Lots of voting to reflect on today. Firstly, there’s the General Election itself.
How well did island-wide voting work? What to read into the results? Who were the big winners and losers? Has the States significantly changed its political balance? What about the role of parties? Are we seeing a trend towards negative campaigning?
Then there were the committee elections, where States members chose departmental presidents and members. This produced a few shocks with some very big names, who had fared well with the voters, being completely snubbed by their colleagues.
The General Election first. I’m the first to confess that IWV was less problematic than I’d expected. On a practical level, that was mainly due to the overwhelming choice to vote by post. Viewed purely from a ‘did the mechanics work?’ point of view, the exercise was an undoubted success. Congratulations to all those behind the scenes who worked hard to make that happen.
Of course, elections are about far more than mechanics. As a voter myself, I really struggled to appraise, in any real depth, the 118 people seeking election to the States. If that was a problem for me, as a real political animal, it must have been even harder for Mrs Le Page. That’s a genuine worry because democracy depends on voters making informed choices.
If it were down to me, I would still prefer a hybrid system, with half the deputies being elected island-wide every two years, to keep the numbers more manageable, or three super constituencies. However, the people have spoken through the 80% turnout and therefore the new system is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
What about the results? Former Deputy Chris Green spoke of a modest shift to the right, but I suspect it wasn’t really that modest. Whether it qualifies as a full-blown lurch we’re yet to see. What’s clear is that ‘progressive liberals’ took a bit of a caning at the ballot box. I’m not quite sure how or why I seemed to dodge that bullet.
Do I regret this change? Of course.
Firstly because in the Guernsey context I’m probably centre left, although I wouldn’t be characterised as such almost anywhere else in the world. So it’s naturally disappointing to think I might be less in tune with the new Assembly and therefore find it harder to win arguments/votes over things I really care about.
Secondly because among the liberal-leaning deputies swept aside by the ‘voters’ broom’ were some very talented individuals with good principles and strong work ethics. Put simply, I lost some political friends who I personally thought deserved to keep their seats. But politics is a rough trade, such events go with the territory, and the voter is always right. Of course, the other side of that coin is the cliché that people get the government they deserve.
Has the voter actually got what they wanted? They probably have but perhaps in rather bigger measure than they bargained for.
I have no doubt the zeitgeist was for a shift to the right and the pendulum has felt like it has been poised to swing that way for many months. However, closer analysis of the results show that those candidates openly on the right of the spectrum, such as the Guernsey Party, were far more organised than those with a more liberal flavour to their politics. The latter included lots of interesting newbies who polled really quite well, but still fell short of the magic 6,475 needed to be elected.
Does that point the way towards party politics? Personally I hope not but let’s consider that question.
Traditionally the main advantage which has always been claimed for party politics is that it allows voters to choose between fully worked-up policy frameworks, but oddly none of the three parties contesting this election really offered that. In fact the one which came closest suffered a complete and rather humiliating wipe-out, but I suspect the reasons for that lie elsewhere.
The most successful grouping was the Guernsey Party with a 75% strike rate. They described themselves as ‘centre-right’ and they put out a few embryonic policies but nothing too worked up. If they really are centre-right then I’ll meet them quite often in that elusive political middle ground but I suspect the emphasis should probably be put on the second element of their description. We’ll see.
Lastly we had the ‘Partnership of Independents’, who had mixed fortunes. Their star performers took the top two spots with Deputy St Pier absolutely streaks ahead of anyone else. Overall they fared less well though, with a success rate below 50%. I suspect less well known members of the partnership suffered from the grouping being neither fish nor fowl. People kept asking ‘are they supposed to be a party or not?’.
I must admit that my earnest wish is that, having served their electoral purposes, these groupings would now simply melt away. I don’t think official tribes are good for local politics. But now each party has been allocated their official ‘party benches’ in the States chamber this seems unlikely to happen. I suspect we will all regret it in 10 years’ time.
Finally on the General Election, what about the birth of negative campaigning? We may thankfully be a long way behind America in this respect, but one candidate hardly said a word about why voters should elect him. Instead he preferred to use all of his time and his permitted election expenditure on urging people not to vote for some of his rivals.
Leaving aside the very dodgy quality of the ‘information’ he was promulgating, the simple fact that the tactic got him elected is slightly worrying for the future. It’s human nature for people to copy tactics they see working so future elections may well be dominated by ‘attack ads’. Heaven forfend!
On to the committee elections and the biggest story by far was the treatment of Deputy St Pier. He topped the popular poll by a huge margin, making clear he wanted to continue as the president of P&R, but then he failed in that attempt.
As his proposer, I found that very disappointing, both because I personally thought he was the best candidate for that role and because the public seemingly agreed. However, I would not go as far as some others in suggesting it was somehow ‘undemocratic’.
While it was true that the electorate had given him a thumping endorsement they had, at exactly the same time, elected a mix of 38 deputies who were never likely to back him for the top job over Peter Ferbrache. While I gave it my very best shot to persuade the States he should continue in the role, frankly I knew as soon as I saw the General Election result that it was going to be an uphill battle.
Then he put himself up for president of STSB. This caused me a big dilemma. Although I had long planned to stand for this post myself, I spoke to Gavin on the phone and suggested I might step aside and seek a member’s seat instead.
It was only when he told me the basis on which he was standing that I realised that was quite impossible. There was no way I could support partial privatisation, even less expecting States utilities to make significant returns to general revenue. Islanders can’t go without water, and there is no other practical supplier than Guernsey Water, so to profiteer on the back of that monopoly position would be unconscionable.
In this case it wasn’t a choice between deputies but between ideologies and to be fair it was Gavin himself who encouraged me to stand against him and offer the Assembly that choice. Further evidence, if it was needed, of the stature of the man.
Then it got worse. He was denied a seat on Scrutiny, despite being the president’s choice. Meanwhile, former chief minister and outgoing P&R vice-president Lyndon Trott suffered a crushing defeat to Carl Meerveld in the contest to head up Sacc.
Of course, each deputy is quite free to use their judgement and vote accordingly, indeed it is their duty, but it was hard to avoid the conclusion that a few political grudges were coming into play too.
I really hope I’m wrong or it really is a case of ‘here we go again’.