Democracy at Work

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Sam Mézec, the chairman of Jersey’s only political party.  Sam spoke on a subject that is close to my heart – getting more people involved in politics – and afterwards gave the audience the chance to air their views about what they thought were the important issues for the Bailiwick.

Being a supporter of executive government (and not the current revised committee system), I was particularly interested to hear Sam’s views on how we could set up a political party here in Guernsey.  To put this in context, Sam explained that his party was set up as a group in 2012 but decided to reconstitute as a political party in 2014 in order to campaign for wider principles of social and economic justice.  Currently their party consists of three elected members of the States of Jersey and 300 ordinary members.

When I asked how we could set up a party here in Guernsey, he explained how theirs was formed.  He got together with a group of like minded people who had the “same system of values and came from the same place”.  They were able talk about their views openly and honestly and also, importantly, disagree when it came to certain topics.  Sam felt this was an essential feature because it also meant there was no need for a party whip – a means of forcing all three elected members to vote the same way – instead they worked out their differences and, more importantly, accepted them.

Having followed the changes to the structure of Guernsey government over the last few years and now experiencing the effects, I still support a form of party politics here in Guernsey.  I do not think we should replicate the UK system.  Indeed, I don’t think we need to mirror precisely what goes on in the UK as a rule.  Instead I believe a form of political party can be a means of improving the way we seek – and reflect – the views of the people of the Bailiwick in the decisions we make.

We currently vote for people on the basis of what they say in a manifesto. This can lead to Deputies feeling they have to vote a particular way even though they no longer believe in that view.  Whilst, on the other hand, it can see the electorate getting frustrated when a Deputy votes differently from the way they promised they would at the election.

Candidates can, of course, avoid this dilemma by expressing how they intend to vote by reference to their declared values as I did.  But I think it would also help if the electorate could see a group of Deputies identifying with certain values and consistently acting on them.  I believe that that would help in the decision as to whether to get on the Electoral Roll and then whether to go out and vote.  It will get more people involved in deciding what is best for the Bailiwick.

Getting people interested in politics can take many forms not just political parties.  For example, some say that formal political parties are not necessary as they have their own “party” with their membership being those who voted for them at the election.  That’s as maybe but wouldn’t it be better to have Island Wide parties not just the voters in one electoral district identifying with just one Deputy?

As well as the need to garner enough support, there is a more fundamental problem.  I believe those elected in April 2016 enjoy their independence of thought and can see pitfalls to allegiances.  So, whilst I know of many like minded Deputies, it may be difficult to find any who are happy to publicise such an alliance to the extent of forming a political party with which the people of Guernsey can identify.  We shall see if this proves a real problem – it is early days.

Perhaps the more likely way forward is for you, the public, to form the groups and then support the Deputy or Deputies who represent your views.  And, hopefully, in 2020 you will be able to support candidates with the same policies in an election Island wide.





Post Truth Times

TINDALL DAWN-CAMPAIGN-9After two weeks and what seems like an age since the start of 2017, we already have an indication of the way things are going.  The Motion of No Confidence, unfortunately, was defeated but questions still remain about what happens next.

I am hopeful that the Committee’s plans for the next 6 months will become clearer at the January workshop even if the agreed 3 school model is being joined on the agenda by examples of the 2 and 4 school models!

Looking back at 2016, one trend which does worry me is that the debates appear to reflect what has been described as the new Post Truth era of politics.

Posttruth as an adjective which was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2016.  It is defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.  Post-truth politics relies on the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.

I have to say that, in the debates since I became a Deputy, I fear that objective facts are less influential as ‘in this era of posttruth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’.

It concerns me that the arguments based on evidence are not being given their due weight.  Don’t misunderstand me, there are times when the evidence does not take into account the local circumstances and these occasions must be identified and dealt with in favour of the “Guernsey Way”.   But when certain decisions are made when the evidence points to the contrary, it is worrying.  In my experience, this form of decision making usually also means a delay in achieving a workable outcome.

In general,  I use my skill and judgement to make a decision based on evidence.  I said that this would be my approach when I stood for election and I will continue to do so. However, I had hoped that there would be more Deputies who did the same but, so far, I have been sadly disappointed.

