Guernsey Press

OPINION: More of the same

From a new prime minister to the first States meeting after the summer break, Richard Graham looks back at last week’s political events

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Minister of State for Health Maria Caulfield sign a reciprocal healthcare deal with Chief Minister of Guernsey, Deputy Peter Ferbrache. (31260002)

IT IS SAID that a week is an awfully long time in politics. So just imagine what could have happened in the seven and a half weeks between States meetings this summer.

In the UK, Tory MPs gave the boot to Boris, the disgraced buffoon, but then, blow me down if a completely bonkers bunch of Tory party members didn’t react by voting to replace him with Boris in drag – or to adapt Barack Obama’s portrayal of Governor Sarah Palin, Boris with lipstick.

Deputies Ferbrache and Le Tocq, in their respective positions as our political representatives on the international scene, have correctly said what is required of them when the UK changes its prime minister. They have extended a polite welcome to the new prime minister and expressed the expectation that our special constitutional relationship with the UK through the British Crown will continue unchanged.

I don’t have to be quite so diplomatic. Prime Minister Truss may have several talents, but public speaking is not among them. To describe the speech she delivered outside Number 10 on her accession to the premiership as wooden and underwhelming would be charitable. Like many poor speakers, she has resorted to being coached but still hasn’t learnt how to synchronise her stilted hand gestures and forced facial expressions with her spoken narrative. It was like watching a marionette whose strings were being pulled by a drunk. It didn’t help that her speech escaped into the damp gloom of Downing Street in blocks of four or five words, the maximum number she could manage between glances at her script to remind her what she was meant to say next.

I heard her promise ‘action this day’. Sounds familiar? When will political leaders learn that if they liken themselves to Winston Churchill, it always ends in grief?

Fortunately, all this is of no consequence to us in these islands, but the same cannot be said of some of the new prime minister’s declared policies, especially her iconoclastic approach to public finances and the economy. If her policy to cut taxation whilst massively increasing public spending results in increased borrowing and an upward boost to the rate of inflation – and it will – and if that in turn leads to a weakening of the pound and to higher bank interest rates – and it will – then that will very much be a matter of concern here because it will be our pound that has been devalued and the same high interest rates that the States, Guernsey businesses and Guernsey residents will have to meet when repaying what we borrow. So, let’s not hear any suggestion that the arrival of a new UK prime minister doesn’t matter to us here.

The seven-week break witnessed the signing of a new reciprocal health agreement with the UK government. Well done to all concerned, including everybody’s friend, Brexit. I liked the photo showing Deputy Ferbrache and the UK Minister of State for Health, Maria Caulfield, at the formal signing. I bet the P&R president will be in his job longer than she will in hers. She backed Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership fight. Bad career move, eh? Curiously, she is pictured in front of the Guernsey flag, Deputy Ferbrache in front of the Union Flag. Should we read anything into that?

For the first time in many months, all 40 voting members were present when the States of Deliberation reassembled after the summer break. In contrast to the new political scene in the UK, it was a case of ‘the same old’ here. It was a pleasure once again to listen as the States Greffier recited the opening prayer in his immaculate, mellifluous French. He is more fluent in French than some States members are in English.

First up, the P&R president – with the ongoing review of taxation on his mind – delivered a sombre update in which the principal theme was a clarion call for members to face up to financial facts as they are and not as they would prefer them to be. This would require courage, honesty and, in some cases, an acceptance that previous promises had been made rashly and with no prospect of being fulfilled – the Guernsey Party please note.

Three interesting points emerged from Deputy Ferbrache’s answers to the questions that followed his update.

Deputy Roffey asked if P&R still intended to buy a ship. Apparently not. So what about the promised P&R Steam Navigation Company and its bespoke ferry service for Guernsey? Sorry, no longer in the plan. Instead, P&R is looking to take a stake in an investment fund that might one day actually deliver a ferry service. Details to follow, presumably.

Deputy Le Tissier then asked what the prospects are of reaching the target of saving around 200 civil service posts. Practically zero, was the effect of Deputy Ferbrache’s reply.

The third interesting question emerged, much mangled, from the lips of Deputy Haskins, who seems relentless in his determination to submit the spoken English word to his own brand of fiendish torture. Whenever he speaks, I feel its pain. As far as I could understand his question – not very far, since you ask – it was whether the appointment of Stuart Falla as chairman of the Guernsey Development Agency had been made by a unanimous decision of the three-person selection panel. Deputy Ferbrache had been part of the panel and thought it had, but a subsequent question from Deputy Taylor revealed that Deputy Inder had voted against Mr Falla’s appointment.

To my mind, a lack of support from Deputy Inder, far from undermining Mr Falla’s credentials for the appointment, would have served to strengthen them. But not so for deputies Haskins and Taylor. As far as they were concerned, securing only two-thirds of the votes placed a serious question mark over the selection, a somewhat curious view from two deputies who themselves were respectively elected by only 36% and 31% of the electorate at the last general election.

Deputy Ferbrache’s comments came close to echoing my own thoughts, namely that talent and a record of achievement often attract envy and suspicion from some quarters in Guernsey, especially from those who have only modest talent and a scant record of achievement themselves.

As it happens, Deputy Haskins was not the only member who struggled to articulate a question. During subsequent Rule 11 questions, Deputy Moakes demonstrated, not for the first time, that he has yet to master the simple art of putting a question within the permitted 60 seconds. It may have been my imagination, but the Bailiff sounded a bit brassed-off at having to remind the hapless deputy yet again of the difference between a statement and a question.

The debate of the Home Affairs policy letter on adding sexual violence to the scope of the Domestic Abuse Strategy was conducted in a collaborative spirit as the Assembly members, with one exception, suspended their entrenched personal antipathies to welcome a popular and laudable piece of work. The one sour note was provided by Deputy Dudley-Owen, who chose to mount a spiteful personal attack on Deputy St Pier, a snide move that was all the more tasteless through being accompanied by her wholly unconvincing claim that she hated doing it. Altogether now dear readers: ‘Oh no she didn’t!’

It’s this sort of gratuitous mud-stirring that is poisoning the conduct of Guernsey politics in this term and it needs to be called out whenever it occurs.

As a further example of the ‘same old’ in Guernsey, the summer break demonstrated that we continue to treat our sea travellers as little better than cattle when it comes to the so-called fast ferry service provided for them. Even when the ferries are running to time, the schedule for the service is still set to suit Jersey and imposes inconvenient travel times on passengers. Even worse, the lack of reliability and resilience meant that sailings were cancelled at short notice during the peak visitor weeks, with Liberation left to provide the service operating on one engine and typically taking six hours to reach Poole before dumping passengers on the quayside there at two o’clock in the morning. This was ‘Third World’ stuff and yet not a peep at the time was heard from our Economic Development president, who is responsible for our sea links. Belatedly, he informed the Assembly that he would be meeting the ferry company’s CEO some time soon. What took him so long?

Finally, the much-postponed introduction of simultaneous electronic voting was attempted on the first day of the meeting, but twice we heard only ‘glug glug’ as Deputy Meerveld’s flagship struck the rocks and headed for the sea bottom on her maiden voyage. A panicking Deputy Inder urged the Bailiff to abandon ship, but the presiding officer is made of sterner stuff and urged the crew to stay calm. It paid off, so that by the end of the second day members were gleefully jabbing away with their fingers like nerdy gamers excited about their new toy.

Marvellous thing, technology.