A Week in Politics

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The leader of the Council of Ministers, the front man for the Island, the guy we’re going to turn to for answers and leadership when things go wrong – we’ll know whether it’s Senator Terry Le Sueur or Senator Alan Breckon.

The new top man will have been voted in to the usual footstamping, magnanimous speech-making and, unless I’m very much mistaken, promises of a more inclusive, co-operative approach and …

OK, here’s the problem: what you’re reading has a 7 am Monday deadline. Actually, that’s a bit of a fib: the deadline is meant to be 2 pm on Friday, but that moment tends to drift past airily with nothing so solid as 800 to 1,000 words of any kind of substance at all materialising on the screen.

Anyway, the point is this: as I write this, it’s running up to midnight on Sunday and the best I can do is guess who the Chief Minister is going to be. And I think that’s pretty obvious to most people anyway.

But relax, I’ve got good news. There’s a pretty solid argument to say that it doesn’t really matter who the Chief Minister is. Not really. What’s really important is who the ministers are.

The Chief Minister can’t sack them, he can’t shuffle them around, he can’t tell them what to do with their budgets, he can’t make them keep their mouths shut, he can’t stop them voting against him, and he certainly can’t stop them fiddling with the ‘forward’ button on confidential e-mails.

The real business goes down on Thursday. That’s when States Members decide what kind of planning policies we are going to have, what kind of tax policies we are going to have, what kind of health policies we are going to have, etc.

And that’s what States Members have been going crazy about for the last few weeks, culminating in a whopping great big pile of craziness last week.

States Members were burning up the phones and the e-mail system, huddling together in corridors in the States Chamber, people were dropping in and out of the running for various ministries every couple of hours, two ministers were allegedly seen having a sneak preview of one of the Chief Minister candidate’s policy papers, and one minister kept phoning up asking: ‘Do you know who’s standing against me yet?’

This Thursday is when the States Members elect the ministers and when they really set the tone of how the Island is going to be governed. And it’s when the fine words about inclusivity and co-operation are tested: does either of the Chief Minister candidates really have the guts to nominate people they don’t like or agree with?

There are going to be at least four new faces on the Council of Ministers, possibly a couple more. And who they are and what policies they push in their individual departments matter a lot more than who the Chief Minister is.

A week, as someone rather cleverly said, is a long time in politics. The Wednesday before last I voted for Deputy Jackie Hilton, among others, in the St Helier No 3 election. That night, she – and two other Deputies who didn’t get in – refused to talk to me and a few other reporters about the results.

A few days later I wrote about that in a less-than-flattering way. The following Monday, Deputy Hilton phoned up, a little upset. She had been available to speak the next day, she said, and I could have called her then. In fact, she seemed to think I had agreed to do so.

Then she came out with my nomination for quote of the year: ‘Ben, you’ll make a good politician because you’re economical with the truth.’

Sadly, our conversation came to an end at that point because she hung up the phone. But the quote raises two interesting points.

Firstly, it presupposes that I, or any of the 90,747 or so of us who live in Jersey and aren’t politicians desperately want to be, as if it is the pinnacle of everyone’s dreams, hopes and ambitions to be a States Member. Well, I’ve asked around. Apparently it’s not.

Secondly, the fact that after six years in the States Deputy Hilton seems to believe that being economical with the truth makes you a good politician is fascinating, don’t you think?

Enough has been written and said about Nelliegate (apart from my intense annoyance that Senator Stuart Syvret beat me to the name) that I don’t really see the need to add much to it.

Deputy Jeremy Maçon will learn from the experience, one hopes, and will realise that along with all the rest of the stuff that goes with being a States Member comes a fair bit of responsibility. And he’ll be better for it.

And it’s interesting that Deputy Geoff Southern, the other player in this strange little drama, is getting a bit better at digging himself out of trouble. Just as well really, because he gets in it every now and then.

But his get-out line after accusing Deputy Roy Le Hérissier of being a ‘fence-sitter of the lowest calibre’ was masterful, deft – almost Clinton-esque.

‘Had my e-mail been designed for wider circulation I would have corrected it and praised the quality of his fence-sitting – he is truly without equal in his fence-sitting,’ Deputy Southern told the States. Even Deputy Le Hérissier saw the funny side.

The Constable of St Helier, whom Deputy Southern described as dishonest, lazy and incompetent, didn’t seem to be so amused – but that’s another story.

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