Island-wide: a question of balance

SO HOW was it for you?

Island-wide voting was a double triumph for Neil Inder. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28797146)
Island-wide voting was a double triumph for Neil Inder. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28797146)

Island-wide voting I mean. If you’re Neil Inder, president of organisers the States Assembly and Constitution Committee, it was a double triumph. Not only did he and his team make happen something the Electoral Reform Society had serious reservations about, he also secured a top 10 finish with just over 10,000 votes. Result.

If you were one of the unsuccessful deputies seeking re-election, the loss of what we might term parish protection, that more intimately known group of home turf electors able to drag you over the line, was pretty disastrous.

For the mainly younger candidates pushing more radical policies, the outcome showed the dangers of going for change. ‘Gawd help progressives,’ said one keen follower on Twitter.

Elsewhere, the reaction was more one of relief. Firstly, because the task of wading through half a telephone book of candidate blandishments and online three-minute videos was over and, secondly, (probably more important) the outcome could have been far worse.

Yes, that’s subjective. For many, the best candidates didn’t get elected and we’re still pretty male, pale and stale with fewer women or genuine representative diversity.

But this is the thing: it’s what Guernsey wanted from a smorgasbord of political hopefuls. So another result and one which rather answers the question I posed here a fortnight ago, is Guernsey still innately small-c conservative and fiscally prudent?

Put that another way and the standout from the election is that social media and pressure groups are emphatically not representative of island opinion. Rather, as we’ve suspected, these are the natural habitat of – to put it kindly – more vocally extreme individuals and not reflecting the anxieties and aspirations of my Mrs Sebire to the Vale or her family.

If heeded, this is good and might restrain the more preachy among our elected representatives who wish to impose their ideals on the rest of us. You might get it through the Assembly, but not voters on an island-wide basis. Common sense does rule after all.

The biggest question that has yet to be answered, however, is whether island-wide has introduced better politics.

This is definitely overdue. And electors showed they wanted change. Yes, they dumped some under-performing sitting deputies and scapegoated Matt Fallaize. But overall the vote also showed they want an Assembly that concentrates on the knitting – the economy, stupid – and issues directly relevant to the majority of islanders’ lives.

Today’s election for chief minister potentially throws that hope of a united States up in the air. Few, I think, would argue that not only were islanders voting Gavin St Pier into office, they were also endorsing his legitimacy as Le Prumier de Giernesi for the next four years.

It’s a safe bet Peter Ferbrache wouldn’t have announced his decision to run against Deputy St Pier unless he calculated a better than evens chance of winning. But why would a new Assembly go against the clear wishes of the electorate and risk maintaining or even amplifying the existing divisions in the House? Deputy Lyndon Trott’s description of Deputy Ferbrache as a ‘chancer’ indicates how deep they could become.

It’s also fair to say some brutal stuff has also been going on behind the scenes as the bidding for key presidential and committee roles gets under way. These positions matter.

The new States is expected to focus on fostering business, driving economic growth and public sector reform and with, according to outgoing Deputy Chris Green, perhaps less emphasis on investment in public services, spending and regulation. Who knows, it might even care to cast a critical eye over the controversial discrimination legislation.

Jersey’s just-published Government Plan for the next four years puts the cost of Covid at just shy of £400m. in terms of lost revenues and increased expenditure, something that could trigger tax on medicinal cannabis, vaping and see GST rise to 8%.

It is also – rightly, in my view – proposing to borrow up to £336m. next year rather than liquidating existing assets and reserves and gives an early insight into the issues Guernsey’s new States will have to face.

Beyond that, there’s a need here for public pump-priming investment in Leale’s Yard and intervention to prioritise it, plus finally starting to leverage economic benefits from the Belle Greve area. That will take resolve in the face of inevitable opposition and a government largely united on the benefits of doing so.

None of this is likely to be enhanced by a damaging leadership contest followed by lasting divisions.

Curiously, then, the real focus over the next few months is on that which many voters consciously rejected: party politics. The reason is Mark Helyar’s Guernsey Party and its commitment to ending what it says is politics driven by ideology without regard to public opinion or cost, or dithering around the same issues without moving forward. Sound familiar?

Across the old factions of pro- or anti-GSP and evenly mixed independents, a well organised and focused Guernsey Party, even with just six members, could effectively hold the balance of power.

Its flagship policies are common sense, supporting industry, commerce and finance; the reduction of cost and waste in government plus enhancing the environment and protecting island culture and values.

‘We will work positively with anyone… who shares the same objectives… and we will do it while exhibiting the highest standards of personal conduct,’ its members say.

That commitment should be put into action as early as today’s chief ministerial election. So while it’s too early to say whether island-wide has led to better politics, it’s definitely got more interesting.

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