The good (and the bad) news is that our islands will not be a priority for the new government

Gavin St Pier

By Gavin St Pier

THIS time next week, it’ll all be over. Whether the opinion polls are right or wrong, one way or another, there will be a new parliament in Westminster, a new government in Whitehall and, as seems more likely that not at the moment, a new Prime Minister in Downing Street. By the following Monday, all the ministerial appointments will have been made with, almost certainly, a new Minister appointed at the Ministry of Justice responsible for the relationship with us.

Our governments will send messages of congratulation to the key new office holders – the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, and ‘our’ Minister at the MoJ. Whether these are ever read by the addressee, we will never know, but it’s politic, it’s polite and it’s protocol. By September, civil servants on both sides of the water will probably have done what’s needed to ensure that the key political leads on either side have met each other. (As a protocol aside, within two weeks of the general election, the Lord Chancellor will have accompanied HM The King and The Queen on their first visit to our Bailiwicks, but that will not remotely be the right time for any politics to be done even on the side or ‘in the margins’ of such a visit.)

The bad news is our islands will not be a priority for the new government. The good news is our islands will not be a priority for the new government. In the nicest possible way, we really are of no consequence and little relevance. The immediate primary focus will be on delivery of the manifesto commitments and there are no manifesto promises that specifically or directly impact us. We will not cross anyone’s radar screen, unless or until civil service officials notice or remember to look for a speck of interest, most probably around another post-Brexit trade wrinkle or regulation that needs some ironing out.

With the effluxion of time, this may change. As a new administration changes or challenges policy in a particular area, there may be knock-on consequences that ripple across the Channel to impact our own policy making. This could be something significant, such as education policy or something a little more niche. For example, if Westminster were to alter its position on the decriminalisation or the regulation of recreational cannabis, it would alter the prism through which we create our own policy. Similarly, the major parties are committed to allowing a free vote on assisted dying in England & Wales. Whilst Jersey have already made their own decision to develop an assisted dying regime, the development and implementation of a practical and safe regime would be a tad easier if the larger jurisdiction was headed down the same path at the same time.

The recent change in the UK’s electoral law to increase the rights of former UK voters in parliamentary elections from 15 years to lifetime, will have given literally tens of thousands of Channel Islands the right to vote in the general election. The cynical theory was the Conservative administration believed that the majority of these were more likely to be sympathetic to their party than the other parties. It will be interesting to see if any properly conducted research is undertaken to ascertain how many chose to exercise their right to vote – and if so, in which way did they actually vote. The fact that this cohort will have experienced exactly the same inflation, post-Brexit implementation disruption to their EU-related dealings as UK resident voters, along with the Trussonomics hike in mortgage rates, means the underlying assumption behind the change might prove to have been flawed.

As sure as night follows day, at some point down the track, civil servants and special advisers will alight on party manifesto commitments to raise more tax revenue by focusing on tax avoidance. When they do, they will reach for the same tired tropes and stereotypes that somehow our whipping boy jurisdictions are implicitly responsible for all the under-funding in the National Health Service or the armed services. The explanation for this easy politics is, of course, that ‘there are no votes in the Channel Islands’ – ironic given this year’s change in electoral law giving such rights to thousands of Islanders.

As the polling booths and ballot boxes are packed away for another four or five years, it is worth focusing on the key differences between the UK’s party system and our (largely) non-party system. The UK electorate may be sceptical that any parties can deliver; they may be sick of them“ all and feel that they are all the same, but with a single cross, it is still possible for each elector to believe they can vote ‘for change’ by choosing a different flavour and colour to the one they chose last time. There may be the odd high profile, hard working local MP who’s managed to buck their party’s trend, but they will be outnumbered by the greater number of hard-working MPs of whom most of the electorate know little and care less. In reality, the electorate are choosing party and policy over person and personality. When a party fails to deliver its manifesto commitments or simply fails to deliver anything, they can be held to account by losing office. In our systems, when a person fails to deliver their manifesto commitments or simply fails to deliver anything, it pretty well makes not a jot of difference as to their chances of re-election – or indeed their chances of immediately resuming exactly the same role in which they failed to deliver before the election. There are many Islanders who may not much like the idea of party politics having observed it everywhere else but would rather have just one vote than up to 38 (in Guernsey) if it meant they could actually vote for change to help ensure accountability for broken manifesto commitments, ineptitude, venality, or simply non-delivery.

  • Gavin St Pier is a Guernsey politician. He previously served as the President of the island’s Policy and Resources Committee.

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