Just rein back the hobbyhorse politics

TO BE blunt, I’m finding this ‘poor old Gav’ stuff wearing a bit thin now. Not that he hasn’t had a right old kicking, much of it from people who don’t really know whether he deserved it or not, but then perhaps bigger boys made them do it.

(Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28853136)
(Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28853136)

We’ll never know, but we can say with some certainty that there was a strong element of vindictiveness about his treatment. That of Lyndon Trott too – favouring Carl Meerveld, despite all the evidence to the contrary, for heading the States Assembly & Constitution Committee was very perverse. But whatever the scores were, they have certainly been settled. Vengefully too.

Saying that, however, this week’s four-page ‘I am not bitter’ letter from Deputy St Pier suggests to me that there’s a round three to be had. And, depending on how the new Assembly and the all-important ‘events, dear boy, events’ play out, that could well be within the next four years.

So, if this all sounds less than sympathetic, apologies. But as Peter Roffey, himself a Gav beater for presidency of States’ Trading Supervisory Board, said here the other day, politics is a rough trade and not for the faint-hearted.

That goes for we electors too. Just imagine if you’d voted for Boris, eh? What a let-down that’s been, and not all of his own making.

So let’s acknowledge that this latest round in the chief ministerial celebrity death match quite clearly went to Peter ‘Foxy’ Ferbrache because – whether we like it or not; deserved or not – Gav had lost the dressing room. Unlike a football manager in the same predicament, however, he remains part of the team.

Personally, I’d have been content for him and equally on-form Deputy Trott to play on – continuity, experience, that sort of thing – but islanders wanted change. We have that now and, while there are undoubted differences between them, Deputy Ferbrache is an equally commanding Prumier de Giernesi.

So what’s important is how things shake down over the next four years or so – especially given some of the manifesto commitments made: more public services and investment but with no borrowing and no new, or even lower, taxes. Quite a circle to square.

More fundamentally, we have moved from hobby politics – generally retired, comfortable individuals wanting ‘to put something back’ and serve the island – to hobbyhorse politics, shorthand for imposing your view of the perfect society on others.

As now sadly ex-States member Matt Fallaize confirmed to me, ‘the “have an opinion” aspect of a deputy’s role has become more popular and rewarded than “governing the island”’.

Now, you and I might consider managing Covid, rebuilding and growing the economy, repairing States’ finances, and reducing unemployment to be priorities.

Environment & Infrastructure, however, does not. Its mission is to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by you and I moving around.

That’s specifically driving (65% of emissions), flying (22%) and marine travel (11%). So you can see who they’re coming for first. An election for change but you, Mr and Mrs Motorist, remain the enemy.

Yes, slightly emotive. But unless I’m missing something, reducing CO2 generated by transport means substantial reductions in vehicle use and/or equally substantial switches to less polluting cars and trucks. Buses, come to that.

Of itself, no problem. Guernsey’s actions through E&I can clearly save the planet and mitigate the 40GW of coal-fired power stations China is building this year alone. But it’s how we’re to be driven out of our cars, vans, refuse trucks and, yes, ambulances that counts.

New head of Economic Development Neil Inder supports business, that’s why he’s the new president. Facilitating it will be key. Huge duty increases on fuel not only damage economic recovery, they also harm those ancillary operations working to keep transport on the road.

Similarly with an accelerated switch to, say, electric vehicles. Hundreds of garage jobs depend on service-related activities and how many islanders can afford e-cars anyway? Yet electricity isn’t the solution for heavy transport. Hydrogen is but, despite JCB this week trialling the world’s first hydrogen-powered digger (a 20-tonne 220X excavator since you ask), we’re not there yet.

Deputy Inder, rightly, wants a big push on tourism but that runs counter to E&I’s transport aspirations, unless the tourists come by electric ferry.

Which brings you back to the issue of who pays – and Condor’s cash-strapped new owners certainly won’t be offering any time soon.

To clarify, none of this is meant to be critical, simply (and simplistically) to illustrate that none of the problems the island faces can be tackled in isolation. Or, if they are, without having unwanted consequences elsewhere.

That’s why previous island plans such as Future Guernsey were doomed to failure: too many ‘priorities’ from individual committees pursuing their own agendas, no matter how worthy.

So forget the election and look ahead. Let’s encourage our new States Assembly to manage Covid, rebuild and grow the economy, repair public finances and reduce unemployment without taxing us to blazes or destroying the quality of life and freedoms we currently have.

That’s while dealing with Brexit as well, of course.

If Deputy Ferbrache can keep his colleagues focused on that and little else, he’ll be a good choice as chief minister.

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