A Week in Politics

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It could happen to a friend, a loved one, or a colleague. What little we know about the affliction suggests it’s more likely to happen to middle-aged men with a bit of cash behind them, but it can strike randomly, and without warning.

It may already have happened to you.

It’s almost certain to happen to some innocent, unsuspecting Islanders this autumn, who will end up displaying some, most or all of the following symptoms for stretches of three years at a time.

The most important thing is not to panic – play your cards right and being a States Member is worth £42,000 per year for working every second Tuesday.

If you think you, or someone you know, has been affected, remember the following five ways you can tell if you’ve become a States Member:

1 You think that by saying something you make it true, as if you have strange magic powers. For example, you say ‘I’m an environmentalist’, or ‘I’m one of the strongest supporters of early years education’ – you’re not going to do anything about it, but you think that saying the words makes it true, because you’re so important. Even stranger, you think people are going to believe it.

2 You have become incapable of answering a straight question with a straight answer. Even better, you have developed a new set of all-purpose non-answers for questions including ‘I’d rather not comment’, ‘that’s not the question here’, ‘the matter is under review’, ‘I have commissioned a full report on that’, or ‘your question refers to a policy under development’. The fact that you’re a servant of the public, elected by the public to run part of the government with taxpayers’ money, but are shamelessly ducking out of talking about matters in the public interest escapes you entirely.

3 Your manifesto is less a set of aims and promises than a set of absolute minimums. For example, you have promised on the hustings to vote for GST exemptions on medical supplies. An amendment proposes exemptions for medical supplies and services. You vote against it, of course. You didn’t say anything about medical services, did you? You somehow forget that in any other job, people get sacked for this.

4 You are busy. Oh so busy. You’re so busy that it can take you weeks to return a phone call. The time it takes you to complete a task, however basic and simple, is measured in months and weeks, not hours and days. This partly to do with something called consultation, which involves saying what you are going to say in advance, then claiming the support of the public when no one argues/notices/cares anymore, and partly due to the holidays you take, which are many and far-flung. On some of these, you like to pretend you’re on something called ‘important States business’.

5 The truth becomes malleable – you can bend it to fit your needs. For example, you have behaved poorly at an event. Everyone knows what you did and everyone knows that it was you, but no one says anything. When asked in the States, the Member responsible for the event says he will not name you because you are ‘innocent until proven guilty’ or some similar nonsense. You sit in a statesmanlike silence and nod sagely as if you think that’s OK. Another example would be taking a proposal to the panel, council or committee you serve on and having it humiliatingly rejected. You feign a lack of interest – it was only a policy option after all, you didn’t support the idea and you were just trying to ‘further the debate’.

If some or all of these apply to you, then I’m afraid you too may have become a States Member.

Do not panic – help is at hand. Some people can go on to live otherwise normal and productive lives despite the affliction.

The most important thing to remember is that if you stay away from parish halls until December, you should be completely cured for the next three years.

In an Island where the politicians on the right are calling for more immigration, and those on the left are calling for less taxation, perhaps it’s not surprising that the only genuine card-carrying liberal on the Council of Ministers apparently tried to give police officers the power to detain suspects indefinitely without charge.

Last week’s – thankfully rescinded – ministerial order by Home Affairs Minister Wendy Kinnard changing custody rights was one of two things: a Waterfrontesque attempt to slip something through the States without answering a few difficult questions, or an unfortunate and unintentional error.

I’ll leave it for you to decide which is scarier: the idea that States Members try to slip unpopular things through on the QT (which I think we’ve already firmly established), or the idea that a misplaced stroke of a ministerial pen could abolish a fundamental principle of British justice, or, presumably, level ancient buildings or close a hospital ward.

Thankfully, after an outcry from the press and States Members, the Senator reversed the decision. But I cannot be the only person who is just a little bit curious about how this happened and who was involved.

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