The games people play
By the end of last week’s States meeting the Assembly’s windsock had detected a significant change in the direction of the political breeze, says Richard Graham
Go on. Admit it. By now, you’ve heard enough about the Tax Review to last a lifetime. You’re bored with it. You think it’s time to reflect on really serious things. Things like the States members’ latest game called ‘What’s in a Name?’ After listening to the last two States meetings, I’ve concluded that there’s quite a lot in a name, specifically in how a name is pronounced.
In my previous sketch I commented that Deputy Vermeulen had requested members to pronounce the middle syllable of his name as a feline ‘mew’ rather than a bovine ‘moo’. He was entitled to do so. His request seemed to be respected in last week’s debate as most members at least made an effort. Across the airways, I could almost hear members approaching the second syllable muttering to themselves ‘Think cat not cow’.
I have been asked what I meant by my claim that not a single States member correctly pronounces the name of Deputy De Sausmarez. I will explain.
The correct pronunciation of Sausmarez is as follows: ‘Som’ to rhyme with ‘Tom’ — ‘er’ to rhyme with ‘sir’ — ‘ezz’ to rhyme with ‘fez’. Guernsey will never be weaned off the long-standing mispronunciation (soh-ma-ray) when referring to places and roads bearing that name — it’s too ingrained in Guernsey culture — but it would be interesting to see how many States members rise to the challenge of getting it right when referring to their political colleague. Not that Deputy De Sausmarez is too bothered, but I suspect she would be secretly pleased if some of them did.
Deputy Kazantseva-Miller seems to be equally relaxed that many members incorrectly stress the third syllable of Ka-zant-se-va rather than the second syllable. That is a minor issue compared to that which arose in the past when certain deputies chose to mock her name by grotesquely distorting it. She was entitled to be vexed by that.
Have you heard the joke about the previous States wasting two whole days debating bonfires? Of course you have, several times. I’ve heard our chief minister and others tell it more than once. In case we had missed it, Deputy Oliver told it again last week, apropos of nothing relevant to the debate. As usual, it raised a cheap laugh and a few sniggers from members who like to be reminded from time to time that their plodding, indecisive predecessors didn’t focus on the important stuff of government, unlike themselves who of course resolve the really big issues quickly and decisively — as demonstrated by their handling of the Tax Review. If a political falsehood is repeated many times without being challenged, it comes to be embellished and accepted as the truth. Once accepted, it’s the devil’s own task to refute the myth. Deputy Queripel wanted to have a go at it, but the Bailiff wasn’t keen to let him. So I will – just for the record. The entire February 2017 States meeting lasted less than a full day. Either side of lunch, the Assembly spent a total of two hours 40 minutes debating the Environmental Pollution Law, which aimed to protect the quality of the air we breathe. If it seemed like two days rather than two hours, the blame lay squarely with the principal speakers in the debate, namely myself when laying a successful amendment, and the following members of the current Assembly: Deputy Ferbrache when speaking at length in support of my amendment; Deputies Queripel and Prow in laying their unsuccessful amendment and opposing mine; Deputy De Sausmarez speaking for Environment & Infrastructure; Deputy Meerveld, fresh from his ‘Hands off our bonfires’ protest march (only joking); and Deputy Gollop, who just didn’t want to be left out of any conversation about hot air. Everybody clear now?
As for the debate about the Tax Review, let me try another game on you. Let’s call it ‘Guess Who’. Some readers might think that I have it in for certain deputies. I really don’t. Whenever I listen to the States debates, I start with a blank screen and then let States members write the narrative for me. Admittedly, when it comes to making complete plonkers of themselves, some are more frequent performers than others. I would go so far as to say that some of them simply can’t help it. But that’s not my fault. I don’t write their scripts. Anyway, the new game enables me to record some weird and wonderful contributions without naming who made them, and gives you, dear reader, the fun of guessing who did. Here’s a selection.
. At least two members painted a picture of Guernsey today that was so grimly dystopian that I was left wondering why they bother to get up each morning. Apparently, things are so bad that our government can’t even write its own cheques.
. Another, in full patronising flow, explained at great length that we wouldn’t be in so much trouble if only we had listened to him/her in the first place.
. Here’s a quote. ‘Deputy Roffey has been going round buying up half the private land in the island.’ He hasn’t, by the way.
. And here’s another: ‘Women are being commoditised.’ No, I’m not kidding.
. And another: ‘Bushy-eyed and bright-tailed.’ A new breed of squirrel?
. One speaker was pausing so long between each word that deputies had time to go out for a smoke break and come back without missing anything.
. Judging by the frequency with which he kept referring unfavourably to the state of his nanny, one deputy appeared to have been so traumatised by his experience that he now suffers from post-nanny stress disorder.
I’d better say something serious about the Tax Review debate, otherwise I’ll be accused of being frivolous. Perish the thought.
On occasions in the previous States, I chose to remind the Assembly that it was at its worst when members tried to grab the moral high ground for their point of view.
Resorting to self-righteous sanctimony is usually a sign that one’s case is either inherently weak or is being argued weakly. There were plenty of claims to moral superiority on display last week, not least among the most embittered advocates of the doomed Option A. For them, it was all about courage. They had it in spades, while dissident deputies had none. Listening to these self-appointed Bravehearts, I was left thinking that if simply supporting an unpopular political measure was their definition of courage, then they were setting a very low threshold for it.
Deputy Ferbrache made a decent fist of defending P&R’s Option A. He assured any doubting Thomases that the P&R package had been authenticated by the Harry Kane of international financial experts. I thought, Harry Kane? Rings a bell. Isn’t he the bloke who missed that penalty and sent England crashing out of the World Cup?
Although States members failed to pick a winner from among the five contestants in what Deputy Parkinson described as an ‘ugly parade’ of tax options, the debate was decisive in one important aspect. By the end of the sixth day, the Assembly’s windsock had detected a significant change in the direction of the political breeze, and now pointed towards a realignment of authority within our government that may last for the remainder of the political term. There had been tell-tale signs along the way. A successful Burford/Trott amendment reversed an early resolution of this States that had given P&R unchallenged authority to spend up to £568m. on capital projects without reference to States members. It was not only P&R members who were nervous of the amendment – so too were committee presidents with big capital spending plans, none more so than the president of Education, Sport & Culture whose plan to move the sixth form centre from Les Varendes to Les Ozouets, via a scenic diversion to La Mare de Carteret, is so far behind schedule (I predict it will be three years later than the initial promised date) that its costs are rocketing. I could hear the anxiety in her voice in opposing the amendment as she contemplated the prospect of having to justify yet more additional expenditure to all States members rather than to a P&R committee that appears willing to give ESC whatever it takes, irrespective of its cost to the public purse.
That wasn’t the only sign of a shift within the Assembly. None of P&R’s propositions were carried whereas all the resolutions that were adopted came from members who voted for the Fairer Alternative. How significant that may become is something we are about to find out.
. Finally, an apology. In my last sketch, I commented that Deputy Aldwell was opposed to the introduction of GST. I was wrong. I have offered Deputy Aldwell an unreserved apology which she has graciously accepted.