Thursday 5th May 2016
GAVIN ST PIER ELECTED GUERNSEY’S MOST POWERFUL EVER POLITICIAN BY DINT OF SPOILED PAPER IN SECRET BALLOT
In last week’s St Sampson’s election of people’s deputies, 1543 votes were cast for him and 13678 were cast against him. He came fourth out of twelve.
In yesterday’s voting of States deputies, he did not obtain the backing of the majority of the Assembly in any of the four votes which occurred, (in total 77 votes were cast for him and 82 against) but he was eventually deemed successful by dint of a spoiled paper in a secret ballot.
Who am I talking about? Who else could it be but the man who, in the circumstances described above, yesterday became Guernsey’s most powerful ever politician as he was deemed to have been voted in to the newly created role of President of the similarly recently created Policy and Resources Committee. His name is Gavin St Pier. He was initially proposed for a political role by the then Chairman of the IoD, and he has taken over the reins of Guernsey power in an election every bit as controversial as that of Chief Minister Peter Harwood four years ago or George W Bush in his “I got more votes than there were people” heyday.
Whilst there didn’t appear to be the degree of contrivance in St Pier’s success that there was in Harwood’s, we won’t know for sure because the process was shrouded in secrecy as the new House spectacularly failed its first accountability test by holding the Presidential vote by secret ballot – something which they were empowered not to do and which even the much ridiculed outgoing Assembly saw fit not to do. At least when Harwood was elected we knew who the villains were.
Events unfolded as follows. There were three men who put themselves forward for election to the role. These were returning politician Peter Ferbrache, St Pier and Charles Parkinson. Whether Ferbrache should have been there is highly questionable – the “four years recent experience” rule which was suspended for four years in order to pave the way for Harwood in the 2012 election, seems to have been quietly forgotten, despite its value being clearly demonstrated by events which resulted in the end of Harwood’s tenure of the top job. In about the only welcome development yesterday, the other deputies were allowed to quiz the three candidates in a live debate to which the public had access, although the number of questions was limited and the deputies asking the questions chosen in order by lots.
The quality of the answers is a matter of opinion, but they appeared to reflect the time each candidate has spent in politics recently (back to the value of the four year rule again…) St Pier, having been at the centre of matters in the last 4 years in his role as Minister of Treasury and Resources had more precise information to hand and was quick to exploit his advantage, but by so doing also displayed that he had a head start, which may have caused some to look upon a vote for him as having short term benefit. Ferbrache was worryingly vague and spoke of “listening to advice [from experts]” rather too much for my liking, and Parkinson struck the happy medium, having only been re-elected into the House by way of a by-election five months or so ago.
The first secret ballot had St Pier ahead with seventeen votes, with Ferbrache second on fifteen and Parkinson third on eight (although one deputy told me that it was Ferbrache with 17 and St Pier with 15). For reasons unknown, although I would guess it is to reduce the chances of a President being elected with an eventual minority, the rules say that the last placed candidate should drop out and the remaining candidates contest another round of voting and so on until there is only one left standing.
Earlier this week I was asked “Why, when they reduced the number of deputies from 47, did they come up with an even number?” the implication being that it could result in tied votes. My reply was “It’s extremely rare for all of the States members to be in the chamber at the time of the vote. And in any case there is a rule which says that if the vote on an amendment to a proposal is tied, then it falls, so I can’t see it being a problem.”
How wrong can you be? The second round of voting produced a 20-20 tie but strangely, the Bailiff Sir Richard Collas was, according to the Guernsey Press, “forced” to delay it because three deputies – Leadbeater, Merrett, and Mooney weren’t in the chamber. Why he was forced was not explained. Could the Bailiff not have stuck to the rules and gone ahead without the three errant deputies, as is the case in all other votes? Does this mean that we’re going to have votes delayed from now on because deputies aren’t ready, or are out shopping, or whatever?
So what rules does Guernsey have in place to resolve a tie? Apparently there is just one: “Go away and vote again in a few minutes time”. I wonder what genius thought that one up. Guess what happened in the re-vote. It was 20-20 too. How amazing. So what rules are in place to resolve a second tie? You’ve guessed it; just the one: “Go away and vote again in a few minutes’ time”.
This system is a system most likely to produce a “biggest bully behind closed doors wins” result.
At the third time of asking the result came out 20-19 in St Pier’s favour with someone having allegedly spoiled a paper. We’ll never know which weakling “caved in” because it was a secret ballot. Or maybe nobody did and it was a court official who took it upon himself to deem a paper spoiled.
“Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” – Josef Stalin
When I was at school if a paper plane passed through the classroom airspace and was picked up on the teacher’s radar and his question of “who threw that?” did not yield an answer, the whole class was punished. Similarly the whole Assembly, including the court officials, cannot be trusted until the weak or corrupt link is exposed.