Guernsey Press

OPINION: ‘I just don’t do factional politics’

He might not see eye to eye with the Policy& Resources Committee on everything, but Deputy Peter Roffey is happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with them when it comes to the proposed tax reforms. He explains why...

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Deputies Peter Roffey, left, and Peter Ferbrache at the press briefing on proposed tax changes including a 5% GST. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 31516255)

SOME friends and political colleagues have been having a bit of a go at me recently. They want to know why I’ve allowed myself to be used as the cat’s paw of P&R by helping them front up their proposed tax reforms.

At least that’s how my friends see it.

‘It’s clear some members of P&R have absolutely no time for you,’ they opine.

‘For the last two years they’ve frustrated much of what you are trying to do at ESS and the STSB.’

‘One even went so far as to say that he didn’t trust ESS under your leadership.’

‘So why on earth do you keep popping up alongside them, to help them sell such a deeply unpopular policy?’

‘Why don’t you just leave them to stew in their own juice?’

All good questions, but I think I have equally good answers. Once I’ve given those answers I sincerely hope those friends who look askance at me for wilfully burning up shed-loads of political capital, championing such a toxic set of policies, shoulder to shoulder with P&R, will still be my friends. We shall see.

The first reason is the same one I have given repeatedly, both in these pages and in the States Assembly. But for some reason few people seem to accept it at face value. Read my lips [pen].

I just don’t do factional politics. I don’t do tribalism.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t deputies who I tend to agree with far more often than others. Of course there are. That is unavoidable. It doesn’t even mean there aren’t deputies who I like more than others. What it does mean is that I don’t care who is putting forward a proposal – I will judge it on its merits, and not on its proposer.

So I will oppose ideas from close political allies when I think they are wrong. Likewise I will support proposals from those I normally cross swords with when I think they are right.

Not only do I oppose political tribalism in principle, but neither will I allow myself to resort to it in response to that sort of behaviour from others. Even when it might be coming from the top. Is it tempting? Of course it is. But once we go down that road any chance of salvaging Guernsey’s proud tradition of consensus politics is lost, as the divides will just get bigger, and the point scoring will become more intense.

Call me naive – or old fashioned – but I think that would be tragic. By sinking into factionalism this Assembly, and to a lesser extent the last one, has done Guernsey no favours at all. So I am going to plough on, judging issues on their merits, and not by who has drawn the short straw of being mandated to deliver unpopular but necessary policies.

And yes, kind friends, I do know that might possibly make me unelectable. Know what? That is far less important to me than doing the right thing for the community of Guernsey.

We have a system of representative democracy. We don’t govern by referendums. We expect our deputies to look into matters in much more depth than most people have either the time or inclination to do. And then to exercise their best judgement. If that turns them into ‘political toast’, so be it.

I have been looking in-depth at Guernsey’s structural deficit, and how best to tackle it, over the past two years. I was selected to serve on the tax review working party not because of my views or expertise on taxation but because it also involves a possible major reform of Guernsey’s social security system. But when you’re involved in that sort of review it helps to inform your judgement on all of the matters under consideration.

In many ways I went into the task of looking at how to fill the black hole in Guernsey’s finances in a far better position than some other members of that working party. I had not told any gullible electors that I would oppose any tax rises. No ‘over my dead body’ stuff from me. Indeed I already knew enough two years ago to realise that taxes would have to rise and I was scrupulously honest about it at election time. Two years on I am more certain than ever.

I have said that I owe the people of Guernsey – who elected me – my best judgement. So here it is.

If we do not see an increase in States revenues, of a significant order of magnitude, then our public services are going to be savagely cut. Indeed they will be cut to a level which will leave the Guernsey public both shocked and dismayed. There are many reasons for that but the biggest one is our changing demographics.

I care passionately about decent public services. I always have done and I always will do. So if I have to work in lockstep with other States members, whom some friends and colleagues think I shouldn’t be assisting, in order to protect those precious services, then that’s just what I’ll do.

I’ll do it today, tomorrow, and next week/month/year. The purpose of politics is to do the right thing by the people of Guernsey, not to score points against ‘opponents’.

Does that mean I completely agree with P&R on tax matters? No. Does it mean there haven’t been difficult compromises to make within the tax working party? Of course not. Would it have been much easier to just wilfully deny the inconvenient truth that Guernsey faces either a hike in taxation or savage cuts in public service provision? It certainly would. But it would have been a lie.

Of course I could have said, ‘I don’t believe it’, ‘There must be another way’, or even ‘It’s your problem, P&R, it’s your mandate, so don’t ask me for any help’. But I actually want to be able to look myself in the eye in my bathroom mirror.

This is undoubtedly one of the biggest political challenges the States has faced during my long time in politics. So I intend to run towards the sound of gunfire, no matter who is at my shoulder and who is not.

Taxes need to go up. I know that. P&R knows that. The mere fact that we both completely agree on that question – when we profoundly disagree on so much else – must tell you something.

But don’t worry, kind friends. My aeons in local politics has taught me one skill. How to sup with a long spoon.