‘I have not lost hope’
Following his poll-topping success in the general election and subsequent defeats in the committee elections, Deputy Gavin St Pier sets out his thoughts in an open letter to the Guernsey public
Marmite. Love it or hate it. Marmite is how I described myself to you during the general election. This is how I believe I am seen by many of you.
57% of you voted for me in the General Election; 43% did not.
43% of the States of Deliberation voted for me to be the president of the Policy & Resources Committee; 57% did not – as they were entitled to do.
This asymmetry between popular opinion and political decision arose because of the interaction between our electoral system and our system of government. Notwithstanding the irony that during the debate on our new island-wide electoral system Peter Ferbrache had argued the ‘chief minister’ should be chosen by the people, this change was not adopted before the general election. So the electorate chose the deputies; and the deputies chose who should fill each role.
As an incumbent who had occupied two senior offices for the last eight years, I knew before the general election that it would be an uphill struggle to secure my re-election as president of P&R from any new States of Deliberation. No chief minister has ever served more than one term. So, the general election result was a very welcome endorsement by you – the people that matter – of my leadership, especially as I was the only candidate to make it clear that if elected I would seek re-election as president of P&R. There was no ambiguity: my intentions were open and transparent to all of you. I wish to thank each and every one of you who entrusted me with their vote in that knowledge.
You knew who and what you were voting for when you filled in the oval by my name. Yes, I led the formation of the Guernsey Partnership of Independents and asked you to back the whole slate. You did not. We did garner 24% of all votes cast – versus 10% for The Guernsey Party – and saw 10 extremely able candidates elected, seven of whom were in the top half of all candidates; and half of our elected deputies are women, making up five of the eight women elected.
However, having secured the election of only 10 out of 21 candidates from the Guernsey Partnership of Independents, I feared on election night I could be in trouble in the States of Deliberation – and so it proved when we got to the election of the P&R president.
During the election campaign, I tried very hard to explain to the electorate that a vote for me alone simply was not enough to secure continuity of my leadership. I apologise to each of you who wanted that outcome; I failed to communicate that critical message to enough voters. The reality is many of you may have not only voted for me but also for successful candidates who did not support me to become P&R president. If there had been greater transparency as to which non-party candidates were aligned with each other, would it have changed your vote? If you had known Peter Ferbrache might be a candidate for the role, would you have been interested in which of Peter or me other candidates would support if elected? These are now just hypothetical questions.
Perhaps unlike many of you, by the time we got to the first meeting of the States of Deliberation, I was psychologically prepared not to be elected as president of P&R. When the result came, I was naturally disappointed and frustrated but not surprised.
While Peter Ferbrache did offer to nominate me to join P&R as a member, I declined that offer for a number of reasons. Having wanted to be chief minister for so long, the result earned him the right to build his own committee without me looking over his shoulder, especially as he had made it clear he wanted to discharge the role ‘differently’.
As an alternative, I was very keen and excited to take on the substantial role of president of the States’ Trading Supervisory Board (STSB). The STSB has not yet achieved its potential and I felt this was a role to which I could contribute the most. I was pleased that Peter Roffey also stood for the role. I knew we had different philosophical approaches to the purpose of the STSB and I welcomed the States being presented with that choice. However, the size of my defeat would suggest to me that there was more than a difference in our different philosophical approaches towards STSB at play in the voting.
This was confirmed with the rejection of my offer to serve on the Scrutiny Management Committee. It is clear that a majority of the States of Deliberation can see no current role for me. I am frustrated at this situation but I do not feel bitterness towards my colleagues within the Assembly.
I wish all my colleagues and the new committees every success. It is in all our interests that they should succeed. The challenges are enormous, as are the opportunities. I wish them wisdom in their judgements and decision-making. By definition, the problems on the table are complicated – otherwise they would have been solved already. I am not sad for myself but I am fearful that the pursuit of ‘action’ and ‘change’ without any plan will result in lost opportunities for the community.
A number of people have said that this episode in our political history is similar to that of Winston Churchill at the end of the Second World War, when the leader of the war effort was replaced by Clement Attlee. While Peter Ferbrache has been a proud past supporter of the Labour Party, making him a suitable match for Attlee, the analogy is flawed because Churchill lost power following a general election.
Having topped the poll, I stand on the shoulders of those I serve – the 14,000 of you who voted for me. I may have lost my office and role but that result can never change. Some in our community may want to see me humiliated – that’s politics. I don’t, and won’t, ever feel humiliated following that result.
It has been the greatest honour and privilege of my professional life to serve the people of Guernsey for the last eight years. In particular, of course, the opportunity to lead the island’s response in the management of a global pandemic has been a unique experience, bringing out the best in our community, which I will never, ever forget.
I feel like I’ve run an eight-year marathon so I will welcome the chance, in the short term, to recharge and spend more time with my family. My 60-70 hours a week of States’ business will be reduced significantly. Frustrating though that is, I wish to assure you that I have no intention whatsoever of resigning as a deputy. I was elected by you, the people, and I will continue to serve you as best as I can. For now, that means I will serve on the backbenches. Many election promises made by colleagues are likely to prove irreconcilable – more services and investment with no borrowing and no new, or even lower, taxes. I will endeavour to use my experience and knowledge to scrutinise and hold my peers to account, in particular, to honour their manifesto commitments – or justify departures from them.
I would like to thank the hundreds of you who have called or sent me emails, letters, gifts and messages. I’m most grateful for the kindness of both friends and strangers. As always, I will endeavour to respond to each of you individually – and I hope you will not be offended if I unintentionally fail to do so for some reason.
Many of you have expressed feelings of anger, hopelessness and despair. I am particularly concerned to receive comments in this vein from young people. You have enough threats to your future, such as the impacts of the pandemic, technology and climate change, without having to worry about the impact of politics on the future of your island home. To all of you who have had these thoughts I say: please don’t despair and please don’t lose hope.
More worryingly, many of you of all ages are saying you will never vote again. I do understand that reaction to recent events, feeling that your vote just doesn’t make any difference and your voice is not being listened to. But please keep voting: the democratic system requires everyone to engage – without that engagement, political extremes prevail.
I have not lost hope. I am not despairing. I will continue to do my very best for those I serve – you, the people of Guernsey.
I will take the time I now have to work with all those across our community with similar values and aspirations to give you reason to vote again.
I promise, we’ve got this.