Some may say that the way decisions have been made in Guernsey over the years has not changed and that Post Truth politics was created here.  If that is the case, as Princess Leia might say, I just hope The Experts Strike Back.





Motion of No Confidence

Web photo 1Being a signatory to a Motion of No Confidence is a decision that should not be taken lightly.   I decided to do so after considering the pros and cons in the same way I did when considering how to vote on the question of selection on the 2nd December.
A Committee which is mandated to bring in a major change in policy needs strong leadership and unity of purpose.  Having heard the speeches of the Committee, including the comments made by the President Deputy Le Pelley during and after the debate, I am afraid I do not have full confidence that this Committee can bring in such an important policy in the manner required.
When asked by Deputy Yerby if I would consider supporting the Motion of No Confidence, I agreed with little hesitation.  I felt that we cannot wait until June 2017 to see if the Committee for Education Sport & Culture can put aside their differences – both with each other and others – and come forward with a strong message of how the changes will be brought in.  It is just too important a policy to wait to see if the errors of the past months will be repeated.
Like others I have tried to avoid the need to have a Motion of No Confidence and I do hope that the Committee will heed all the calls to resign.  Deputy Leadbeater has done so and I congratulate him on such a brave decision which must have been so much more difficult as he was the first.
In the same way the Committee felt that it was necessary to bring the question of selection back to the Assembly so they could get a fresh mandate, I call on them to do so again. I do hope that they will resign, re-stand if they so wish and the vote will happen as soon as possible.
The link to the wording of the Motion is here:

Working Towards a Better Education System

Web photo 1It was surely a great day for our future – for the future of the unborn children – who will see an education system which is not based on tutoring or dependent on the wage packet of the family into which they are born.  Well that is my aim at least.  However, it is now that the hard work really starts and we need to keep focused on this aim, to keep on track, to find the best way to introduce this system and, importantly, to bring along those who are either totally against this system or, at the very least, sceptical.

I spoke of a possible option in my speech yesterday – that of the introduction of the International Baccalaureate from primary school – something I hope will be given due consideration as indicated by Deputy St Pier in his speech.

However, one thing I have learnt during all this is that, whilst I am against selection, I know that the education system here in the Bailiwick is complex. I just hope that the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture will continue to work very hard to bring together all the concerns and problems highlighted.  I hope they will produce, by June 2017, a coherent, well-researched approach which produces a consensus of opinion amongst themselves.  An approach which they can then present in a unified manner to the Assembly which we can rely on, that the majority can support and which will not produce another battle of wills that I have just witnessed.

Please let us all work together for the good of the Bailiwick’s children as, in the end, that’s what is best for all of us.






A Great Education for All

Web photo 1I just wanted to thank everyone for contacting me regarding the Education Debate – I may not have replied to all your e-mails but I have been reading them and taking note of your views.

As you will see from my Page “The Future of Education”, I cannot see how we can justify the continuation of the 11+ and my views haven’t changed.  Also, I have not been persuaded there is a good alternative and so I will be voting against re-introducing selection.

I believe in inclusion and equality but the 11+ excludes many who are perfectly capable of academic achievement. However, I do want to ensure the 25% aren’t disadvantaged by ensuring excellent education for all by enshrining the quality of the Grammar School’s achievements across our schools – something I do think parents and teachers alike want and I do believe is possible.

I do not think following the UK’s example is the way forward but I believe in a new system which emanates from the Grammar School – the International Baccalaureate  – a system which starts from primary school, which has excellent results, up-skills teachers, is liked by parents and teachers alike and could lead to international respect for our education system. It combines academic and vocational training and compliments our new curriculum.  It is not too expensive and is designed to fit in with other jurisdictions’ education systems.  It is a change but not a big change and it could end the polarising debate going on at the moment.
I mention this only to show what our education system could look like as, naturally, this is not going to be a matter for a vote.  Whilst ending selection may seem like a huge leap of faith for some, I do not think the alternative has to be based on the UK comprehensive system.  By removing selection, I don’t think it will, in any way, be the end of the line for great education here on Guernsey.


A Perfect Storm?

