You read it first here. There will be a new political grouping when we next go to the polls in 2025. Its name? ‘The Philistine Tendency’, or something like that. Its election slogan? Probably ‘Why build on brownfield sites when you can ruin a grass field’. Likely membership? Some outstanding candidates have begun to emerge. Deputy Mahoney must be in the running for a leadership role – and Deputy Brouard’s credentials are scarcely less impressive. Between them they seem to represent two strands of the Philistine approach to the natural environment.
One strand is an increasingly common phenomenon, that of Green Field Phobia, known in professional circles as GFP. Some of us love green fields full of lush grass and bordered by earth banks and trees, while others are merely indifferent to them, but there are some who actively loathe them and cannot rest until they are eradicated. We first saw symptoms of GFP when Deputy Mahoney trumpeted his plan to build scores of up-market homes on the green fields around the Castel hospital. On that occasion, he was reined in by his colleagues on Policy & Resources. Undeterred, he now has his sights on a picturesque grass field within the PEH estate. In an open letter in the Guernsey Press of 15 April, he poured scorn on the significance of this rare green oasis in a densely developed site. He referred to it sarcastically as being ‘so good that the States of Guernsey grows grass on it’. I could almost hear the trademark sneer in the written words. I concede that any deputy is entitled to a hostile view of the natural environment and then be accountable for it to the electorate, but in Deputy Mahoney’s case we have a disregard for our diminishing stock of green fields which coincides with his position as the lead P&R politician on States property. I find that combination scary, especially since he seems to resent any suggestion that his powers in that role should be subject to any scrutiny in the Assembly. Nor is it reassuring that the Development & Planning Authority, whose president is keen to tell everyone that she is not her strict predecessor, has given successive indications that ways can always be found round planning policies, and if they can’t, the policies, even the law, can always be changed.
As for Deputy Brouard, I don’t believe he’s driven by GFP, but he does remind me of a different phenomenon, that of Compulsive Concrete Disorder, or CCD as it’s known in the trade. Deputy Brouard seems to be obsessed with pouring concrete. Not just on green fields at the hospital, anywhere will do. He’s also desperate to pour tons of the stuff onto the beach at L’Ancresse. Am I alone in spotting the paradox that whereas he wants to pour massive amounts of concrete to keep non-existent enemy tanks from landing on a beach, the only place he refuses to pour concrete is on the airport’s concrete runway to allow friendly aircraft to land there?
It is transparent nonsense to claim – as both deputies have done – that if additional accommodation for health workers is built anywhere other than on the controversial green field, our health service will grind to a halt.
Deputy Soulsby, who spent six of the past seven and a half years as either vice-president or president of Health & Social Care, strongly disagrees with them.
We are told that health care workers must live within the PEH grounds, especially those on shift work.
Apparently, their poor little legs can’t carry them more than a hundred yards before they give out. If that’s the case, let it not be said that my political sketches are negative. I have helpful suggestions to make.
We have hundreds of other shift workers whose legs have a similar short range. All our police officers and firefighters for example. Since we now need to provide them with accommodation close to their place of work, we should build them homes on the nearest open space, which happens to be Cambridge Park. After all, like Deputy Mahoney’s valuation of the PEH field, it’s so good that the States grows grass on it. And what about our prison officers? They are shift workers, too. As it happens, the prison has a grass field conveniently within its walls. You can’t get closer to living on the job than that. Just think, they could invite the inmates in for the occasional cup of tea.
And why limit it to shift workers? We are desperate for secondary school teachers, so we could build them homes on the plethora of fields either within or close to all our secondary schools. After all, we only grow grass on them.
A requete has been submitted to save the PEH field, and Deputy Brouard used his HSC update statement to attack it in advance of the debate. In this he was aided by friendly questions from some of his allies.
The effect was to usefully divert attention away from two of HSC’s current shortcomings, namely a waiting list for elective surgery that now far exceeds 2,000, and the protracted loss of electronic access to patients’ records. The latter failure is not without its comic consequences. I know of one patient who had to ask the nurse, ‘Why are you trying to apply a dressing to my hip? It was my knee that was operated on.’
The questions that follow routine committee updates always reveal something interesting about our deputies. I hope it’s not unreasonable to expect that after 20 months in office, members of our government should be capable of putting a question to a committee president within the permitted 60 seconds. Not so deputies Moakes and McKenna, who both dawdled so long over their preambles that neither of them came remotely close to even beginning their questions. As the Bailiff exclaimed in a rare show of tetchiness: ‘It’s really not that difficult’.
When the political alignment of the current States was set back in October 2020, it became clear that those principal committee presidents who were favoured by the new establishment would be given an easy ride, no matter how thin their policy letters might be, whereas those presidents who were out of favour with the establishment would be given a hard time, no matter the merit of their policy letters. The favoured sons and daughters would be regarded as being above scrutiny by an Assembly that trusted them to get on with everything, whereas the others would be mistrusted and challenged at every step.
The principal victim of the blatant double standards inherent in this alignment has been Deputy Roffey, as president of both Employment & Social Security and the States’ Trading Supervisory Board. The result is that, time and again, policy letters presented by one of the most gifted and effective States committee presidents of recent times have been routinely opposed by the Assembly, despite the fact that he invariably runs rings around those opposing them.
His politics and mine are often not the same, but I recognise a class act when I see it. And I also recognise the absence of class when I don’t see it.
I wasn’t surprised when deputies Meerveld and Dudley-Owen laid a last-minute sursis to scupper ESS’s admirable policy letter on the introduction of a secondary pension scheme. Predictably, piles of disingenuous claims were made that the aim of the sursis was to delay the scheme and not to wreck it.
Pardon my cynicism, but the two deputies have previous form here. Their successful ‘pause and review’ requete on secondary education in 2020 led to a long pause, but when it came to the promised review, they promptly scrapped it.
It was no less a surprise when the sursis sailed through as the establishment blob shamelessly supported it like an obedient troupe of Pavlov’s performing poodles.
Tellingly, none of the many deputies who had laid into the ESS policy letter even bothered to speak in the subsequent debate of Home Affairs’ long-awaited Justice Framework policy letter. As I said, the establishment has its favourite sons and daughters.
Deputy Meerveld delivered a master class in sophistry as he tried to counter accusations of kicking cans down the road. In doing so, he and other establishment members tied themselves
in semantic knots which would have
left Houdini himself scratching his
The current States is by now addicted to kicking cans, but the term is so unpalatable that most of its members have gone into a sort of Trumpian (or even Johnsonian) denial of the obvious.
Their mantra is now ‘we are being decisive by deciding not to decide anything’. They don’t fool you and me, but they’ve said it so many times that they’ve come to believe it themselves. How scary is that?