How do I set realistic expectations?

Step one is to be realistic with yourself, before you are realistic with the public.

A few things you need to know:

  • Things will always move more slowly and meet more resistance than you expect
  • The States is about teamwork – you’ve got to be willing to work with others
  • Significant change is possible, but it will cost you far more time and effort than you can imagine right now

You need to know that it won’t be possible to fix every flaw and injustice you find. You need to pick your battles. At various points during my term, I would do a kind of “stock take”, and work out what I needed to prioritise. That didn’t stop me being dragged onto other things, but it did help to keep me focused and make more progress than I otherwise would have done.

When you hear people talking about how government could be improved, you could be forgiven for believing there’s a great big button labelled “Fix Everything”, and the only reason no one has pushed it is because politicians and civil servants have stood shoulder-to-shoulder around it so that no one can get through. A lot of candidates seem to believe that, if only they could get in there and shake things up, everything would suddenly be a whole lot better.

The reality is that making change takes hard work. On a personal level, you need to be willing to do your own research, push for progress at Committee level or in the States, use every tool in the box to try and make things happen. You also need to work together with others and build a consensus for change. If you have great ideas but you don’t put in the work to make them a reality, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Don’t let any of this put you off. Talk to voters about what you plan to achieve – give them something to be excited about! But be honest with yourself, and with them, about the barriers you expect to face, and what it’s going to cost in terms of time and effort, to actually achieve those things.

Of course, you don’t have to be honest about any of this. You can play into the myth that your great ideas would have been achieved if only the whole establishment wasn’t conspiring to keep you away from the “Fix Everything” button.

Politicians do that, here and elsewhere, and it’s often a quite successful election technique. I owe it to you to acknowledge that. But I can’t promote it, because I hate it and think it is deeply irresponsible. It works well as a selfish and short-term tactic – it fuels public distrust in government, and lifts up those who claim to want to “shake things up”. But that is exactly the problem. It is a dull axe blow to the roots of our democracy, every time. It alienates the people you are meant to serve and actually makes it less likely that government can work effectively in future. Good for you, bad for the Island.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.2: Getting Elected
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