OPINION: Ready for a glorious return?

Richard Graham looks back at last week’s States meeting – and forward to the end of exile for one of its members

Deputy Chris Le Tissier was suspended from the States of Guernsey for one year without pay in July 2021 after breaking the States Code of Conduct with comments he made from a Twitter account.  (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30995651)
Deputy Chris Le Tissier was suspended from the States of Guernsey for one year without pay in July 2021 after breaking the States Code of Conduct with comments he made from a Twitter account. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30995651)

I HAVE a hunch that Deputy Chris Le Tissier hasn’t read Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. Perhaps he had a go but, like me, gave up and returned to the latest edition of the Beano instead – much more my level.

I hear you asking, ‘Where’s the old codger going with this? What’s it got to do with the latest States meeting?’

I will explain. Last week’s meeting was the last from which Deputy Le Tissier will be excluded. He will be entitled to resume his seat on the second day of the July meeting, his exile having ended. I wonder if he will identify with Rushdie’s view, expressed in The Satanic Verses, that ‘Exile is a dream of glorious return’.

When the complaint against Deputy Le Tissier’s conduct was sub judice, I refrained from giving a view either on the alleged offence or on what punishment would be condign if he were found guilty. In fact, I made no mention of the matter at all until his colleagues in the Assembly had passed judgement. Even then, I confined my parliamentary sketch to what interested me most, namely how his States colleagues dealt with the matter. As it turned out, the debate said as much about them as it did about Deputy Le Tissier.

Similarly, now that the suspended deputy is on his way back, it’s interesting to speculate how States members will react to his return. Will they accord him Rushdie’s ‘glorious return’?

The five members who voted against him being sanctioned will presumably welcome him back as a hero, even as a martyr. A further nine, who like Pontius Pilate washed their hands of any judgement by feebly abstaining, will probably seek to ingratiate themselves still further with him, with the value of his future votes in mind. As for the 25 members who voted for his suspension, I hope he won’t hold a grudge; after all, they were simply discharging the duty imposed on them by the disciplinary process. By the same token, I hope that – like me – they take the view that Deputy Le Tissier, his sentence duly served, should be allowed to recommence his service with a clean slate.

But what will that mean in practice?

It raises the wider question of what we expect from our salaried States members.

All positions on all committees are already filled, including Deputy Le Tissier’s former slot on Home Affairs, where Deputy Prow, for reasons best known to himself, had made him responsible for the oversight of fighting financial crime. Several deputies serve on two principal committees. Will one of them be prepared to resign to make way for the ‘glorious return’ of one of their colleagues? If so, for which committee would he be a suitable candidate? If not, where does that leave Deputy Le Tissier?

The answer is that he will be in the same position as four other deputies who have minimal roles in our government. Deputy St Pier was denied membership of any committee by the Assembly; Deputy Trott, having already done several years’ hard labour as treasury minister and chief minister, is taking a back seat in part by choice; Deputy De Lisle is a member of the Transport Licensing Authority, a role so undemanding that it could be performed by somebody’s pet poodle; while Deputy Queripel’s sole appointment is as vice-president of the Committee for Constitutional Navel Gazing, a committee whose disappearance overnight wouldn’t affect the life of a single taxpayer one jot.

That being the case, the natural question to ask is, why employ 38 deputies when the business of government can demonstrably be done by only 33 of them?

I can hear the protests, namely that service as a deputy is greater than mere membership of States committees.

True, but how much greater?

Now that deputies are elected island-wide, there’s precious little remaining of their traditional engagement with parishioners and parish douzaines. There are six current deputies who live in Castel, but as far as parish life is concerned, we parishioners are more likely to come across a kangaroo than any one of them.

That leaves the role of scrutinising the States by debating and voting in the Assembly and by the submission of questions under Rules 11, 12 and 14. That’s an important role, but it’s one that is equally discharged by those members who also play a full part in the work of government through their membership of committees.

I wonder if such a reduced role justifies a fully remunerated position.

Deputy Le Tissier’s imminent return prompts one final speculation. Where does it leave that handful of deputies who, like him, were conducting their politics, sometimes venomously, behind anonymous social media accounts but got away with it? Thanking their lucky stars, I guess. We know there were some. Indeed, one member had allegedly been a prolific broadcaster under various pseudonyms but suddenly went silent as soon as the media started to sniff around them and has never been heard from since. I think Deputy Le Tissier could be forgiven for thinking: ‘There but for the grace of the gods went others.’

I would have reserved more space for comment on the debate of the Government Work Plan had it merited it. Three-and-a-half days and many excessively long speeches were spent on a dozen or so amendments. There are too many bloviators* in the current Assembly and not enough members with the basic parliamentary skill of putting over a structured, intelligible argument in under 10 minutes. There was some unintended light relief (Deputy De Lisle complaining about break-ins by the police in St Pierre du Bois and Deputy Kazantseva-Miller making elephants out of molehills) but generally it was tedious stuff.

The dominant issues were cannabis and housing.

Mawkish contributions by deputies Aldwell and McKenna to the debate on cannabis use offered a depressing reminder that whenever the subject is discussed, the defenders of the status quo inevitably resort to a litany of the harm done by the drug while blissfully unaware that all the suffering, the ruined lives, the damage done to society and the huge costs to government to which they refer have all been happening under the very regime to which they cling like desperate limpets and refuse to change.

I’ll spare readers my view on this issue, but I do agree with the aphorism that the height of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

There were a couple of unintentional chuckle moments – Deputy McKenna described those smoking cannabis at home as being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ while his Home Affairs colleagues kept requesting a ‘joint report’ – but the most articulate and most evidence-based speech was made by Deputy Leadbeater, despite what appeared to be concerted interruptions from members of what is surely the most reactionary Home Affairs Committee in living memory – and that’s saying something.

On housing, members spent time debating whether we have a crisis or an emergency, without ever indicating what difference it makes anyway when deciding what to do about it.

Our stock of social housing available for renting is far too small to meet demand and the queue for it is long.

There’s a desperate need for more of these houses.

To solve the problem, the Chief Minister came up with a spiffing, last-minute wheeze.

He proposed to sell off some of the stock at bargain prices, thereby reducing the rental stock still further and making the queue still longer without producing a single extra house anywhere.

The Blob dutifully supported it with 23 votes.

As for the GWP, it’s a well-constructed, well-meaning list of work to do and I wish it well, but as Deputy Murray commented, most of it is undeliverable. And why? Apparently, the States doesn’t have enough resources (Assembly speak for civil servants) to deliver it.

This was a welcome admission from a stalwart of a political party whose election narrative was that the States employs too many civil servants.

His Guernsey Party colleague, Deputy Dyke, argued the opposite case.

Far from there being too few civil servants, the States employs so many of them that some should be persuaded to leave and work in the private sector to boost the economy.

Methinks the party leader has work to do here.

In my last sketch I pulled Deputy Brouard’s leg quite hard about his love of concrete. It was of course done with tongue in cheek, so I was grateful to our president of Health & Social Care when he went out of his way to tell me he had taken it in good heart. So much so, apparently, that if I ever stray into the Princess Elizabeth Hospital, they have prepared a special, flashing ‘do not resuscitate’ sign just for me. It gave me a warm glow.

*A mid-19C term for long-winded, opinionated speakers.

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