Guernsey Press

‘Is there not a better way?’

Horace Camp’s new vision for future Guernsey might be a poorer place in terms of GDP, but he believes it will be happier

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Cute little girl playing in the summer field of wheat (31662582)

IN 2016 we set out on a 20-year journey to ‘be among the happiest and healthiest places in the world, where everyone has equal opportunity to achieve their potential’.

That quote is from the States’ vision for future Guernsey. Just four years later Deputy Gavin St Pier announced, though this ambition was mocked at the time, that we were well on the way to meeting the objectives.

Well, as we start 2023 I’m not picking up a lot of ‘happy’ vibes. And I’m sure I’ve read somewhere about long HSC waiting lists and a sort of crisis developing as even our nurses are revolting. I do realise that the ‘vision’ belonged to the previous Assembly, led by Deputy St Pier, and the current Assembly doesn’t spend a lot of effort on leading us into the happy place in the sunlit uplands.

The current Assembly, led by Deputy Ferbrache and his ruling coalition of chaos, has no place for soft targets such as happiness, health and equal opportunity. It’s all about the money. Even St Peter Roffey has realised money is important in bringing his dream of Guernsey as a socialist Utopia to fruition and has given up on the pursuit of happiness.

I will break the flow here to discard the impossible 2016 target of equal opportunity from the discourse. Life doesn’t work that way. For a start, genetics delivers us with all sorts of levels of abilities and talents. And opportunities in life are not offered to all equally. Not everyone can be in the right place at the right time to find a fiver on the pavement or to have the looks to be a female newsreader.

I know the States does its best to give as many children the same level of education by ensuring that if one school is under-performing it will do its damnedest to make all schools under-perform equally, but the flaw in that plan is that a third of kids are not within its system of education.

So equality has gone and happiness and health remain. I know Foxy isn’t committed to providing such insubstantial ambitions, but I wonder if he should be?

Health is a bit of a red herring because with the general direction of travel being to make Guernsey completely unliveable for young people we are heading for Gulliver’s Luggnagg, an island of forever-ageing old people and therefore an island of worse average health outcomes.

Happiness is the big one. What is the point of living here, or anywhere that doesn’t make you happy? From my vantage point, I see our general happiness declining as the years go by. Our big strength was once the closeness of the community and the often closeness of families as well. But now our fertility rate has fallen below that needed to maintain our population.

What children we have will for the foreseeable future be unable to buy a piece of the island, be limited in employment opportunities and will rail against the cost and difficulty of getting off what is commonly being described as a rock in the Channel.

As the birds fly the nest, then parents and grandparents will lose the support network that we were so used to in days gone by. It won’t be helped by importing fully-formed and trained migrants on short-term contracts to take the place of the generation we are losing. They also will have no on-island family support network. Ultimately the States of Guernsey will be the only ‘friend’ to the poor, old and sick.

Is this why Deputy Roffey is supporting making us more miserable and making island life less desirable, because our future is a generation of old people with no family support and a nomadic generation of guest workers with no firm ties to the island and who use it as a sort of revolving door? This is why the States will need more and more money to fill the gap left by the demise of the family.

Is there not a better way?

If happiness was our main aim, would we increase taxes just so we could keep up with the Joneses or would we cut our coat to suit our cloth? Is our increasing unhappiness caused by our continuous drive for more?

Perhaps we need another vision for future Guernsey. One with a lower GDP perhaps, but a higher happiness score. We could drop the population by ten or so thousand, just about the number of jobs we can’t fill ourselves. What would that do to house prices and housing availability? We could have fewer cars on the roads and perhaps we could relearn that Guernsey and the other Channel Islands aren’t just rocks but nice places to visit.

In my fantasy Guernsey we would all have a cottage and a few vergees. We would be self-sufficient in vegetables and pork and we would all be foraging on land, sea and foreshore, harvesting nature’s free bounty. Our cottages would be full of young children laughing and playing when they weren’t working in the vegetable garden or feeding the pigs. Grandparents would be sunning themselves in rocking chairs as they shelled the peas and plucked the chicken for tea.

What bliss. And as completely unachievable as increasing GDP by growing the population and increasing productivity while at the same time increasing the level of public services until the taxation system will be all income going to the States and a small pocket money allowance is made for the workers.

This plan will increase stress, poverty and levels of misery.

Isn’t it about time we stood back and decided what this island is for? Are we really just a rock in the Channel hosting a finance industry which could be operated totally by nomads? Or are we a community of people with centuries of interaction and deep roots in the soil covering the ‘rock’ hosting a finance industry to serve us?

In my view the time has come not to keep taxing people to maintain a Ponzi scheme of government, but to restore common sense and rebuild our old system based on personal responsibility and revive the knowledge that small island communities cannot expect to have everything that huge countries have.

No one seems to remember that the Sarnian was considered to be more parsimonious than a Yorkshireman, or a Scot, who were considered by us to be spendthrifts. It is time for our past to become our future – before it is too late.