As someone who has followed Guernsey politics reasonably closely throughout the last term, I would urge you and your readers to give the greatest attention to this election – below, I am trying to frame the debate and explain how I am deciding who to vote for. Hopefully it is of use:
1. If the States is ‘not functioning’, it isn’t the fault of the people in it – and no one person can make it function. There are a lot of candidates who will tell you that they can ‘unblock’ the States or words to that effect. And they will tell you that the perceived failures of the last States were the fault of the individuals within it. But neither of these things is true. Firstly, the last States achieved plenty – just an examination of the records will tell you that. Secondly, a deputy only controls his or her own vote – there is no ‘whip’, like in the UK, and there is very little incentive for any deputy to vote the same way as any other deputy. Thirdly, politics is a very difficult, uncertain business and it’s also very important – no deputy is going to vote for or against something for the convenience of others. Each deputy must vote with his or her conscience. This state of affairs means that it will never be easy for the States to resolve a challenging, controversial issue. Therefore, criticise the system for slow progress if you will, but don’t criticise the deputies.
2. A candidate’s policies are largely irrelevant when considering their fitness for office. When you’re reading through a candidate’s policies, he/she will give you an insight into the personalities of the individual, but don’t think for one moment that any candidate can get any one policy or proposal brought into law. Conversely, deputies make many, many decisions in the lifetime of a States on all manner of issues – in the large majority of cases few, if any, candidates will have expressed a view on these. Therefore, when considering whether or not to vote for a candidate, the far better approach is to ignore specific proposals but instead to try and assess each candidate on the basis of their judgement and capacity for making sensible, rational decisions on matters that they have not considered before.
3. Positive campaigning must out. When reading the manifestos, the specific policies might give some insight into an individual but I think the true litmus test of a candidate is the tone of their writing. Any candidate who frames their arguments in terms of negative comment about other individuals, the supposed failures of the last States or what ‘someone else’ did wrong, seems unlikely to me to bring the kind of proactivity and diligence required in a Guernsey government. Conversely, someone with enthusiasm and energy is at least ‘ready to serve’ and engage with the issues of the day.
4. We are not an island (well, figuratively). It is often claimed (as in previous campaigns) that only Guernsey people know what Guernsey wants and needs. Some even stretch to argue that somehow external consultants should be distrusted. This argument runs completely counter to the way the island’s private sector works and indeed almost every other world government where, in each case, external input is a crucial element to getting the best result – none of Guernsey’s problems are, at least in general terms, unique to Guernsey. It is very possible to challenge the amount spent on advisers and therefore the procurement process but there is little logical rationale to challenging the decision to seek the advice of people who have more knowledge and experience than you even if they’re not from Guernsey. Experts do normally know best.
5. Why parties are no bad thing. If one considers other political systems, parties are everywhere and often allow for legislative agendas to be put to an electorate in a developed form with a realistic prospect of being followed through by sheer weight of numbers. Conversely, 40 individuals with no agreed agenda often leads to disharmony where no one person has any idea what the other 39 will do. In the education saga of the last States, the apparent indecision, factionalism and accusations of bad faith were in many ways simply a demonstration of a fault in the system – 40 independent people being persuaded this way and that, trying to listen to both their own conscience and the ‘will of the people’ without any actual polling data. In my view, a decision not to vote for someone purely because they are in a party makes little sense.
6. Experience is no bad thing. Democracies often make the mistake of thinking that changing the people running a country will automatically make improvement. We should not make that mistake in Guernsey. Experience, at least in every other walk of life, is critical when choosing who to employ or engage for a role, and the same is true here. Of course if you dislike a candidate, do not vote for him/her. But change for change’s sake is not the answer and will certainly not inherently lead to better government. See experience of office and being a deputy as an advantage for a candidate, not as a failing.
Good luck with making your choices. There’s a lot to consider...