Unlike Jersey, our lot called it right on coronavirus

The ‘other island’ was wrong not to join us in an anti-Covid Bailiwick bubble and a huge opportunity has been lost. But, says Richard Digard, here’s to 2021 bringing an equally robust approach to tackling Guernsey’s other problems

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‘BOZO stuffs Xmas’ screamed the page one splash from the Star on Sunday. In case you were in any doubt as to who it was talking about, the message was reinforced by its ‘turkey clown PM’ strapline as the UK prime minister was blamed personally for Lockdown 3 and trying to keep the country safe from the new Covid variant said to be up to 70% more contagious.

Here, however, we’re beyond all that. Pubs open, no restrictions on family gatherings and a maskless society. Mate, we’ve got Christmas cracked. There wasn’t even a spike in cases when the students came back to have a proper festive catch-up with their families.

Yet just 20-odd miles to the south, Jersey’s chief minister is facing similar – although, happily, less vituperative – headlines as our sister island sees infections rocket. More yule fool than U-turning turkey, but people there aren’t happy with how their government is handling the pandemic.

Many, including me, had held back from contrasting Guernsey’s handling with Jersey’s. Their ‘cake and eat it’ approach with open borders looked like it had a chance of success, albeit with higher rates of infection and death.

Now, however, it looks like a disaster. But that wasn’t the reason why my column in the Jersey Evening Post last Friday said that its Council of Ministers had called it wrong on Covid. Research from analysts Critical Economics, specialists in islands and small communities, was.

Its latest report, comparing Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey, demonstrates they have similar economies, the same challenges caused by Covid and broadly the same recovery strategies. Only Jersey was an outlier in not using its island status to protect its citizens.

So this is a way of saying thank heavens Guernsey called it right from day one. We are all safe and the authorities played a blinder in making that happen, irrespective of what Mr Chesney’s court action attacking the States might seek to establish.

Here, it’s community first, economy second. Yet Jersey hedged its bets on that and one weekend – including the infamous Royal Yacht event – saw the virus spiral out of control. Evidence, if you needed it, of how quickly and devastatingly it can spread.

What makes the current situation all the more disturbing is that a crisis like we’re facing could and should have brought all the Channel Islands together in a kind of federation of wellness and – for once – shown what true mutual cooperation looked like.

‘I agree,’ said Deputy Gavin St Pier, one of the architects of Guernsey’s approach back in March, ‘I believe a Channel Island/Crown Dependency bubble would have been a net positive for all our economies. But our paths diverged very early.’

Jersey’s position and policy development, he said on social media, was more informed by and closer to the UK’s.

Well, we can all see how that’s turned out in Britain and – although it’s not often you hear me say this – further reason to thank government here for its sure-footed and steadfast approach to keeping the island safe and secure while others were treading a different path.

A most welcome side-effect of that, of course, was helping Alderney and Sark get through it too (to date at least) and I see both islands have expressed their thanks to we Guerns for salvaging their economies.

We’ll never know how much stronger we’d have been together with Jersey in the frame but a ‘bubble’ of more than 170,000 people – in excess of 250,000 with the Isle of Man air-bridged in – would have been quite formidable.

Jersey is definitely the loser here, although I doubt its politicians will see it that way. Longer term, it doesn’t say much about the prospects for genuine working together if we can’t agree on something as fundamental as protecting our communities.

ON THE domestic front, I see the Guernsey Party has had to release a statement about it apparently breaking its manifesto commitment on not raising taxes following the Budget debate last week.

Looking at its impressive list of pledges for what it says should happen in the first 100 days following the election, I suspect it won’t be the last time it’s criticised for not keeping its word.

That’s not an attack, by the way. Much on its wish list (available on its website) can and needs to be implemented. Indeed, it would be a remarkable achievement if even half is. Getting there depends on taking the rest of the Assembly with the party and wrangling a sclerotic government system into delivering its outcome-driven agenda.

Think about that for a moment and it’s pretty depressing. Change is needed and overdue. We can all see that, and want it. Yet it never quite happens, even though Guernsey is small and once used to be regarded as nimble and responsive and focused on seizing opportunities.

We know, too, that we have good people here. That’s why the Guernsey Party wants to get more non-States members involved in government, something also long overdue.

So, with Jersey having unhappily shown how effectively the Guernsey States has handled the biggest community welfare crisis since the Occupation, wouldn’t it be heartening to see the same steadfastness and speed of approach applied to our other problems?

The fact that we can all enjoy a normal and happy festive season should give us some, hope so I’ll end on a seasonally upbeat note: A Happy Christmas to all and best wishes for positive change in the new year.

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