Guernsey Press

Partying in the dark?

Since the election, the newly-fledged political parties seem to have gone quiet, which will disappoint those who believed the advent of some form of party politics would bring about more accountability. Nick Mann asks what this could do to public confidence in the States

Last updated
(Picture by Adrian Miller, 29027720)

WHEN it’s time to party, we will party hard – except, that is, if you’ve been elected in Guernsey.

Then, if the evidence so far is anything to go by, they will party behind closed doors, quietly cajoling, and try not to bother the voters too much with what is going on.

There are scant indications so far that the parties which sprung up before the election were anything much more than vote-winning machines.

Which will come as a disappointment to those who believed that the advent of some form of party politics would bring about more accountability and another route for the public and business to influence the political system.

This party system looks like going the same way as normal, politicians drifting away from the community as time passes and the need to be elected, to be seen to be listening, fades into the background.

That does not have to happen, but for it to be resisted both the Guernsey Party and the Guernsey Partnership of Independents, who still straddle that party/not a party line, need to continue to have a noticeable voice.

A quick visit to their websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts shows how the activity has fallen off a cliff-edge now they are ensconced in their seats.

The last we heard from the GPI was two months ago. Links to the Guernsey Party’s Facebook and Instagram accounts from its website now produce nothing.

Its last political statement was on Deputy John Dyke sitting on Scrutiny.

The States this week has been involved in its first real debate of the term, the 2021 Budget.

The parties have been mute in the run up, and the voting patterns show how whatever type of hybrid system Guernsey has ended up with, loyalty to the committee and individual choice are still there.

The Budget was led by the political leader of the Guernsey Party, Deputy Mark Helyar.

This is the same party that bravely, and rightly, put out a manifesto which actually included a series of pledges of what it wanted to do.

It published what it wanted to achieve in the first 100 days – and it was an ambitious list that was always going to clash with the realities of a consensus model.

There was an interesting blink and you would miss it moment during the debate when Deputy Lyndon Trott picked up on a manifesto pledge and the reality of what was being proposed, this one about backing charities through Deputy John Dyke’s amendment on charitable giving, and said there would be many similar chances in the future.

It was Policy & Resources president Peter Ferbrache who spoke next and said: ‘I’m sure we will do the same in relation to him’.

Interesting, both because this type of accountability for what was said in the election campaign has rarely happened, and also because the use of ‘we’ in Deputy Ferbrache’s response is immediately indicative of the divide that we know exists and will shape this Assembly – the coalition of Deputy Ferbrache, the white van gang and the Guernsey Party versus the smaller number aligning with the Partnership in which Deputy Trott was a leading light.

For one example of just what an awkward fit party politics and the States of Deliberation is, take the debate on a tax break for independent distilleries proposed by Deputy Simon Vermeulen.

This is a Guernsey Party idea, it’s contained in their 100 days objective: ‘Reduce duty on local spirit and beer (production).’

Both Deputy Vermeulen and Deputy Nick Moakes, who seconded it, are Guernsey Party members.

But they did not carry all the party with them.

Deputy Liam McKenna, who joined after the election, voted against, as did Deputy Helyar.

Had they toed the party line, the amendment would have passed.

Deputy Helyar instead stuck with the P&R collective against the amendment.

The last States was accused of secret alliances forming and back room deals being done. The truth is this type of thing always happened within the consensus model and will continue to happen in this Assembly.

We just have extra layers of complexity now in reading the States because there are two parties in play, and other members that have aligned themselves more strategically.

It will be a while before we know what this will all do to public confidence in the States.

Will there be a heightened awareness of manifesto pledges? Will the shining of a light on any hypocritical behaviour become embedded, gain traction in the public eye and leave members vulnerable come the next election?

It is easy to have a flippant disregard for this, a shrug that says politicians not living up to their promises is just something that happens, but it does not need to be that way and it will undermine the trust that should exist in elected members.

Come 100 days the Guernsey Party should come up with an analysis of what it has achieved against its targets and what remains to be done.

This will coincide roughly with P&R coming back with a progress report on its priority points highlighted at the opening of this States.

We will then see what ‘action today’ means in reality.