Guernsey Press

Ideology not ideal

Horace Camp assesses the enthusiasm for party politics and calls for Guernsey to once again embrace again an ‘Assembly of independents’


Two weeks ago I wrote a less-than-riveting parody piece about party politics. Last week my oppo Digard wrote about party politics. Now I’m sure the older among you will recall your mother telling you that everything comes in threes, which is why my column this week is about party politics.

Parties need an ideology, a reason to be formed. Injustice, oppression or even freedom has inspired many to join together and have a voice. Has it occurred to you that here in little old Guernsey that we have never thought it necessary to form parties? Could it be because we had no real issues requiring us to form one?

We of course had issues, but they were never of the magnitude that drove the formation of parties elsewhere. It’s the same with legislation. We seem to have come to the party late on many of the burning social issues that have gripped our world. Could it be that is because our problems were very minor in comparison? Take hate and discrimination for instance. I’m sure if we’d have had lynchings, segregation and slavery we might have introduced anti-discrimination and race laws decades ago.

We are a little place, predominately filled by nice people, who in the main mostly, when they are sober, get on with each other. We are not a hard place to govern and we have no aspirations to intervene in the affairs of other countries. We have to be one of the easiest places to run on earth. Which is why we have in the past been run by an Assembly of part-timers with an understanding of the real world and that, generally, any move from the status quo needs to be slow and cautious.

The general mantra of government was ‘If it ain’t futu, don’t fix it, eh?’, but something changed as we approached the 21st century. Perhaps it was the influx of folk from a politically-divided island to the north where political belief was acquired at birth and coming here left a void of not knowing who to hate.

Most government decisions here are not politically or ideologically driven. They are driven by the civil service and industry keeping us up to date with the modern world, which we need to be to exploit them. That is, it is in our interest to play along.

Our ideologically-driven decisions have caused two of our big current issues, as I will explain. Let’s start with education.

Education was moving on OK after a disastrous period for the States schools. Things were looking better in the secondary sector, with just one school needing to be rebuilt. Grades were improving, possibly driven by this newspaper revealing how bad they had been, and all was well with the world, save La Mare needed a rebuild.

What did the States of Guernsey do? Well, it took an ideologically-driven decision to break what was now fixed by removing the 11-plus. This was the politically-inspired decision to make education fairer by closing all routes to the colleges except for the thick wallet.

The unintended circumstances being whole cohorts of children being pushed through under-performing schools and a drastic increase in the cost of education. If we rolled back the clock to that 11-plus decision and kept selection, would education be the concern it is today?

Let’s look at secondary healthcare now. We never adopted the NHS principles of the nanny state to the north and made no decision to become a welfare state. We worked on the now outdated view that the user pays and if the user truly cannot afford to pay, then the States provided the safety net. As the frequency and types of procedures increased, the costs were pushed up and the fear was that homeowners could lose their homes to pay for medical treatment.

We could have made a simple change to remove family homes from the means test. However, towards the end of the last century we decided to go all out NHS without considering or even being aware of the cost explosion about to hit medical services. And now we seem to be stuck in an ideological view of the world where it wouldn’t be right to put off buying the new electric car because you had to pay for a new hip.

Thankfully an amendment to make GP appointments free was defeated. Imagine the pressure on the deficit if we went full out nanny state. And that could happen if a Guernsey Reform party won a majority in the next States by offering ‘free’ healthcare to all.

The other bad thing for Guernsey is the leadership a party system could provide. We don’t need a leader. Our system of government doesn’t call for a leader and no position has any form of executive power. Except in times of emergency, when we can appoint a ‘dictator’ to run the Civil Contingencies Authority, for example, if it becomes imperative to buy a boat.

This island works best when it reacts to events which in some way need to be reacted to for our benefit. It just doesn’t work for us when politicians tell us we need to do something for ideological reasons. Is net zero really of benefit to us? Would our waste bills be less if we filled up a big hole instead of shipping it out?

The last thing we should ever do is to make it easy for politicians to make things happen. Especially when we swap them out every four years. We have hundreds of millions in the bank just because our system makes it hard for deputies to decide on spending it. If the last three assemblies had been ‘efficient’ all that money would be spent, probably on white elephants, with nothing left for this lot to argue about.

We are now two years away from a general election. The career politicians will now be looking ahead to ensure they get another four years of paid employment. I predict that parties will pop up soon and I urge caution. We are an independent island, with very independent people and we need an ‘Assembly of independents’ to represent us.

Everyone calling for parties expects theirs to win. Imagine a Guernsey run by the Vertes or the Guernsey Nationalists, and think again.