No joking matter

Last week’s States meeting has left Richard Graham in a more serious frame of mind than usual

There is only one purpose for my parliamentary sketches and that is to provide a light-hearted and at times spiky commentary on what our elected representatives get up to. It’s my inadequate attempt at a written version of Spitting Image.

As far as I am concerned there are few political issues that should be exempt from satire, but the debate that dominated the first day of the first States meeting in six weeks was one of them. The members were invited by a Policy & Resources proposition to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and express their support for the people of Ukraine in their resistance to it. War and what it inflicts on its victims is a serious matter and I propose to treat it as such. So, no jokes this time.

In opening the debate, Deputy Ferbrache effectively settled how it would be conducted by demanding that all members declared their personal support of the proposition. They duly obliged. Yes, it was repetitive but it was bound to be. The speeches were mercifully free of the usual niggle and partisan division in the Assembly, but with two exceptions. The Home Affairs president chose to interpret a St Pier amendment as a declaration of turf war against his committee. Deputy Prow was grumpy about it, but then he is pre-programmed to be grumpy about anything that Deputy St Pier says or does, so nothing new there. Deputy Aldwell dutifully parroted her president’s grumpiness.

The speeches were also predictably ‘on message’, but there was one exception. He won’t like it, but I am slowly taking to Deputy Taylor. He has a mind of his own and has the guts to be the maverick in the conformist camp. He declared his support for the motion but had his doubts about whether the States should be debating it in the first place. In effect he asked where we should draw the line when it comes to registering our condemnation or support of other governments and peoples. I think he had a point. I had a similar question in mind during the debate: to what extent should our external relations be guided by a moral compass?

I asked that question when I was a deputy. I can’t remember which year and which debate, but I made a speech arguing that I found our finance industry’s eagerness to attract Chinese money into the island disturbing. It was dirty money, not in the criminal sense but rather in the sense that there is no such thing as Chinese money that is untainted by its association, however indirect, with the fascist regime that permits it to exist. I do not use the term fascist lightly. By all definitions of fascism, China and Russia are governed by out and out fascist regimes. Depressingly, they are two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, each armed with a veto. No wonder the United Nations has become such an ineffective force for peace. I reminded the Assembly that the Chinese regime was embarked on a brutal, genocidal programme against the 14 million Uighurs in its Xinjiang province. The campaign included summary executions, enforced sterilisation of women, destruction of their homes and mass detention and indoctrination in the notorious correction camps. They even shaved Uighur heads and sold their hair.

Unsurprisingly, my speech had no effect whatsoever. The States continues to this day its love affair with Chinese money via Guernsey Finance, its representative in Hong Kong drumming up business for us even though China continues to terrorise its Uighur population and – like Russia’s campaign against Ukraine – threatens to bomb the 24 million citizens of Taiwan into submission unless they voluntarily surrender to Chinese rule.

I mention the States’ attitude to China to explain my distaste when I heard Deputy Mahoney and others lavish praise on our finance industry for readily complying with sanctions against dubious sources of Russian money. Why such praise? Why the self-congratulation? Our sanctions were only applied when it became compulsory to do so. Where was all the moral outrage we are hearing now when Russia brutally invaded Georgia in 2008? Was it absent merely because the Georgians couldn’t fight back? Where were the blue and yellow emblems and flags in 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea? Where were the protests when Putin’s men shot down a civilian airliner in cold blood, murdering 283 passengers, many of them babes in arms, whose only crime was to take a flight from Holland to Malaysia that passed over Ukraine? Where were the sanctions and boycotts when Putin sent his assassins into England to murder his opponents with nerve agents? Why wait until now when all along Putin could not have announced his status as a dangerous, violent demagogue more clearly if he had performed a Cossack dance in the debating chamber to the tune of War Glorious War? Will the States and our finance industry wait until the Uighurs have disappeared as a race and China has actually invaded Taiwan before deciding to avoid tainted Chinese money?

Deputy Gollop raised another interesting point. He asked to what extent, if any, the States could have its own regime for welcoming refugees from Ukraine. He wasn’t sure, and he suspected the public weren’t, either. Deputy Prow was irritated. Again. Surely everyone knew that our hands are tied by the UK Home Secretary. I thought, blimey – bondage with Priti Patel – it doesn’t get any scarier than that. If true, it doesn’t bode well for our intention to welcome refugees from Ukraine. She has proved useless at stopping unwelcome refugees from arriving in England and is now proving equally useless at enabling welcome refugees to arrive.

The debate ended with all deputies feeling better about themselves. Mission accomplished then.

In my January sketch I alluded to Gulliver’s escape from Lilliput, a place notorious for its preoccupation with trivial matters. Lilliput came to mind again as I tuned in on day two.

There may be a war in Europe, a housing crisis in Guernsey and a two-year wait for life-changing, pain-easing surgery in the Princess Elizabeth Hospital, but States members wanted to spend the meeting’s second morning debating how to register their votes. The choice was between using their voices at no cost, just as countless generations have managed to do, or playing with Deputy Meerveld’s three-button version of a Game Boy, which would cost over £100k and hadn’t worked when the members gave it a trial. You’ve guessed it. Members loved the gimmicky toy and ordered it for Christmas. Deputy Dyke was one of those who wanted to buy one, so I presume someone had assured him that it would work from the Cayman Islands.

That left a day and a half to debate the P&R policy letter on the establishment of a development agency. Listening to it was a depressing experience and I leave it to others to depress themselves still further by having to report it. In a nutshell, the Assembly reverted to its internecine self. The usual culprits were back with their niggly, snide remarks – they just can’t resist it. Deputies Inder and Meerveld engaged in a duel of schoolboy willy-waving over which of them has the biggest business pedigree. Speeches and votes were entirely predictable on partisan lines, as was the outcome. The Assembly confirmed its previous determination to hand over the future of Guernsey’s east coast to a bunch of unelected so-called experts whose identity remains a mystery but who are so brilliantly talented that some time next year they will propose a scheme that will be different from any of the six schemes rejected by the Assembly back in July last year. Exciting, eh!

I end this sketch on a positive note. Two Commencement Ordinances were approved to bring into force the 2020 Capacity Law. All the work on this much needed and overdue law was done in previous States terms, and I am glad that due tribute was paid to the key role played in it by the late Roger Perrot. I served as a deputy in the States term after he had retired, and scarcely a month passed without him asking me, ‘What’s happening about the Capacity Law, boy?’

He would now be pleased, but I hear him asking, ‘What took them so long?’

Most Read

Top Stories

More From The Guernsey Press

UK & International News