Guernsey Press

Power of the people?

Is democracy in Guernsey merely an illusion? Horace Camp says it’s time to ask the people of Guernsey what they want from a government

.Members of the public gathered outside the Royal Court steps to protest against P&R's plans to introduce GST to the deputies before their States Meeting begun. (Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 31725395)

COPY deadlines mean I’m writing this the night before the GST debate begins and by the time you read this it is possible the debate is over. Either way there is little point in my writing about GST now. In fact, when it comes to the States of Guernsey, there is little point engaging with government because there is only a tiny window every four or five years when the general population has a part to play in our democracy.

I use the term ‘democracy’ but it is purely the go faster stripe applied to the exterior of our real machinery of government to make it look good from the outside. We aren’t the only democracy in the world which may not quite follow the original Greek concept of people power. As the Council of Europe puts it, ‘The word democracy comes from the Greek words “demos”, meaning people, and “kratos” meaning power; so democracy can be thought of as “power of the people”’.

I will repeat that last bit ‘so democracy can be thought of as “power of the people”’.

OK, people, how powerful do you feel when it comes to deciding where this island should be heading? And do you feel proud of the civic duty you performed in 2020 by meticulously studying the great number of candidates to ensure the great number of votes entrusted to you were spent wisely?

Do you remember wading through all those manifestos to check if your favoured candidates were aligned with you? I bet you may even have rejoiced that there was actually a political party offering something of a proper future plan to make it easier for you to block vote.

The problem of course is forgetting that the sole purpose of a manifesto in Guernsey is to win a deputy’s seat in the Assembly. Like Cinderella, whose carriage turned back into a pumpkin when the clock struck midnight, those manifestos became meaningless jumbled words the second the polling stations closed.

Call that democracy? Well not in my book.

How to describe our system of government is not easy. It is mostly an unelected technocracy. We are run by a group of people who are hired for their knowledge by other unelected technocrats who have no interest in public opinion. The leading technocrats receive the highest remuneration and retirement benefits paid by us, the good people of Guernsey. It is in their interest that Guernsey has a large government which directs all aspects of community life from birth to grave.

The other 10% of our government has a ‘tick the box’ purpose to raise the funds needed by the technocrats while at the same time applying the veneer of democracy that is needed to keep the UK off our backs.

Very little money is allocated to keep this illusion alive and because no knowledge, experience or integrity is actually stipulated as requirements for the 38 who fill the role, their remuneration is significantly lower than the technocrats who actually run the show.

Our Assembly of deputies is somewhat akin to a constitutional monarchy in that it looks powerful but is in fact an old man behind a curtain pretending to be the great Wizard of Oz.

If you’ve got this far, you may have started to get the feeling I am less than happy with how this Assembly has treated us. In fact, when the results of the 2020 election were published I predicted then that this would be our worst Assembly. Not, as I usually predict, the ‘Worst States Ever’, but the worst group of people this century to have been elected to a great office.

It was made especially more poignant to see fine candidates, for example Matt Fallaize, removed from the Assembly and replaced by dross. My views and those of former deputy Fallaize are rarely aligned and his obsession with rules and procedures hardly floats my boat, but what I did know on election day is that Matt is who he says he is. The same can’t be said about many of the Ruling Coalition, aka the Blob.

Don’t get me wrong. If I had ever had the privilege of sitting in that august assembly and found that I had changed my mind on a topic and believed that the people of Guernsey would be better served by me voting against my manifesto, then I would do it.

But my manifesto would have made it clear that, as a representative of the people, I would always vote with my conscience in the best interests of Guernsey. I would not categorically support populist positions to win the vote nor would I nail my colours to the mast on issues I was not yet fully up to steam on.

Perhaps that wouldn’t have been enough to secure me a seat.

I am disappointed, no matter how the vote goes, that those who had the privilege of a vote purchased on a platform of ‘no GST’ should have worked hard to maintain that view. GST may be inevitable but it doesn’t have to be decided now.

Our numbers are still pretty good, we have reserves and can manage without GST now.

There are more ways to skin a cat and the GST decision should be taken by people with a mandate from the people to introduce it.

The deputies who rode the ‘no GST’ bandwagon to secure a seat should kick that can to a new Assembly with a mandate to make that decision.

On the face of it, it would appear the people of Guernsey are looking for a ‘new deal’. Ever-increasing taxing and spending, like ever-increasing population, is a Ponzi scheme. Injecting more money now doesn’t cure the disease that riddles our government. Perhaps it’s time to ask the people of Guernsey what they want from a government, rather than government imposing its wishes and beliefs upon them.

Looking back at our very long history, we are possibly in our longest running ‘good time’ and all our industries which supported us in the past had their days and then they were gone. Boom and bust is part of our heritage. We were shielded from the last bust because it accidentally busted as the finance boom began.

We need to throttle Guernsey back a bit to prepare us for bad times ahead. They will come, hopefully not for a very long time.

But we can help to secure our future if we adopt a policy that most people in Guernsey are grown-ups and we don’t need a nanny anymore.