|23rd October 2020
THE PEOPLE OF GUERNSEY HAVE SPOKEN – AND THEY WANT CHANGE
In October 2018 Guernsey held a referendum to change its voting system. The people voted for change and Guernsey held its first Island-wide election, similar to that held here in Sark, on 7th October 2020.
The election was a runaway success. 38 places were available, and 119 candidates stood. This first Island-wide election also saw the emergence of party politics in Guernsey, with 58 of the 119 candidates aligning themselves behind three different political parties.
Every single candidate, whether allied to a political party or not, presented their own personal manifesto to inform the people of Guernsey what they would be voting for. The Guernsey electorate, armed with all the information that they needed, voted in their preferred government. These newly elected Deputies are accountable to the people of Guernsey.
The result of the election was declared at 1.15am on Friday 9th October 2020. The election enjoyed a record turnout of almost 80% of the 31,000 strong electorate. Remarkably this resulted in the prospect of just under a million individual votes being cast by the electorate as they worked their way through the ballot sheet and placed a tick by each of the 38 candidates of their choice. Not every voter voted for 38 candidates, but had they wished to, they had the inalienable right to do so.
Refreshingly, of the 38 positions up for grabs, 19 places were won by newcomers. 11 sitting Deputies lost their places, three of which were presidents of standing committees.
Peter Ferbrache Guernsey’s new Chief Minister told the BBC on Friday 21st October:
“The electorate decided that they wanted a bit of a shift, not seismic, but they wanted a bit of a shift, and I think that this is reflected in this assembly.”
The former ‘Mother of the House’ Mary Lowe and former president of the Committee for Education, Matt Fallaize, were two of the biggest casualties. During his time as president of the Education Committee, former Deputy Fallaize had tried to introduce an unpopular, one-school, two-site model. Thousands protested and at the election he paid with his position. Meanwhile, Lowe had built a reputation for trying to be all things to all people, and, when push came to shove, the people of Guernsey were not interested. They delivered their will via the ballot box. They want change and they want conviction politicians who have the courage to effect change.
No democratic parliament can be bound by its successor. Harold Wilson famously remarked that “a week is a long time in politics.” Certainly, in Guernsey, it has been a very long week. The power base on our sister island has radically altered. Gavin St Pier topped the polls as the darling of the COVID-19 crisis but surprisingly he subsequently failed to secure any meaningful role in the new administration.
Deputy St Pier had originally hoped and possibly expected to continue as the Island’s Chief Minister, but on Friday 16th October 2020, only one week after his election landslide, he was ousted by Deputy Peter Ferbrache 23 votes to 17.
Dusting himself off, St Pier declared his preferred job was now Ferbrache’s old position as president of the States’ Trading Supervisory Board, but this new bid was also squarely trounced, this time by Peter Roffey 24 votes to 12. The States’ Trading Committee is responsible for a number of State-owned assets, including Aurigny, Guernsey Electricity, Guernsey Post, Guernsey Water and Guernsey Dairy. With intention and direction made clear, Deputy Roffey stood on a platform of keeping the cost of basic public services low and told BBC Spotlight’s Ewan Duncan:
“I don’t think that it was a choice between him and me; it was really a choice between two different ethos’s.”
Clearly change was wanted and change was achieved.
Deputy St Pier has been much lauded for his handling of the coronavirus challenges of 2020. He and his team did an excellent job, but it is much easier to close things down than it is to open things up. Deputy St Pier is a successful accountant and tax adviser. He is a man who deals with numbers and regulations and he is well used to box-ticking. He was the perfect man to wind Guernsey up and shut Guernsey down, but not in the view of his fellow democratically elected politicians the right man to plan and execute Guernsey’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The new Deputies in Guernsey have decided that a different type of skill set, and experience is required as we look to the future. and that this skill set presents as Deputy Peter Ferbrache. Unlike St Pier, Deputy Ferbrache doesn’t enjoy a clipboard. Ferbrache is a hardened litigator and a highly successful entrepreneur, a man with vision and imagination. He may well just be the man to find Guernsey’s footing in a dramatically changing, troubled and often dangerous world. He may be just the man to negotiate Guernsey’s future as the UK exits Europe. He may be just the man to use his power of office to reassert and strengthen the people of Sark’s autonomy, independence and right to self-determination. He will know that no one in Sark had a vote in his Island’s general election, nor did they seek one. He will know that he holds no mandate from the people of Sark to interfere in their internal affairs.