OPINION: Cracking the code

By the standards of the States Members’ Conduct Panel, Chris Le Tissier’s behaviour has been offensive, deliberately deceptive, disrespectful and wholly unacceptable. A more meaningful test, however, is what his colleagues make of it, says Richard Digard

CONFESSION time. This is the wrong sort of crossroads for the States to be facing and on entirely the wrong issue. But it is nevertheless of extreme seriousness and I didn’t see it coming. And at the same time, many islanders won’t give a damn.

The issue, obviously, is Deputy Chris Le Tissier’s code of conduct breaches. Although the significance is not him acting the maggot, as my Irish friends might say, but what the States makes of it.

To be clear, this is not some academic exercise. It’s about whether the Assembly recognises external, independent oversight of its conduct and behaviours or not.

And this is important. Such matters as islanders’ right to know ­– what access to information gathered in their name they may be permitted to have – is currently reserved to the States itself. Neither open nor transparent.

The previous Assembly was very unhappy that an independent panel, one that they decided to set up, made recommendations as requested about their pay. Adopted, these would have been more equitable, more closely aligned to what happens in the private sector and saved the taxpayer money.

The package was rejected, in part because some members felt they should have more say on what they pay themselves.

The third element in this unholy triptych of traits is how States members should behave while in office. Will they accept the findings of another independent and expert panel (also one they caused to be created) or not?

You can see why my notional focus group in the back bar of the Mariners’ Inn isn’t overly bothered by these things. They lost faith in the States years ago. Deputies are only in it for themselves and no longer care about ordinary, working islanders.

That view, erroneous or not, is why the code of conduct States members signed up to is crystal clear on the duty deputies have to counter such cynicism:

‘Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the States of Deliberation and never undertake any action which would bring the States, or its members generally, into disrepute.’

Duty, service, responsibility and selflessness are all concepts that have heightened meaning after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh ­– while the significance of them changes over the years.

Some may recall the infamous golliwog ‘joke’ told at a press conference some years ago by a politician who was then a minister. Would he have survived today?

In the case of Deputy Le Tissier, the panel found he breached six separate sections of the code, some multiple times, and held that his actions were variously offensive, deliberately deceptive, disrespectful and wholly unacceptable.

Deputy Chris Le Tissier. (29438424)

The appeal process in these circumstances is largely a sideshow and will be seen by voters as a desperate attempt to cling on to a £40,000 a year sinecure and nothing to do with clearing his name. After all, the ‘offences’ were admitted and he has acknowledged his stupidity (his word).

Why I say this situation is so serious is because of what else Deputy Le Tissier told the panel: ‘He had not appreciated the standards which were required and had not known that he had done wrong until the Code case started.’

In short, the island has a system that encourages people to stand for election no matter how unprepared or unsuited they may be for office. No matter, in Deputy Le Tissier’s case, how strongly they believe Guernsey is the exclusive province of the Guernseyman or seek to silence people for ‘not being local enough’.

Remember, also, that there is no quality control of election candidates. Unlike party-based systems elsewhere, there is no vetting procedure ahead of entry into the Assembly.

So if problems emerge, they can only be dealt with while in office.

It follows then that if you believe standards, especially in the public arena, matter, this is all pretty desperate stuff. If the States doesn’t care or is prepared to vote the panel findings down on narrow grounds of self-interest (‘no one tells me what to do…’) or party allegiance, the crossroads has been reached.

If Deputy Le Tissier isn’t expelled, what then? Simply, he becomes a lame duck deputy virtually unemployable on any committee because of loss of trust in his honesty and views he expressed which complainants considered xenophobic, Anglophobic and possibly misogynistic.

The estimated half-million-pound cost of a by-election that expulsion would trigger is significant but cannot be allowed to determine the outcome of this debate.

Either the States is wedded to the highest standards of conduct, probity and governance – independently validated as necessary – or it is not.

Either the system wants people to recognise that there are rules in place to improve the esteem in which States members are held or it does not.

Perhaps there is an element of making an example of Deputy Le Tissier. A line has to be drawn somewhere, after all, and he has provided just such an opportunity.

Ultimately, however, this is more a test of States members’ standards than it is of Deputy Le Tissier’s.

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