A Week in Politics

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– Charlie Sheen monologue from Oliver Stone’s Vietnam film Platoon.

IF the 13 new States Members approaching their first six months on the front line were writing letters home to their grandmothers, that’s what they’d look like.

Stuck in unfamiliar hostile territory, fighting a losing battle for hearts and minds, sent out to fight by a country that doesn’t know or care what they’re fighting for – living every day on the edge: bewildered, disheartened, and scared.

The basic training from the States Greffe doesn’t prepare you for this…

Last week the new grunts got a crash course in the baffling laws of political economics, the First Law of which states: ‘numbers don’t mean the same inside the States Chamber as they do outside it’.

Last week’s examples:

• Part of a £120m maintenance backlog built up through years of departmental negligence and financial chicanery gets tucked away into the economic stimulus plan and barely anyone notices.

• The strange lack of interest in the £3m-9m ‘Eurogate’ mistake.

• The provision of £1.3m for urgent social services reforms required two States debates.

• A £600,000 bailout for conned investors went ahead with barely a backward glance at the Chamber.

• The chief officer of Health found himself splashed on the front page of the JEP for the sake of £120.

Can you blame them for being confused?

Different new Deputies dealt with it in different ways: Montfort Tadier may or may not have gone to sleep, Trevor Pitman started worrying that his phone was being bugged, and as for Jeremy Maçon…

Well, poetically enough, it was Deputy Maçon who came off best, by some distance.

The leaked e-mails between Deputy Geoff Southern and Deputy Maçon’s mother didn’t give the 21-year-old the easiest start to his States career, but last Tuesday he shone.

The Deputy struck not one, but two nails firmly on the head. He strung an admission out of Transport Minister Mike Jackson that he was considering making women pensioners wait another five years for their bus passes, and then he made the best speech during the debate on dropping the housing qualification period to 11 years.

Housing Minister Terry Le Main introduced the proposition, proudly saying that it would not add a single person to the resident population.

Quite so, said Deputy Maçon, but added that it also won’t do anything to help anyone struggling in extortionate and sub-standard accommodation either. And isn’t that more to the point? Bravo. He may just make it out of here alive.

Onwards to the less-than-edifying spectacle of the debate on reviewing and improving the States Members Code of Conduct.

The current code is a joke. No one appears to have read it, no one takes it seriously, and no one has ever got into trouble for breaking it – all of which would tend to suggest that it doesn’t work, right?

The ministers and assistant ministers took a strong line, arguing that those on the left keep getting, you know, arrested or taken to court. Which is bad.

Those on the left said that was fine, because the law is stupid. Besides, ministers keep everyone in the dark by not telling them what’s going on, and lying. Which is a point missed. The code of conduct doesn’t say anything about getting arrested, or even falling asleep.

But it does have quite a lot to say about ministers being open, upfront and honest with the rest of their colleagues, saying they should be ‘as open as possible’ and that ‘it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to the States’.

The fact that no one even mentioned this would suggest that no-one has read the code that closely.

But the crucial point is this: in the recent row over UK MPs’ expenses, it was party leadership, not formal standards bodies who took action first. The parties provide a first check on Members’ discipline – and a ‘quality control’ on election candidates – that we don’t have. The question for Members is whether they can drop the self-interest long enough to fill the gap in discipline and standards.

The things you see in the Royal Square… After spending two long days in the States Chamber – the last in sweltering heat because of an air-conditioning problem – you’d be forgiven for leaving with heavy heart, weary legs, and a general sense of crushing despair. All right, maybe that’s just me.

But the Constable of St Saviour, Peter Hanning, brightened my walk back to the car at the end of a long two days immensely.

Mr Hanning walks with a stick, but that didn’t stop him from stooping down to pick up a discarded sandwich bag and depositing it in a bin. It’s not a particularly big deal, and it won’t make a world of difference to anyone. But it almost restored my faith in States Members.

And that would be something to write home about.

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