‘An undignified scramble for the moral high ground’
In part two of his analysis of last week’s States meeting, Richard Graham shares his thoughts on the ‘meeting within a meeting’
LATE on the second day of last week’s States meeting, the time came to debate the findings of the disciplinary panel that had considered Deputy St Pier’s alleged abuse of parliamentary privilege.
It soon became clear that we had a meeting within a meeting on our hands. All too predictably, the Assembly plunged to its nadir.
Deputy St Pier’s political enemies, frustrated beyond tolerance that the panel had found him not guilty, now licked their lips; hyenas who had picked up the scent of blood in the stale, late-afternoon air.
It wasn’t long before they were injecting venom and bile into the veins of a debate that they seemed determined to turn into what Deputy Fairclough later described as a ‘kangaroo court’.
I think he was correct in his judgement, but I would go further: the more I heard, the more strongly I felt as if I was listening to a concerted attempt to incite hatred of a States member.
Among an undignified scramble for the summit of the moral high ground, there were no limits to the indignant virtue-signalling of certain breast-beating, self-appointed guardians of decency and integrity in the Assembly. I leave it to readers to judge whether their outrage was sincere or fabricated.
Nor were there limits to the depths of evil-doing which they attributed to Deputy St Pier; to them he was the personification of Satan.
Deputies McKenna and Ferbrache, ironically sheltering behind parliamentary privilege, told the States that Deputy St Pier had once said that he wanted Dr Bohin’s ‘head on a stick’.
This was not only hearsay but was hearsay at fourth hand; a case of ‘we say that she said to us that he said to her that he said to him’. As evidence on which to make such a damaging accusation, this was no more valuable than a bit of gossip heard in a queue for a Friday late-night, North Plantation take-away. As it happened, Deputy St Pier later provided clear evidence that he had never said any such thing, or anything like it. Will any deputy care to repeat the accusation when not protected by parliamentary privilege? Let’s see.
Several of Deputy St Pier’s political foes were prepared sycophantically to accept the accusation as true. Deputy Haskins rushed to join Deputy Helyar in accepting it as fresh evidence that Deputy St Pier had been motivated by malice. They claimed that the previous absence of this evidence made the panel’s finding unsafe, in which case they both wanted the issue to be retried, presumably until they got the result they wanted.
‘Lost sight of the child.’ Those were the damning words that Sue Walters, the author of the Learning Report commissioned by HSC’s Dr Rabey, had used in relation to Guernsey’s safeguarding system. The same words could accurately describe deputies Murray, Helyar, Mahoney, Dudley-Owen and Prow. They fell over themselves in the rush to join deputies McKenna and Ferbrache, who had also lost sight of the child when gushing their profuse apologies and sympathies to Dr Bohin.
Not one of these sanctimonious deputies even mentioned, far less offered any sympathy or apology to, the parents and children who were the real victims in this saga and whom Deputy St Pier had been seeking to support.
Thank goodness the debate was not entirely about cynical politicking. I was about to conclude that many of our elected representatives are both obsessed with and possessed by demons, when other deputies, while not approving of Deputy St Pier’s tactics in the relevant debate last year, stood to make thoughtful, measured and intelligent contributions to the debate. They included: two members of the Health & Social Care Committee, Deputy Bury (a quietly rising star among the new cohort of States members) and Deputy Matthews; Deputy Dyke, who is not a natural St Pier supporter; and Deputy De Lisle, who as a panel member had considered Deputy St Pier to be guilty of abuse of privilege.
Deputy Queripel made his best speech of this term. In offering his apology to the traumatised children and their parents, he spoke of the rank hypocrisy he had heard in debate. I may be wrong, but I think that in normal circumstances the Bailiff might have suggested that the ‘h-word’ was unparliamentary and best avoided, but he did not do so. I wonder if he concluded that it was justified by some of the stuff he had been obliged to listen to.
Deputy Queripel hit one nail squarely on the head when suggesting that the contribution to the debate from some members confirmed his view that if an impartial ruling on a deputy’s conduct is required, then no deputies should be allowed anywhere near the process.
In the end, 16 States members effectively voted for a novel approach to justice, namely that an accused colleague is presumed innocent only up to the point that he is found not guilty.
And Deputy St Pier? Courageous whistle-blower or the devil incarnate?
I leave readers to judge.