Top of the poll and ready for a new role
Just a few short hours after the final election result was in, Lucy Stephenson spoke to senatorial poll topper Tracey Vallois about her plans for the next term in the States
As a teenager at school, Senator-elect Tracey Vallois was told she had an attitude problem – because she questioned everything.
But that tenacity, critical thinking and straight-talking is exactly why on Thursday morning she woke up – albeit after just an hour-and-a-half spent asleep – top of the Senatorial poll.
And while some of her election counterparts may have been enjoying a well-earned lie-in after staying up throughout the night anxiously awaiting the results, the 34-year-old was up for an important job – to get her children to school.
This is perhaps another reason why 15,518 Islanders chose her to be one of their eight Senators; because of her ability to come across as a normal, hard-working mother who is passionate about her children’s future and the future of the Island in which she has grown up.
‘I grew up in social housing [at Wellington Park], I went to States schools, there was always a stigma attached to me because of where I lived and where I went to school,’ she says, reflecting on her childhood just a few short hours after that school run.
‘So I have always tried to be the one that is different, to go against the trend and prove people wrong. And I think that is always what has driven me. I never pretend to be someone that thinks they know it all, and I think it is important to listen to all points of view and try to take a balanced view. But also when I think something’s wrong, I say so – I am not backwards in coming forward and I say it as it is.’
The past nine-and-a-half years as a States Member, first as Deputy in St Saviour and most recently as Deputy of St John, have not all been plain sailing for the Senator-elect.
She quit as Assistant Treasury Minister in 2015, launching a scathing attack on the Council of Ministers for excluding her and for a series of failings at the top of government in the process.
And prior to that she worked as an Assistant Minister at Education under the then minister James Reed, who at the time was pushing the controversial decision to reduce the subsidies provided to fee-paying schools.
She also describes the last political term as one of the most frustrating she has experienced yet.
But it was Scrutiny where she really flourished, cutting her teeth as a backbencher panel member and then progressing to the important job of scrutinising Treasury in her role as head of the the Public Accounts Committee and leading Scrutiny as chairwoman of the Chairman’s Committee.
Now, however, she is ready for a ministerial role of her own – education.
Having answered a resounding ‘no’ to the question on everyone’s lips – will she stand for Chief Minister? – she has just one job in mind.
‘I stood on an education platform. I think we have seriously got to get to grips with the education system, not just schooling but skills and life-long learning,’ she said. ‘We need to change and, instead of following failing systems, start looking elsewhere for best practice and to support teachers and therefore the children in achieving.’
She adds that investment would be needed along with a major Islandwide conversation about the long-term future of Jersey’s education system.
‘From the other Members I have seen come in, there is a variety of skill sets there within the education spectrum, which will be really useful to draw a plan for the future education system. There’s Louise Doublet, Jess Perchard, Rob Ward and Carina Alves who are all teachers, and Deputy Jeremy Maçon, who has served on Education and Home Affairs [Scrutiny panel] for a long time.
‘I also think it is really important seeing people from the last term who have served in Scrutiny becoming ministers – it is very different to those who have never experienced Scrutiny before. Looking at the Senatorial candidates elected, I think there are only two that haven’t served with Scrutiny, Ian Gorst and Lyndon Farnham.’
So what kind of minister does she hope to be, if elected by her fellow Members?
‘Constructive, hopefully,’ she says. ‘I am not going to promise the earth. I want to open up opportunities and that is not something that is going to happen overnight. There will be small things that can happen straight away but this is a bigger, long-term thing for the Island.’
She adds: ‘One of the most important things that has been missing from my point of view is that ministers sometimes don’t challenge either themselves or their departments the right way. And there is a difference between challenging and being negative and challenging and being constructive.
‘What we need to see more of is co-operation between ministers and Scrutiny, better teamwork. And I would like there to be a change to the ministerial system so we have more of a hybrid system between ministerial government and the committee system.
‘If that is not the case, then I would encourage new people to go on Scrutiny [panels] and when they do they should not be afraid to bring forward propositions to the States debate – it is important that we debate all kinds of different views.
‘Because we don’t have the type of party politics like other jurisdictions have where you can have that learning curve within the party, I think the Scrutiny system gives you an ability to apply research, analytical skills and challenge [policies] by asking the right types of questions. And that is part and parcel of being a States Member.’
Senator-elect Vallois is only the second woman to top the Islandwide poll, Corrie Stein having been the first in 1990.
And this week’s result is also historic because her performance – and that of Senator-elect Kristina Moore, who finished a close second – marks the first time ever that women have occupied the top two spots.
With the addition of Senator Sarah Ferguson, who polled seventh, more than a third of the Senatorial benches will be occupied by women during the upcoming term.
‘There were almost four women elected, because Moz Scott [who missed out on eighth place by just over 100 votes] almost got in,’ says Senator-elect Vallois.
‘We haven’t really changed numbers, however, as there were 12 female politicians before and there will be 13 in the new House.
‘I am all for diversity and balance in the States Assembly and we talk about representative democracy, and I certainly believe in that. But it is a daunting prospect going for the States. And I think you have a certain protective need as well, not just as a woman but as a mother, if you are family-orientated – you want to protect your family and in a small community sometimes the vitriol that comes from being in public office can put people off.
‘Fair play to everybody that put themselves up this time around – men and women – because it is not easy and you are doing it because you want to make a difference.’
Returning to education, the Senator-elect believes the long-term plan should be for Jersey to broaden its horizons and not simply follow the UK.
And she thinks that the diplomatic progress being made by the External Relations Department could be key to that process, helping the Island to develop ties with other jurisdictions renowned for their high-quality education systems, not just at school level, but in specialist areas such as hospitality.
And she added: ‘I have heard that in schools there are some issues around resources and the support given to teachers, but then comes the bigger question of the curriculum and the type of curriculum we are providing. That needs a bigger conversation with the public, because education is such a sensitive and personal thing. But we need to move forward. We cannot keep stagnating and focusing on a system that is clearly failing in the UK.’
For Senator-elect Vallois, who has one son and three step-sons, her election campaign was very much a family affair. The children and her husband all helped her to distribute leaflets and knock on doors, her mother and sister were the ‘last ones standing’ on election night and the rest of the family were invaluable.
She had no campaign manager, but as well as her family she had a few loyal volunteers who gave up their time to help because they believed in her and her politics. Her headquarters on election night was her home in St John.
But while her campaign may have been low key, the result was anything but.
And neither are her plans for what comes next.
‘I am grateful for people coming out and voting for me. I hope it was on the basis of the previous work I have done and the integrity I have shown during my nine-and-a-half years in the States. But also the hope of what I can achieve in the next four years.’
Not bad for a kid from ‘Welly Park’ with an attitude problem.