fish, coffee, honey, and a spirit made from prickly pear called "tungi spirit", and according to the Guardian in 2005 were worth just £200,000. The island also sold £60,000 worth of stamps alone, to collectors enthused by its right to print its own postage.

Assuming the Government's predictions of tourism numbers are correct, the proportion of the economy contributed by tourism will rise from around 3 per cent to around 50 per cent. This will be an enourmous change for the island, not just equivalent to switching economic focus, but more like, as the advert suggests, a change from a centrally planned economy to a free-market. As it stands, over half the island's population work for the government, which renders them relatively immune from economic shocks. It will be interesting to see the new dynamic play out, but whether or not it works depends on more than just the skill of the statistician they hire. Still, if you are a level 3 statistician or equivalent and fancy spending 11 months of the year on a 127 km2 lump of volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic, consider applying. They'll even pay for your flights, once they exist.

Jamestown, the capital of Saint Helena. Photograph: Andrew Neaum, CC-BY-SA

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.