It’s the election, stupid

WE ALREADY know this election is about the economy. Well, that and education and the election itself as it dawns on folk that polling 38 from 118 candidates in a single constituency may not have been the best idea ever. Add in health and nurses’ pay and there’s your manifesto written.

Will the candidates be capable of living up to their election promises? (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28708651)
Will the candidates be capable of living up to their election promises? (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28708651)

As indeed many have. Resolutely opposed to the two-school model, fully committed to no tax rises or the introduction of GST and determined to tackle climate change, heralding sustainability, social justice and a better quality of life.

Which brings us to the nub of this historic election. Unlike Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville in 1992, who demanded his campaign teams focus on a single issue – hence his phrase, ‘the economy, stupid’ – Guernsey’s will be determined by unknowns.

Hence my own distillation of Election 2020: it’s all about the stupid, stupid. Apologies in advance. I’m not accusing anyone of being a drooling idiot but anyone reading some of the manifestos must have been seized by how uninformed many of them are.

Unless, that is, you’re of the persuasion that making extravagant promises for minimal reasons with no element of costing or funding is sound politics. In which case, others are going to look at you in equal measures of wonderment and distress.

You can see why I’m on difficult ground here. To simultaneously suggest candidates AND electorate are deficient in the upstairs department would be monstrous, wouldn’t it? So I’m not.

Instead, I’ll try to articulate what many of you have thought and said: that there appears to be a lack of understanding in many quarters about what makes Guernsey tick, its public finances and the role of deputies.

Admittedly, a lifetime of trying to ensure what’s written has at least a nodding acquaintance with fact and rationality makes me a difficult audience.

But this is the first election in very many where I’ve needed to take a flamethrower to some of the stuff coming through the letter box. On the plus side, the front room did need redecorating.

Go on some of the online forums, however, and there are views, electoral aspirations and candidate endorsements that are jaw-droppingly wrong. Not muddled or misguided. Just wrong.

Before you ask, this isn’t an unappealing display of intellectual snobbery by me. I don’t have the brains or breeding for either, but I do come out in a rash when total guff is presented as fact or rational ambition.

We should become self-sufficient in organic produce, one said. Er, no. Even if Mr and Mrs Guernsey felt a diet of potatoes, parsnips, cabbage and the odd bean jar for variety was desirable, economies of scale would drive prices through the roof. And – more importantly – we don’t have the land to do it.

It’s a simple calculation using published data from the States and we’re several thousand hectares short of the picnic. Not even Jersey could do it and one of its largest vegetable producers closed five years ago because it was unprofitable.

Anyway, the trigger for this was a senior politician asking what sort of States we’ll have post-election. Too hard to call, was my response. But based on trend, we’ll continue the drift towards left of centre and anti-business.

Aha, was the response. Have you seen the candidates? We could get an Assembly of business people with the background, ability and resolve to sort the island’s problems and, for a change, get things done.

Yes, on paper, it’s a possibility. But it depends on electors believing salvation lies in that direction and – crucially – being prepared to vote for someone they probably don’t know on the basis their pedigree suggests they understand money has to be earned before being spent but that the right sort of borrowing is OK.

So it’s easier to declare ‘make decisions fair, simple, affordable and common sense’ (actual manifesto quote) and hope no one twigs it’s gibberish rather than do some proper homework.

Frossard House, I can exclusively tell you, is bricking it over this election. Having scanned the candidate cast list, our professional advisers can see a massive education process ahead of them depending on the outcome. Explaining that ‘call for action’ manifestos aren’t actually practical policies can get very wearing.

So where are we? Is Guernsey still innately small-c conservative and fiscally prudent, plus able to divine the right 38 ex 118 individuals needed to work together and get the centre of the universe we all love so much back on track after eight or 12 years of neglect?

Or are we so conditioned to having it all, mirroring the benefits and services of much larger neighbouring welfare states, despite our low taxes, on the basis of something called ‘finance’ that we’ve rather taken for granted, that we’ll vote for more government intervention, increased public spending and greater community intervention?

Perhaps there’s something else at play here too, as we scan a bewildering list of election hopefuls and pie-crust manifesto ‘commitments’. And that’s the realisation our gene pool of 63,000 people and 100-plus candidates really only produces, what, 10 or 15 individuals you have no difficulty supporting.

Well, not long to wait now before we know whether this grand experiment in electoral empowerment gives us what we want. Or don’t, come to that.

If you are voting, I’ll finish with a quick prediction: it won’t take many States meetings before you know whether you got what you wished for and that Guernsey politics has been improved as a result.

I’m pretty clear what the answer will be but look forward to admitting here in due course that I called it wrong.

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