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'Too many of our politicians do not have the life experience to take on the challenges of government'

John Henwood

By John Henwood

PERHAPS this is the end of the political cycle which began with the 2018 election. In case you forgot, Tracey Vallois – remember her? – topped the poll with Kristina Moore second just 226 votes behind. Ian Gorst came sixth in the all-Island vote.

Chief Minister for two terms having beaten Sir Philip Bailhache in 2011 and being re-elected unopposed in 2013, then Senator Gorst was expected to be returned as Chief Minister in 2018. However, his supporters, none stronger than Kristina Moore, were disappointed when he was easily beaten 30 votes to 19 by Senator John Le Fondré. At that time Senator Moore expressed no desire for the top job. Describing Gorst as “a truly exceptional person,” she expected her support to be rewarded with a return to her previous job as Home Affairs Minister in a Gorst-led government. She was to be disappointed. There was no place for her in Le Fondré’s cabinet and she began to attack the new Chief Minister from the very beginning.

Reverting to the Scrutiny role in which she had been so effective before being elevated to ministerial office, she was again both forceful and potent, attacking the Chief Minister, the cabinet and the chief executive with vigour until eventually trying to bring Le Fondré’s government down in a vote of no confidence, but failing. Such was the energy of her continued assault, which assisted her increasing personal popularity, that in the new district of St Peter, St Mary and St Ouen she easily topped the poll in the 2022 election.

Her subsequent election as Chief Minister was almost a coronation with Deputy Sam Mézec her sole opponent. Predictably, he got just the ten votes of the Reform UUֱ party to her 39, every non-Reform States Member. It was a time of optimism with the new Chief Minister talking of a “better way” and promising openness and accountability. Yet just over 18 months later she was dismissed with some calling her government the worst ever.

“It should never have come to this,” she said after having been told by the Assembly that it had lost confidence in her. Deputy Moore was disinclined to acknowledge any personal failings, rather suggesting that it was all the fault of Deputy Tom Binet and would not have happened if she had sacked him. Later she said the States had made a bad mistake. One can’t help wondering whether this apparent inability to accept responsibility is indicative of someone not equipped for the vicissitudes of politics at the top. Being a nice, decent person with the best of intentions and good presentational skills is not sufficient qualification to lead a government.

There will be another time for an in-depth analysis of what went wrong, but right now one hopes Deputy Moore has time enough to rehabilitate her standing in the public’s estimation so that her legacy will not just be that of UUֱ’s first Chief Minister to lose the confidence of their peers.

So, the cycle which began six years ago with the rise of someone who had spent two years learning her trade on the back benches, moves on to one which sees a veteran (strange to think of a relatively young man as a veteran) first elected to the States of UUֱ 25 years ago reaching the top job. It is in all our interests that he spends the next two years looking much further ahead.

Although Deputy Lyndon Farnham has long been a States Member and knows which political ropes to pull, overall there is a lack of life experience among our elected representatives. There are a few exceptions of course, notably among the current cohort of Constables who seem to possess a good deal of collective wisdom, but too many of our elected representatives have not collected sufficient knowledge and insight to take on the challenges of running a department of government.

We are in a time of professional politicians. Bright young people go to university, study philosophy, politics and economic theory or perhaps the soft option of media studies; they emerge overflowing with ideology and a burning desire to put it into practice. They speak with sufficient conviction to win support and get elected.

Compare and contrast them with the individual, also well educated, who enters a profession, goes into a business or joins the family firm, perhaps farming. They spend 20 or more years making their way, employing staff, learning from mistakes, taking the knocks, enjoying the successes and all the while benefiting from the experience. Having achieved many of their ambitions they look around and see that society can be improved to the benefit of everyone and decide that what they have learned in life can be used to help others.

Whose contribution to the States of UUֱ is likely to be the more valuable, the student of politics or the beneficiary of wisdom acquired through lived experience?

I have previously compared today’s politicians with those of my younger years; admittedly one looks back through rose-tinted spectacles, but taken as a whole the present lot do not compare favourably. Cyril Le Marquand was not an easy man; often testy, not suffering fools, strong-willed and not a particularly eloquent speaker, but if ministerial government had been in place, he would have been elected Chief Minister because his peers respected his knowledge and experience. Indeed, he was President of Finance, the most important committee of the States, for 23 years until his sudden death. Today’s politicians who talk about the importance of continuity could not aspire to such longevity of service. Where are those of similar stature in today’s Assembly? There are plenty like him out there if only they were sufficiently motivated to stand for election. And it is not just about money.

It is probably true to say many of our States Members could not earn £50,000 a year in any other occupation, which is why they try so desperately hard to please everyone and stay in the job. Some say paying double or treble the stipend would attract better quality candidates. I very much doubt it. The best politicians did it for nothing and even after payment was introduced some would not accept the money. We cannot go back to honorary politics, but we could go back to it being a part-time job.

The States meets far too often, taking up time with matters of little consequence, but which, bit by bit, take control of our lives so that we are no longer able to use our own judgment or make our own risk assessments. I would be happy to vote for someone who, like Cyril Le Marquand and many others in his era, did a great job for the people of UUֱ while staying grounded in their own firm, farm or business.

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