OPINION: ‘The States doesn’t listen to younger people’

Last year, Pierre Ehmann and Josh Macksoni were two of the youngest candidates to have ever stood in a local election and the first to take part in an island-wide poll. Ten months on, after both narrowly missed out on a seat in the States Assembly, Tom Rylatt asked them about their experiences as young people in Guernsey politics.

Pierre Ehmann, 24, independent candidate. Votes: 6,336, placed 40th

You were 141 votes away from being a deputy. How did it feel missing out by such a small margin?

It was sort of bitter sweet but not terrible. There was a weird kind of relief. I’m sure some people felt quite hard-nosed about it but I wasn’t like ‘Oh no, I didn’t get in’. Even the day before I joked with some of the other candidates that I’d be 39th and just miss out, which is pretty much what happened.’

Did people see you differently, being one of the younger candidates?

At the candidate events I had a lot of people come up to me specifically to tell me I was not old enough. Definitely with a few of them I managed to twist their arm a bit – usually we left those conversations and they were a lot more positive towards me. That part of the campaign was really good, being able to discuss some of the issues young people care about with older people and actually build bridges.

Do you think if more young people were engaged with local politics, the election may have turned out differently?

I think it’s difficult to say young people aren’t engaged but they need people to help engage them. The younger generation are quite smart. They see the make-up of the States and think, ‘Not much is going to be done for us’. I think it’s quite funny we have such a focus on what we are going to do about there not being enough young people on the island and yet the States doesn’t listen to younger people and what they want.

Do you think there’s a future for younger people in Guernsey politics?

I think it is important that there is. If there were no younger candidates, there would have been no one to challenge some of the older attitudes. I like to talk about climate change a lot – that is one of the big ones where quite a lot of voters older than me said, ‘This just isn’t an issue we are going to face for decades and decades’, which is not true.

Do you think there would be space in 2025 for a young people’s party?

You can see with Reform Jersey, Sam Mezec’s party, that it represents a lot of young people’s interests. They may not win a majority in the States of Jersey but they will always have a core voter base. So, yes, I think a young people’s party could definitely work purely because no matter how young or old, everyone is concerned about housing and there not being enough young people on-island. Why not get more young people in to shape the island in a way that works for them?

Josh Macksoni, 24, Guernsey Partnership of Independents. Votes: 5,678, placed 49th

Was there anyone in your life who really encouraged you to get into politics and social issues?

I wouldn’t say so particularly. It happened a bit by accident, to be honest. I think the big thing that really got me into it all was May last year with the George Floyd incident and the events that led to the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was around then that I found out about our lack of anti-discrimination legislation. It started out as channelling a bit of frustration and then wanting to do something about it.

Do you feel being part of a political party helped or hurt you as a candidate?

To be honest I think it did both. It’s difficult to gauge whether it was net positive or net negative.

I think it was really helpful in terms of actually getting to understand not only how to approach campaigning but also what the job would have entailed had I actually got in. [Being in a party] helped me understand even if I don’t necessarily agree with other members’ politics, I know that they’re all great people who give support in terms of making me feel comfortable. So on a personal level it really did help.

However, there were also quite a few people who said to me I won’t vote for anyone in a party, which was fair enough.

Did you find that some people overlooked you as a candidate because of your age?

Yeah definitely, but I think it went both ways.

There were definitely a few voters who would ask questions who were extra sceptical and were trying to test me a little bit. However, there were also people who were extra excited. I think there were a lot of people who would have voted for me and Pierre just because we were younger and they wanted to see something new.

You said in your manifesto: ‘A large portion of our Guernsey youth question if it really is for them’ – do you think the current assembly is capable of changing that narrative?

Capable – absolutely. I think they really can. Whether they will or not, I think we’ll just have to wait and see. I think one of the big things that would give hope to young people is dealing with the cannabis issue. Seeing young people repeatedly getting arrested over something that is widely considered to be a valid medication and fairly safe for people, especially compared to alcohol. It’s confusing seeing people get arrested for small quantities of drugs and receiving extortionate sentences – particularly with medicinal cannabis coming in and people doing really well as a result. I think solving that issue would give people a bit more hope that we can see things change in the way we want.

For any young people who want to get into public life, what advice would you give them in terms of standing up for what they believe in and affecting change?

The most important thing is knowing you can do it. Not putting too much pressure on yourself for it to go particularly well, it might go wrong and that is OK. It’s very easy to see a post about an issue on Facebook or Instagram and share it – it’s a lot harder to see the issue you care about and physically do something about it. Seeing and agreeing with it on social media is where most good ideas stop. The Guerns Against Discrimination group started with me angrily emailing deputies and then there were friends who agreed saying, ‘This is ridiculous, I want to help out’, and suddenly we had a team of five or six individuals who were a proper campaign group. A little bit of teamwork and support goes a long way and can completely change the trajectory of how things can go. I’d love to see more young people stand up for what they believe in and know their voice can be really powerful.

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