It is two years tomorrow since the election and, despite being nearly half way through the political term, I continue to be asked what my achievements have been so far. Whilst I am always happy to reel off the long list of what I am doing, not everyone is interested in the work in progress. Most want to know about the new policies or actions that I have had a direct effect upon.
To summarise, two of the three Committees I am on have brought major new policies to the Assembly: the Island Development Plan and the Partnership of Purpose and the third, Economic Development, will shortly bring an exciting package of ideas to support the major aspects of our economy.
However, I also have questions about the divisions which are starting to show in the “House”. Those who take a keen interest in voting patterns in the States have already seen there is a predictability in the way we vote indicating a definitive split emerging.
Whilst the outcome of such voting indicates, in my view, a more forward looking approach to policies, the backlash to this trend has led those who are on the losing end of these votes to consider how they can turn the tide. In order to challenge the majority in the Assembly, a populist approach has been advocated.
Earlier in the year there was the formation of Charter2018 resulted in the issue of a statement of values and policies which, on the whole, anyone could sign up to. However, it also contained ambiguities and contradictions which could lead to only one conclusion: if they mean different things to the public they may also represent different things to each of the signatories.
We were told that the Charter represented a path for the next two years and, in order to address the next election and beyond, the Islander’s Association was formed. Neither are said to be political parties but both purporting to offer a form of clarity to the public on what each Deputy stands for. The basis of that clarity appears to be a promise for Deputies who are endorsed by the Association will reflect the “will of the people”.
Whilst I am far from averse to setting up of groups which promote involvement of the population in the decisions made by the States, I am not in favour of promoting the voices of a few drowning out the many and those few claiming to represent the “will of the people”. The many are the silent majority who quietly interrogate us keeping us on our toes and to them we must listen.
One thing which is often repeated is that we should give value for money and that is by working together for everyone’s benefit – not just for one small group. I hear that the public do not want Deputies devoting their time on frivolous activities which do not do justice to the role they have been elected to. They want us to devote our time to helping all, including the silent majority, and not just appeasing the vocal minority.
Whilst I have absolutely no objection to voices being heard loud and clear, they must be given due weight and not block out the views of the rest of the population. And to that end I also believe that the media should be supporting that balance.
Recently this has been going sadly wrong. When on the BBC Sunday Phone-In several weeks ago, I was joined by two members of the Islander’s Association. Whilst I have great respect for these two gentlemen, I did not expect to have to wait almost half an hour before I was able to speak and then only given a few minutes to comment on the Islander’s Association.
This is not about giving me airtime, it is about the BBC’s own Guidelines on the balance they must give to differing opinions. Their Guidelines state “Over an appropriate time frame we must aim to give due weight and prominence to all the main strands of argument and to all the main parties.”
As they did not give me that equal airtime, I made my concern known after the Phone In. Two weeks later, Deputy Carl Meerveld and I were given the opportunity to have that balanced conversation and I have to say the BBC were true to their word in how it was presented. We had a sensible and interesting conversation which I hoped informed the public. The BBC also agreed they were learning how to deal with the new political world we inhabited in Guernsey.
Then we had this Sunday’s Phone In. It started well – Simon Fairclough asked if either of the two guests were members of Charter2018 or the Islander’s Association. No they said. And that was it. No comment as to why they were asked. No observation that the BBC would give balance to callers who were from the Islander’s Association or Charter 2018 – nothing. So what was the point of the question?
Also, during the Phone In, a caller advised that members of the Committee for Health and Social Care would not go on the Phone In. We were given a right to reply. I called in and said that I was prepared to go on the Phone In as were others on the Committee but no comment was made on air. None. So no right of reply then.
I e-mailed afterwards to try to get some semblance of understanding of the BBC’s attitude to their duty to give you the audience a fair representation of what is going on. To date I have had no response.
So I can only conclude that, whilst you and I are struggling to understand the BBC’s approach and what is going on in the House, those struggling to get their desired outcome out of our current structure of government are setting up political parties!