Guernsey Press

OPINION: The ‘small’ government that won’t leave us alone

Erosion of trust has already begun – and the really big decisions are still to come, says Nick Mann

Emptying the first box of votes in the Guernsey general election in October last year. (29393511)

THIS is an elected body in which the majority claim to represent small government, yet this States has managed to creep further and further into people’s lives.

It is an example of when election promises crash and burn in the everyday reality of local politics.

The most telling example of this is the continuing presence of the Civil Contingencies Authority, so rightly established a year ago in the time of an emergency but looking increasingly authoritarian as time creeps on.

Its continued role in our lives is, we are told, essential because it still needs to make emergency laws when it comes to border controls and other easing of lockdown measures.

But we are now fast approaching the time when Covid should not be treated as an emergency, but something we have to live with. The laws and policies should be put in place that can be quickly updated with regulations to do that through a normalised, democratic processes.

The framework to implement targeted border controls and testing requirements has been established based on experience from last year – if a third wave hits, the menu is already there for what to do based around two previous lockdowns.

We are in a fortunate position to be Covid-free again – we need to take advantage of that in laying the groundwork now to end the reign of the CCA so that there is a broader set of voices shaping policy and the future direction of the island. That is, after all, what we elected our States to do.

But it is not just the CCA where government is making more rules and laws to control the island.

We are in the grip of an economic situation the likes of which has never been seen before, with large deficits and stunted growth.

But one of the first things the Economic Development committee does is move to create more legislation to stop fishermen selling their catch on a hedge veg stall.

No matter there was absolutely no evidence as to what the extent of the problem actually was, or what alternatives had been explored to crack down on it even if there was one.

It has all the hallmarks of someone’s pet project being rammed through in a quiet moment with little concept of what we should really be prioritising – and prioritisation is front and centre of the sell right now.

The bonfire of the resolutions contained in the Government Work Plan was more of a gentle smoulder when you consider how much was left on the table and how much is still to come once it gets voted through itself.

This is not in itself a problem, it is the hypocrisy of trying to sell it as some grand move to a laser-like focus that is.

Good government needs good policies and good laws – it is far too simplistic to just rush around shouting about slashing red tape, banging heads together and picking up phones.

Good government also needs clear heads, honesty and integrity.

That has already been lacking from some in this administration – certainly those who feel it is appropriate to use pseudonyms to denigrate others in this community, or stoop to personal insults or innuendo when challenged on policy.

Last week emails started flying around in private protesting at the temerity of a non-States member to publicly express their opinion on the current situation with education.

That shows you just how thin-skinned some in power in this administration really are, how unwilling they are to engage in debate or face alternative views.

People see through this type of behaviour. It also leaves a stain that washes off onto others within the government, however unfairly.

And we are only in the opening few chapters.

This all matters because trust in the administration, to believe that it will do what it says it is doing, is so easily lost.

The erosion has slowly begun with some election pledges dissolving and has been amplified by questionable behaviour.

This can all be brought back – and the path of any government and the relationship with the populace never runs smooth.

The major fear is that we are yet to have any real meaningful debate or decisions being made in the States.

In short order, there will need to be decisions on secondary education and then a bit further down the line comes taxes and how to steer a way out of the deficit and pay for all the economic damage caused by the Covid-19 response.

Promises made on the campaign trail will again face the reality test.

Efforts are being made to present a kindly, understanding face to the public. Behind the scenes it is evidently much more strained.