By Eliot Lincoln
My young daughter asked me on Saturday for some marmalade or jam to go with her breakfast toast. Aiming to get some merit points for being Super-dad I went to the cupboard to check… but nothing. Only Marmite. ‘Could have told you that’ said my wife, smiling.
‘Sorry’, I said, ‘Marmite’s your only real option’.
‘No thank-you!’ was the almost inevitable reply.
‘But I’ll get some jam from the shop tomorrow’ I said, trying to get in her good books. ‘What do you want – raspberry or strawberry – or both?’
Her eyes lit up at the promise I had made. She was avoiding the Marmite and had secured a promise of significant jam tomorrow.
Popularity vs the Correct Decision
Popular decisions in government are easy to make (if not necessarily easy to implement – or to pay for). The harder decisions are typically the ones less likely to get the public’s thumbs up. But good government is about making tough decisions. And so in that respect some of your recent columnists are right – don’t just promise the jam. You have to say what you will do – not what has failed to be done. You need to be able to show that there is a balance to what you propose. Achievability backed up by solid research.
Marmite gets a ‘love it or hate it’ response. Difficult decisions to be taken by our elected representatives – often the Marmite decisions – satisfy some but invoke howls of outrage from others. The reality though is that difficult decisions are part and parcel of good government and fiscal prudence. It can lead to a lack of popularity in the short term but popularity should not – and must not – be the be-all and end-all. Trust in the ability to make unpopular but necessary decisions is more important than courting popularity. And by the way, to make no decision at all or to delay a decision is very often the worst decision. Make a decision, implement quickly but well, and learn from the challenges.
With the current impact of a rapidly rising cost of living, acute accommodation shortages, and huge external influences also playing their part, some really hard decisions are inevitable in Jersey in the months after the June election. And whatever we do, whether in our homes, in our businesses or in government – it has to be paid for.
The Best Outcome
As far as good decision-making goes, I do take issue with the suggestion from some of the recent contributors of letters and opinion pieces in this publication that a group of aligned politicians will be no more effective than an individual politician. The old adage ‘two heads are better than one’ must hold true. Had I discussed the Marmite crisis with my wife before looking for brownie points perhaps we would have made a different promise and one we could both stand behind. And if in the supermarket we decided against going through our jam-promise, my daughter would hold us both to account, and make it impossible for one of us to blame the other for the change of heart.
I would argue, and have recent first-hand experience, that a group of like-minded, driven politicians, discussing and debating topics and policies, are more likely to reach a more balanced, deliverable and sustainable policy and decision.
Two key arguments were raised recently, firstly that parties could not be trusted and so those in them were not trustworthy and unlikely to meet their promises. Secondly, that members of parties would blindly follow the leader’s views. My experience (and many I hear from who are involved in the inner workings of other political parties) is that these points are clearly wrong. Party activity and process are bound by a solid constitution and published rules. A robust debating process and freedom of speech we each have secures good discussion and decision-making to ensure the best possible outcome.
It is far harder for a larger group of people who have indicated their direction of travel to back away from it. They are more accountable because they have spoken collectively. An individual States Member has 48 others to persuade. And if that individual doesn’t succeed with a pledge that’s been made, the easy ‘get out’ clause is that the others didn’t hear me. Accountability has been a missing part of how things should work.
So in my view, parties (that is to say groups of people working together with shared values, and stated policies) are more likely to deliver realistic, achievable, affordable decisions – especially on the many Marmite questions we will be forced to consider in the coming months and years.
Eliot Lincoln, a director at Helier consulting, is chairperson of the Progress Party.