The deputy in the dock

Last week’s States debate on the fate of Deputy Chris Le Tissier revealed much about the character of the Assembly and its members, says Richard Graham

Chris Le Tissier arriving at last week's States meeting. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29765242)
Chris Le Tissier arriving at last week's States meeting. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29765242)

A STATES deputy has asked if I am paid to write these parliamentary sketches and if so whether the editor is getting his money’s worth.

The answer is that I write on a voluntary basis and regard it as a privilege to do so. As for value for money, I don’t claim that my sketches have any value, but even if they are worthless they cost the newspaper and those who read it absolutely nothing. So I offer worthlessness at no cost, a far better offer than worthlessness at a cost of £40,000 a year, which is what we get from some deputies we can think of, n’est ce pas?

I’m beginning to think that some deputies just don’t understand the role of the parliamentary sketch writer. They seem to think I exist to report on States meetings as they, the deputies, would like them to be reported. You know the sort; they want to mark their own homework and have a Putinesque media puppet to help them do it. No chance!

Last week’s States meeting was dominated by three issues: the fate of Deputy Le Tissier and reform of the abortion law and secondary and post-16 education. I will deal with the latter two debates in a second sketch on Thursday.

While the Code of Conduct complaints against Deputy Le Tissier were undergoing due process, I refrained from making any comment on them whatsoever. Even now, I won’t be drawn into expressing a view either on the suspended deputy’s character or on the sanction imposed on him. I am content to accept the outcome of the process followed by both the investigating panel and the States Assembly. What interests me is how it was handled within the Assembly and where it leaves us now.

The first thing to say is that it would have been in the best interests of the States as a whole if the matter could have been resolved without the need for members to sit in uncomfortable judgement of one of their own colleagues, but Deputy Le Tissier was entitled to appeal and have his day in court, and he duly made use of his right.

It didn’t take long in the debate for the character of the Assembly and its members to emerge. Within the span of a few speeches, not least the one delivered by Deputy Le Tissier himself, the deputy in the dock had morphed from culprit to victim.

But victim of whom?

Well, the media for starters. We were told that the whole thing had been got up by the Guernsey Press in particular. It was all part of a left-wing conspiracy. And what about those horrid persons who had made the complaints? Over the top, eh! Then there was mention of those dodgy members of the investigating panel who had it in for the cuddly but befuddled deputy. This egregious insinuation was made worse because it was accompanied by insincere protestations that they were not impugning the panel members’ integrity, which is of course precisely what they were doing. And, we were warned, don’t forget all those nasty deputies who don’t like the Guernsey Party and were making political capital out of the affair.

Crikey, I thought, they’re lining up to give the bloke a medal.

The debate had its lighter moments. When discussing the perils of social media, Deputy Trott pointed out that deputies are not safe even if they don’t themselves tweet and post and do any of those other nerdy, social media thingummies. He cited three examples of his name being falsely used. One of these impersonations was a certain Grindr Trott on a dating app. He wished it to be known that he is definitely not Grindr Trott. It left me wondering whether some Grindr Trott admirers will be relieved and others disappointed to hear that.

In the end, in a debate that combined in equal measure the crocodile tears of his supporters and the schadenfreude of some others, the majority voted to suspend the deputy, but many of them did so while protesting that it was like plucking excess hair from the nostrils – eye-wateringly painful but necessary to make themselves look better.

Five members voted against Sacc’s proposition, thereby clearly indicating that they wish to be judged by lower standards than those applied by the independent panel that the States members themselves have appointed. What’s more, they effectively voted for Deputy Le Tissier to emerge scot-free of any sanction at all because if they had thought he deserved a lesser punishment they would have placed an amendment to that effect – and they hadn’t. I don’t agree with their view but I respect the fact that they had the spine to take ownership of it. Which is more than I can say about the nine pusillanimous members who gave an impersonation of that chap in the bible – you know, Pontius Pilate – and washed their hands of the affair by abstaining. Perhaps they thought that was what Dr Brink meant when she said ‘Keep on observing your hand hygiene’.

So where does that leave the States? The short answer is that the whole affair has sucked a whole lot of integrity clean out of an Assembly that has left itself with a number of problems.

The first is what to do with Deputy Le Tissier when he resumes his membership. I note that unless I blinked and missed it, he has not apologised for the views he let slip on social media, only for any hurt they may have caused and for the embarrassment that followed. As apologies go, that’s like saying ‘When I kicked you in the shins I’m sorry it hurt and I got arrested’.

So what are his views as expressed anonymously by him? As far as we can tell they can be summed up as follows: ‘If you are not a native of Guernsey, you are welcome as long as you keep your opinions to yourself and don’t expect to occupy a top position.’

To be fair, such views are not uncommon here and are the sort of thing you can hear in any Guernsey bar on a Friday night after everyone’s drunk about 12 pints of lager. But for a member of our government, are they not just too daft to tolerate?

Let’s think about all those in top positions who are not Guernsey natives. The Bailiff would have to go for a start – he didn’t fool me when he claimed his real name is Richard McMachon. Also for the chop would be the head of law enforcement and at least four of our five secondary school head teachers. And sorry Dr Brink, your accent just doesn’t fit in here. Then there are all those top entrepreneurs. Thanks for the 500 jobs you created here Dame Mary and Doug, but we’ve got Guernsey folk who can do it better.

Given these mind-blowingly Neanderthal views, it is hard to see where Deputy Le Tissier can be employed when he resumes his service. Surely not on Home Affairs. If the Home Affairs president had done due diligence perhaps he would not have nominated for membership someone with such controversial views in preference to Deputy Marc Leadbeater, who wanted to serve a second term on Home Affairs but had to rely on a successful nomination from the floor against the president’s opposition.

It is even more surprising that once Deputy Le Tissier had been elected to Home Affairs, the committee president saw fit to give him special responsibility for political oversight of the fight against financial crime. It is difficult to imagine the suspended deputy resuming membership of a committee which itself could not possibly tolerate, for example, a police officer caught waging an offensive, anonymous campaign against fellow officers while pretending to be someone else.

But if not Home Affairs, where else? Is there another committee where Deputy Le Tissier’s previously expressed views could be more easily accommodated? If so, would any sitting member of another committee step down to create a vacancy for him in a year’s time? And just as relevant, with several members already committed to more than one principal committee, is there a suitable volunteer to fill the Home Affairs vacancy? And if not, is it acceptable for Home Affairs to soldier on with one member short?

The second problem is that the Assembly has effectively undermined the credibility of the current system by which deputies are meant to be brought to account for alleged misconduct. Without doubt, the system was weaponised during the 2016-20 political term. In last week’s debate, some deputies indicated genuine shortcomings in the process, others portrayed Deputy Le Tissier as a martyr to a flawed system and still others accused the investigating panel members of political bias. In short, a significant number of members declared they have no confidence in the current arrangements. In which case, without urgent reform or replacement of the system, the States will be left without a trusted mechanism for holding members to account.

The Sacc president, Deputy Meerveld, ruled out a quick solution in the form of establishing a Jersey-style commissioner for standards on the grounds that his committee has only half a civil servant to do the work. His predecessor, Deputy Inder, reasonably pointed out that his Sacc only had the same half-person and still managed to arrange our first ever island-wide election. In his view, there was no excuse for delay so let’s have some action not words.

Now where have I heard that before?

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