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Horace | Published:

THERE are some fine words full of meaning which seem to have slipped out of daily use, such as plethora, gallivant, and swag. I was reminded of this when someone referred to Parkinson’s Law as an ‘adage’.

The adage, like the proverb, is used far less by our society to pass on a general truth that has long been known to exist than it was in the past. We would all agree with Mr Parkinson that work does indeed expand to fill the time allotted and that knowledge was passed to us in an easy to remember manner as an adage that is short, punchy and generally true.

As a political observer I like to filter what I see or read on the subject through the fundamental laws of politics that I have learnt from adages such as Conquest’s laws.

Historian Robert Conquest’s first law of politics states that everyone is conservative about what he or she knows best. Deputy Barry Paint, for instance, is extremely conservative about maritime matters. If he can see that the status quo works he has no desire to embrace radical or original change seemingly just for the sake of it.

On the face of it this would suggest adherence to Conquest’s first law is a bad thing and we should be cautious of both experts and an individual’s personal experience because they will have preferences for the established ways they know best.

The expert is likely to be conservative about more current ‘established ways’ and the individual conservative about the ways they last experienced whatever is being discussed. This was common during the education debate, particularly on social mobility. The conservatism of the outside-toilet era pitted against the conservatism of the 1980s comprehensive school movement.

Clearly when these two teams are pitted against each other the desire is for a change in the current system and a political putsch to move the upper hand from one group to the other.

Conquest recognised that change can be a good thing and is needed when exceptional circumstances make it necessary. When circumstances change radically we need radical change to keep up with them.

Personally I didn’t hear any arguments in the education debate which convinced me that there were exceptional circumstances which made it necessary to completely rework our secondary education system at great financial cost but even more importantly at the risk of great disruption to the pupils forced through the almost decade-long period of transition.


All I observed was a desire to impose radical change and ‘original’ thinking on a system which traditionally has served us well.

Where did that desire come from? Well, Conquest’s second law has the answer to that question. ‘Any organisation not explicitly right wing sooner or later becomes left wing over time.’

For some of you reading, the penny will have already dropped and you need no further explanation. However, for the one or two of my readers who are still befuddled I will continue.

The constant desire for the States of Guernsey to move away from the customary way of doing things here by adopting more radical change is not because of exceptional circumstances dictating or external pressures insisting. It is purely because Conquest’s second law has kicked in for both our civil service and their political overlords.


A conservative (small ‘c’) island is now in the hands of a socialist (big ‘S’) technocratic government. Our aspirations, values and customs are no longer aligned with those of our government.

Within the public service I suggest the second law has applied for many years and is an unassailable bastion of socialism. The political assembly is still in transition and is split in an almost Brexit-vote imperfect balance. This is why this is an Assembly in limbo, as described by this paper’s opinion writer. The right and left hand are almost of equal strength and in their constant combat neither is able to dominate the other. I fear the right is doomed even though it has the popular vote because the left has greater institutional support.

Which brings me, inevitably, to [novelist/journalist Jerry] Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy: ‘In any bureaucratic organisation there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organisation, and those who work for the organisation itself.’

Imagine, if you will, the public service worker who believes passionately in proving the best possible public service. The nurse who goes above and beyond for patients. Those in our emergency services who would and do risk their own lives to keep us safe. The teachers with whom we are willing to entrust our children. These and others like them are the often underpaid heroes who keep this island running.

Pournelle believes there is a second kind of public service worker. He cites the example of the union representative who works primarily for the organisation by, say, protecting the incompetent or defending pension arrangements that are unaffordable and will ultimately prevent the States of Guernsey from achieving its goals.

Pournelle believes it is the second kind of worker who controls the organisation and determines how the organisation will function. Even the most casual observer of the States of Guernsey will admit that he is spot on.

If further evidence is needed then look once again at the proposed new education system and the great responsibility, budget and control which has been given to the central education support team located at Frossard House. I suggest it contains both kinds of Pournelle’s workers but is the main source of power and has inevitably become left wing (Conquest’s second law).

How does a conservative island somehow regain a conservative-led government supported by an at least politically neutral civil service? Our next opportunity is some years away yet and there is still much damage that could be done if the knife edge balance moves a tad further left.

Which brings me to one of the fundamental laws of politics attributed to one of the great politicians of the 21st century: ‘The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money’ – M Thatcher.


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