On matters of policy, our new President of Policy & Resources, Gavin St Pier, and I have relatively little in common. He pushed for the closure of one of our secondary schools; I would prefer to retain all four. I am deeply sceptical of the wisdom of issuing a government bond; he introduced it. I will forever be grateful for his superb speech on equal marriage (even in this day and age, coming out was, for me, a fairly traumatic and heartbreaking experience, and that speech felt like the community finally reaching out and saying “you’re home, you’re safe.”) and I believe his commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of the people of the Bailiwick is entirely authentic. But I suspect we’ll differ significantly on how that goal can be achieved; and I know that there will be many policy debates in which we find ourselves on opposite sides of the table – because the insights we bring, and the trade-offs we’re prepared to make to secure the wellbeing of our community, are bound to be very different.
With an opening like that, you might very well expect me to say that I supported Deputy Charles Parkinson or Deputy Peter Ferbrache for the top job, and that I’m disappointed with the result. But I didn’t, and I’m not.
The reality is, on the floor of the Assembly, we are equals. I have one vote and the President of Policy & Resources has one. If we disagree over the policy that’s being debated, it’s my responsibility to make a case that is stronger and more compelling than his – to try and persuade at least twenty other (also equal) States Members to vote with me. Of course, all the candidates who stood for President of P&R are very able politicians, so the balance of skills and insight is probably in their favour – but, where I need to, I will give it my best shot.
So I was never looking for perfect policy agreement with the President of P&R. (I wouldn’t have found it in any of them.) I was looking for leadership. I was looking for a certain quality of leadership: leadership that listens, negotiates and learns.
On a personal level, I have always worked most successfully with leaders who have not only permitted, but even welcomed, dissent. I know that I will have some really fierce arguments with Deputy St Pier and his team over the next four years – but that I will be heard, and that that will help to create better policy for Guernsey and Alderney: policy that has been challenged and carefully thought through. Policy that does not have to be made and re-made “on the hoof”, on the floor of the States, because much more work has been done at an early stage to understand and coordinate the diverse insights that many different States Members will be bringing to the table.
I’m coming to the States with priorities that differ from those of any of the three candidates for President of Policy & Resources. Each of them pitched yesterday with a vision that was primarily about economic renewal. They were right to do so: economic success and stability is the foundation on which a flourishing community will be built. It’s important that the person in the top job understands that and is capable of delivering it.
But none of us is smart enough to know everything about everything. Alongside economic success, I want a States that will deliver social cohesion and equality of opportunity, sustainable health services, and improvements in our quality of life. I backed Gavin St Pier because I believe he is the candidate most likely to create the environment in which all these things are possible – an environment where I, and others (who may come from similar or completely opposing political views to me), can contribute our insights and efforts to make policy that is good for Guernsey.
In fact, I made the decision to support his Presidential bid early on in my own election campaign, having considered and evaluated the alternatives. I knew that, as candidates, we were likely to be asked who we would support in that role; and I wanted to be able to give an honest indication of my intentions. I knew there would be plenty of policy differences between us – but the thing that made my mind up was health.
Our health system is seriously complicated, has gone through a sustained period of instability, and involves matters of life and death. It faces damaging scandals on a regular basis – perhaps no more so than in a larger community, but here those shocks are amplified by the fact we are so small and close to it all. At this stage, more than anything, it needs continuity and consistent leadership: by the Committee for Health and Social Care, by the Policy and Resources Committee and indeed by the Assembly as a whole. If this States sends its best people in to Health & Social Care, then makes scapegoats of them the first time something goes seriously wrong (as it will), we will not make any real progress towards safer and more sustainable health and social care services. That affects all of us, whether we are current patients or become so in future. It particularly affects some of the people whose rights I’ve said I’d champion – disabled people, older people, carers. People who rely on community services, long-term care, rehabilitation services and the like in order to live a healthy, fulfilled and dignified life; who cannot afford to be let down by a government which fails to support a struggling system.
My vote for Deputy St Pier was therefore, perhaps unexpectedly, a vote for health and a vote for inclusion. Because over the last term, he has taken the time to get to understand our health and social care system: personally investing his time, and to some extent his credibility, in understanding its challenges and trying to assist the then HSSD Minister in overcoming them. Because he understands just what a messy, complex and important business it is. Because I believe that, as P&R President, he won’t leave the Committee for Health and Social Care to fight its own battles and only show up when they lose – instead, he’ll hold accountability for the success or failure of our health and social care system where it ought to be: right at the top level of the States.
Deputy St Pier’s economic policies and skills were as credible as those of the other two candidates. His style of leadership will, I believe, be the kind we need in a consensus government. And his knowledge of and commitment to our health system, for me, absolutely gave him the edge. That’s why I gave him my vote.
Yesterday’s vote was a secret ballot and, for what it’s worth, I think that’s right. I think secret ballots are – counter-intuitively – more likely to give honest results than an open ballot would. That said, I suspect there was quite a lot of fluidity in yesterday’s vote: I’m absolutely sure there are not two hard factions of 20 members each in the States, one behind Deputy St Pier and the other behind Deputy Ferbrache. But I’m choosing to share my vote because I’ve been open about it from the start, and because secret ballots have a rather undesirable side-effect – all the public dissatisfaction and anger about the result is directed at one person, the candidate, only, because they are the only person who is visible. I am not keen on drawing any of that fire myself – I haven’t yet developed my political thick skin – but I think it is the right thing to do. After all, I did promise that I’d act with integrity and that I’d communicate – and giving account of myself for the decisions I’ve made, especially those that will make some people unhappy, is an essential part of that.
Just in closing, I’d respond to the claim that’s doing the rounds on Facebook, that the newly-elected women of the States “block voted” for Gavin St Pier. We didn’t. I don’t know how everyone voted: there certainly wasn’t a group plan. While we’re all supportive and friendly towards each other, we are politically diverse, and will vote in different ways on all sorts of different issues. That should be obvious just from looking at our manifestos and our hustings performances; but if it is not, it will soon become visible, as the States gets stuck in to its detailed policy work.