Be careful what you wish for...
I’M NEVER really sure why people clamour for an efficient political system of government for Guernsey. Where would we be today if every resolution passed by our Assembly had in a very short time period been implemented without delay, amendment or kicking the can down the road?
Consider if the 11-plus debate hadn’t wittered on over two Assemblies and is about to tip over into a third but had been implemented expeditiously exactly as the policy letter proposed. What would have filled the hundreds of hours of deputies’ time released by actually deciding on something?
Same with the ‘tank wall’, the Transport Strategy and many other strategies and policies which fill the political calendar and enable our professional, paid politicians to clock up more hours than a Guernsey advocate.
Imagine all such things had been dealt with efficiently by a majority government holding 21 seats in our Assembly. Hundreds of hours of debate could be reduced to hundreds of minutes by the use of guillotine motions or one of the other rules in the rule book which will favour an efficient executive government.
What then would be left for politicians to do? Both the divisive Transport Strategy and the 11-plus debate would have left an almighty great hole in States business. What would it have been filled with?
‘Giving’ us more rights? Signing up to more conventions? Exploring how we could spend more money? Take it from me that nature abhors a vacuum and that if there is a policy void then new policies will appear to fill it. Or do we imagine our politicians, having efficiently cleared all the past resolutions and implemented all strategies, will sit back and consider Guernsey is a pretty well run and up-to-date place which requires little more proactive guidance and so spend more time in their gardens?
Knowing politicians, I expect they will all have some pet project up their sleeves and even though the minority party will have no chance of airing them in public, the efficient ruling majority party will be able to establish the efficient sausage machine and ramp up the speed of turning out diktats which gives us greater rights but probably fewer freedoms. For instance, I expect to be granted the new right in the next term to self-identify as a woman, but I have also lost the freedom to light a bonfire.
With more time on their hands, far more devilish schemes will be proposed and each four-year term will be a whirlwind of political involvement in the day to day lives of the people.
There will be balance, though, but not as now within the Assembly where all members form the executive and argue out and amend policies on the fly. When we adopt the UK party political system which we believe is more efficient than our own, we must also expect to adopt the impact of political swings.
One efficient majority government will take us one way for four years. Then there is a good chance the next Assembly will have a different view of politics and do all it can to reverse the decisions of the last lot. What if the 2020 Assembly continues with the two-school model but the 2024 Assembly is elected on a ticket to reverse the decision? One efficient step forward balanced out by one efficient step backwards or sideways.
I can’t see any reason to fiddle any more with our system of government except to appease deputies who want to see more projects propelled forward at an amazing pace with no reworking on the fly or reasonable delay built into the system.
In fact I would prefer more navel-gazing from deputies and more time spent by them in the real world to identify the big issues which concern this island and for them to come up with solutions. Richard Digard in his last column identified how the percentage of Guernsey home owners has fallen from 87% in 2005/6 to 60%.
This is unbelievable. If people don’t have a stake in our island, why would they want to stay here or come to live here? Which States policy determined that such a drop was a good idea? Of course there wasn’t one. In a huge ideological project to remove the 11-plus to achieve ‘equality’, no one thought it important than tens of thousands of islanders who would once expect to own their home are now forced to rent one.
Which of these issues was the more important socially and culturally? To remove selection, we have decided to spend £160m. in order for the same teachers to teach the same pupils. In the same way we have pumped £100m. into Aurigny, not to protect the profitable Gatwick slots, but to subsidise air fares to Alderney and Southampton. Yet whatever has been invested in affordable housing has certainly not achieved anything at all. Actually, neither has the money lost on Aurigny or about to be spent on the schools.
Deputy St Pier has led a more modern style of political government than his predecessors. It has been somewhat successful in its corporate ambitions. Finances are sound and governance is somewhat improved. However, socially and culturally it has been a complete disaster. Guernsey is a less attractive forever home for our young and the strong ties to the island have weakened as fewer people own a chunk of it.
Strangely this is not what I expected from a ‘bleeding heart’ liberal but in retrospect I can see that – to paraphrase Jeremy Corbyn – the social advocacy of the St Pier government has been aimed at the few, not the many. While focusing on the issues of deserving minorities, the needs and wants of the deserving majority have been completely overlooked. The great achievements of the administration have been undermined by the collapse of home ownership, which was once seen as a fundamental right of the industrious Sarnian.
Whatever happens to government in 2020, it is essential that the focus is returned to the many as well as the few – because ultimately, we cannot support the few without the support of the many.