Web photo 1Listening to the wind howling through the eaves last night reminded me of 1987 and the storm which changed Sevenoaks to One Oak and my parent’s road from Pine Walk to No Pine Walk. Luckily ( as far as I can see), the damage here on Guernsey was no where near as bad but it was scary – both for me and my cat.

It also reminded me of Michael Fish’s forecast.  A woman phoned in that October morning many years ago and asked if there was a hurricane on the way and Michael replied “Don’t worry there isn’t but having said that it will become very windy.”

So from one forecast to another and the Budget debate at the beginning of November.  According to Vice-President Lyndon Trott, the forecast is that we will be in surplus this year.  This is good news but, to appreciate what it really means, it must be remembered that this is only the start.  For eight years we having been dipping into our own and our children’s piggy banks to pay for our weekly bills and the surplus means we can, hopefully, now start topping up those piggy banks again.

As well as those piggy banks, we also need to pay for the maintenance of our Island home.  It is estimated we should spend 3% of GDP on capital projects, on infrastructure, each year but again we will fail to do so to the tune of £24 million in 2016 alone.  We must, and can, do better.

Last week, the Policy and Resource Plan and the Fiscal Framework were debated.  Both are necessary to identify where we are going and the rules that will apply in getting there.  We did not, however, decide how the money should be spent – that will come later in Phase 2 – but we did agree on the overarching place we want to be in 20 years and our priorities for the next five.

All but one of us did approve the wording of the Plan.  As I said at the time, I would have written it differently but I believe in its aims and its restrictions. So we have a plan and a fiscal framework which means it is now down to the six Principal Committees and the Policy and Resources Committee to work together to get that meat on those bones.

One aspect of the debate which did get me a bit heated though was in relation to our regulations and whether they should be kept to a minimum.  On occasion, minimum regulation can be good but not always.  In the finance industry, it has been long established that regulation should not be introduced which purely allows us to scrape through the international requirements.  Our hard-fought reputation has been built on relevant, proportionate regulation and losing that edge would be something which our competitors would relish.

For those of you who are horrified that this market advantage could so nearly have been lost, don’t worry I offered to explain the necessity of removing the words “at a minimum” to those who voted for them to be retained.  Whilst I’m not holding my breath, do watch this space.

I should add that the P&R Plan is not just for the purposes of good government – it is for all of us.  It is a means by which we can contribute in our own particular way so we achieve a true surplus.  A surplus over and above our realistic annual commitments so we are able to invest in infrastructure and, even better, put the money back in the piggy banks that we have used in the last eight years.  Then we will truly be able to face a perfect storm even if it is not in the forecast.

Now what did I say in my Manifesto?

IMG_20160321_135529With the nominations open for the Vale By-Election, I decided to look back at the contents of my manifesto and reflect on whether I had achieved any of my aims.  To recap one of my key policies was promoting joined–up government and building on the work already done.

Well, as part of the Development and Planning Authority, I have been working with the members of other Committees to promote the draft Island Development Plan.  The IDP is designed to balance the often conflicting demands of the economy, the environment and society and that means also the different interests of the Principal Committees and individual Deputies.  It is a piece of work that is coming to fruition after more than 5 years and I certainly do not want to delay or seek to re-invent it.

The people in the Office of the D&PA (aka the Planners) have put on some excellent presentations and issued succinct and useful summaries to explain its complexities, hopefully, answering some if not all of the concerns voiced by both Deputy and the public alike.  A full debate will take place on the 12th October provided the schedule lodged for that date is approved on Wednesday 21st September.

As well as the draft IDP, I attended the Scrutiny Committee’s open hearing on the Waste Strategy.  Whilst it has also been many years in the making, this Strategy has evolved over time and I hope the report from the States’ Trading Supervisory Board will show a viable way forward. It was interesting that those answering the questions of the Scrutiny Committee were keen to point out that, with hindsight, it was felt that there should have been more detailed work at the early planning stages: like that done for the draft IDP perhaps?

I have also been pushing for better communication between the Deputies to assist with joined-up government encouraging Committees to let us know what is on their agenda at an early stage.  I haven’t been very successful so far although I know there is a general intention to keep the public better informed.

The first meeting of the Douzaine Liaison Group is due to take place in September and I am looking forward to hearing their views of how we can improve communication and how we can work together for the benefit of the community.