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Something for everyone?

Peter Roffey | Published:

ONE of Guernsey’s proto-parties, The 2020 Association, has released its initial stab at a manifesto.

Picture by Shutterstock

The exercise has shown what many people always suspected would be the case. In order to keep a fairly broad spectrum of inherently independent-thinking supporters on board, its proposed policy programme has had to be made very broad and general to the point of being insipid.

To be fair, the document may evolve and sharpen up over the months ahead but that carries its own dangers. The more incisive and meaningful it becomes, the more likely it is that potential candidates will say, ‘I can’t support that’, and decide to stand as an independent, unfettered by party discipline, if at all.

Perhaps the question is less ‘is Guernsey ready for party politics?’ and more ‘are 2020 Association members really ready for party politics?’

It will be interesting to see how the manifesto of our other party in waiting, The Islanders Association, compares and whether it suffers from the same problem.

Let us take a look at a few nuggets from the ‘2020 vision’.

Firstly, a time limit on speeches in the States. This did raise a smile with me, given than Deputy Peter Ferbrache is one of the party’s leading lights. I don’t really support this idea. I think it is far too simplistic, having heard five-minute speeches which were far too long and 15-minute speeches which left me wanting more. That said, I could live with it and would have to adapt to the new discipline.

That change of style would be significant for me because occasionally I do like to throw myself into a passionate and quite long speech over issues I feel really strongly about. I feel it is my duty to try my best to persuade other members to my point of view when the matter at hand is of really significant importance to the island.

That said, my speeches are – in athletics terminology – middle-distance efforts compared with some of Peter Ferbrache’s Mo Farah-like contributions. Indeed, I think he holds the record for the longest speech in this Assembly and probably for many Assemblies past.

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Moving on, one characteristic of the policy document is that it is full of ideas that sound plausible but don’t really bear scrutiny. For example, giving the douzaines a role in planning decisions.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s grassroots politics, with those who really know their part of the island using their common-sense judgement on behalf of the parishes they serve on a wholly voluntary basis. So much better than decisions being taken by ‘faceless planners in their offices’.

The trouble is that it will create outrage from applicants when identical plans receive different treatment. Perhaps an application will be passed at one end of a road and a very similar one refused at the other end of that same road just because the parish border lies in-between and so it has been considered by a different set of parochial officials.

Of course, you could overcome that problem by providing such strong central guidelines that there is no room for different interpretations in different parishes, but then the whole exercise becomes a sham and a pretence of devolution. Anyway, how much devolution do we really need in an island of 24.5 square miles?

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As for the rest of the ‘manifesto’ it seems to be – as has been observed elsewhere – an attempt to please everybody. In fact it reminded me of the worst sort of old-school individual manifestos. You remember the ones – they went something like this…

‘I support our old folk as they made the island what it is today. I also support our youngsters because they are our future. But we must not put too much of a burden on the working age population.’

‘We really must do more to help those who are struggling financially but we mustn’t tax success or deter our wealth creators. We also need to look after the squeezed middle.’

‘I am a big supporter of good services but I also believe in small government and low taxes.’

These sorts of anodyne promotional leaflets started to fall out of favour some years ago as the voter became slightly more sophisticated and realised they were a complete con. They may have appeared to offer something to everyone but were really nothing more or less than fluff.

It would therefore be ironic if the dawn of party politics in Guernsey saw a return to similar meaningless wish lists. I am not a supporter of party politics or the negativity and conflict it engenders, but even I have had to accept that it could carry certain advantages. In particular it would allow a group of candidates to sign up to a well worked out policy programme which, if they gained enough support, could actually be delivered.

So it is somewhat bemusing to see the first stab at such a policy programme reverting to the bad old days of empty platitudes. Of course we all want good health care and connectivity.

To be fair, this might just be the clothes horse on which the detail will be built over the months ahead. In particular, I will be interested to see exactly how much tax this party is aiming to raise from the local community, how they intend to raise it, and what their spending programme is. As with parties elsewhere this should be in a format which allows disinterested experts to check that the revenue raising and spending programmes add up and that there are no ‘black holes’ lurking. I hope all of this will be forthcoming when 2020 launch their final manifesto for next year’s election – but I am not holding my breath.

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