Thank you, Prince Philip, for your dedication to the nation, to the Commonwealth and to your family

I HAVE been in a really reflective mood this week for a number of reasons. I suspect the death of the Duke of Edinburgh has contributed to things. Today he will be laid to rest, his funeral service bringing together just 30 people in a chapel at Windsor Castle.

Gary Burgess, ITV journalist and columnist for JEP                                                             Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30679373)
Gary Burgess, ITV journalist and columnist for JEP Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30679373)

I think it only reasonable to point out here that I’m no arch Royalist. Indeed, my view has always been something along the lines of ‘tradition is nice’ and ‘if they bring in more money in tourism than they cost’, then the balance is in favour of them being there.

What intrigued me at the start of the week was the small number of people taking to, yes you guessed it, social media to bemoan the faux upset and theatrics of mourning across the British Isles following the news of his death.

Aside from it being mean, cold-hearted and disrespectful, I also do not think it is true.

We have seen, over this past week, such a rounded view of Prince Philip’s life. His school days, his military days, his early blossoming relationship with the then Princess Elizabeth, the origins of the Duke of Edinburgh award and so on, as well as a chance to reflect on his directness, his evident sense of humour, and – yes – some of those gaffes that made headlines along the way when he said things that were somewhat off-piste.

What I have taken away from it all, as I reflect on his life, is that lifetime of duty that he lived. Whereas The Queen was born into an institution that meant her life’s duty was mapped out for her, he opted into The Firm by marrying her. Always a step behind, always there to support. A man without a formal role who used force of personality to make a difference.

This week, here in Jersey, we’ve heard stories of those who have been through the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and how it really helped them in those formative years as they worked out what to do with their lives. We also got a lovely tribute from the Bailiff, with Timothy Le Cocq rightly using his moment in the spotlight to reflect on the Duke’s personality as well as his duty.

And so that reflection brings me on to duty in Jersey. We have a public sector of thousands, among them – for example – people working on the front line in health who see their job as a vocation and who go the extra mile on a daily basis for their patients. Not because they have to, simply because they want to.

Then there is the other side of duty, at elected representative level. We have our ragtag bunch of Senators, Deputies and Constables, a group of 49 people who currently do not fairly represent what Jersey looks like in the 21st century in terms of gender or age or nationality.

There is also an inequity of representation in terms of how many people each of them serves. And there is a democratic deficit in terms of just how many of them effectively walked into their roles because their seats were uncontested at election time.

We are about a year away from Jersey’s next General Election and next week we are in for an almighty spat in the States Assembly as some of the Senators try to undo a previously-agreed decision to scrap that tier of politician in favour of just having Deputies and Constables as part of a halfway house towards eventually just having one class of representative in the house.

I genuinely have no idea which way the debate will go, other than a prediction the arguments on both sides will be heated, fiercely fought, and – I suspect – a little personal at times.

The Senators will argue that their Islandwide mandate makes them, effectively, the most democratically elected of them all. The counter argument is that to undo the previous decision to scrap them means the proposed shift towards a fairer system is undone and the classic Jersey fudge continues.

I just wonder, amid all that, how much time and thought will actually be spent on their purpose and duty. We currently have 49 politicians presiding over a billion-pound government which is currently facing tumult with the loss of its chief executive, a Council of Ministers in chaos with the loss of a second Children’s Minister in a matter of months, a series of huge policy decisions still outstanding (population anyone?) and a capital project at risk of, yet again, falling at the final hurdle in the run up to an election. (Future Hospital, Our Hospital, what hospital?)

Add in the still not fully known or understood economic consequences of both Covid-19 and Brexit, and it is apparent these are critical times.

I write all this without projecting my own private views of what the States Assembly should look like. Indeed, you could consider that shopping list of things that need doing are a reason to maintain the status quo, or use it to argue that spending valuable parliamentary time undoing a previously agreed decision is evidence of politicians having wildly out-of-kilter priorities.

Goodness, I’ve worked my way from the death of the Duke to parliamentary reform. I told you I was in a reflective mood.

My point in all of this, really, is that, at a time when a nation is mourning the life of someone who dedicated decades to public duty and private devotion to his wife and family, perhaps it is incumbent on us all to consider what we are doing to make Jersey better?

It may be at family level, at neighbourhood level, at an Islandwide level, but there really is a chance for us all to recommit to make a difference in our own ways.

Indeed, with a year to go until the next General Election, representing your island may be the way forward, especially if that means you can help to broaden the spread of people who currently fill those maroon leather seats.

For now, though, thank you Prince Philip for your service to the nation, to the Commonwealth, and to your family. And thank you for showing us you can do it while raising a smile or two along the way.

For more comment and opinion pieces, see today's JEP.

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