How Do I Say Sorry?

Quickly, simply, and without expecting anything back.

I think it is really important to say sorry if you have let someone down. When we say sorry, we hope that forgiveness will follow – but sometimes consequences follow instead. That’s what I mean about “not expecting anything back” – you can’t assume that an apology is going to make everything right, but it is still the first thing that we owe each other when we’re in the wrong.

I think, too, that it is basic human kindness to say “I am sorry you’re hurting, or scared, or feel completely let down” if you haven’t been able to help someone, even if there is nothing else you could have done about it. That kind of sorry is not an admission of guilt; it is a compassionate response to another person’s sorrow or hardship.

It can be really hard to apologise in public, and I think some people fear that if they apologise once, they’ve admitted weakness or wrongness for all time. That’s not the case. Saying sorry when it’s needed – and accepting that forgiveness may not follow – is a strong and gracious thing to do, and a habit that anyone in a public role would do well to cultivate.

How Much Time Should I Give To The Media?

I tried to answer media requests pretty much all of the time. Usually it’s a win-win situation – the reporter gets content for their programme or article, and you get an opportunity to put across your perspective on an issue that matters to you.

If you are a Committee President, the media burden is much heavier, because you are always the first port of call for questions to do with your Committee. You might need to think about how you manage your time, and whether you want to ask other Committee members to share that responsibility.

But for regular States Members, I felt like the media workload was manageable, and could be fitted around other commitments almost all the time. The media are often very flexible and willing to come to you, which also helps.

How Much Time Should I Plan To Spend On One-to-One Work?

You are going to have to find the balance that works for you. I think a well-balanced working week would probably be 1 day of constituency work to 2 days of Committee work and 2 days of States work, but the rhythm of the States is just not like that (and a five-day work week is just mythical!). Some weeks, Committee work will be all-consuming. Some weeks, you’ll never leave the States Meeting. And sometimes you’ll start helping a constituent on a matter so complex or heartbreaking that it eats up your day and keeps you awake at night.

I think it’s realistic to say that, for most people, constituency work is a smaller part of their workload than Committee and States work, even if you are very diligent and fully engage with everyone who contacts you. But the problems you encounter can be really difficult and time-consuming. There may be times where you simply can’t help, because of busy-ness or conflicts of interest or because it’s completely out of your sphere of knowledge or experience, and it’s OK to say so.

How Do I Make Sure People Know What I Am Doing?

Communicating with the public is an important part of your job. Sharing what you’re doing isn’t about showing off or getting applause for what you’re doing (that will be rare enough!) but about being transparent and accountable to the people who have elected you. The other real benefit of communication is that it may help to engage people with issues that you know are really important, but just aren’t on the public’s radar at all at the moment.

To communicate well, you’ve got to use lots of different channels, to reach people in lots of difference circumstances, and you’ve got to keep on doing it.

I chose to keep people updated by using this website and Twitter, by occasional articles in the press, and by accepting pretty much all media requests. I went along to meetings organised by groups who had an interest in a particular issue, and heard their concerns or explained what the States was doing. (I find focused meetings much more useful than general-purpose drop-ins.) Other people did other things – lengthy Facebook status updates, videos, podcasts, organising parish drop-ins. Do what works well for you, but do plenty of it; and, where you can, share what your colleagues are doing too.

What If The Media Misrepresents Me?

If the media misrepresents you, you usually have a few avenues of recourse.

If the Press is going to print a Reader’s Letter about you, they will often send it to you first, and invite you to submit a reply, which they’ll print alongside the letter. You don’t need to use this, but if you think it would be a helpful way of balancing out what the letter writer says, it is worth doing so.

If an article misrepresents you, or an interview is cropped in such a way that your position is taken out of context, you should ask for a correction. If you are feeling bold, you can go further, and ask for a column or an interview in which you can put your side of the argument across properly, though the media aren’t obliged to agree to that.

I’d approach this area with a bit of caution – we’re all human, and the interviewer who has just been told that they misrepresented your viewpoint is likely to be a bit grumpy when they interview you again, so you might want to be confident that the harm done by the original misrepresentation is serious enough to be worth the headache of getting it corrected. The media will be reporting on you throughout your time in the States, and will often be the only bridge between you and the public, so it is worth assuming good intentions in the first instance, and maintaining a mutually respectful working relationship as far as you can manage.

What If Someone Is Systematically Undermining Or Spreading Lies About Me?

If you can, the first thing to do is to speak to the person directly, and ask them to stop. There are all sorts of situations in which this might not be possible or safe, and you’ll be the best judge of that. But sometimes, if you can talk to a person – hear their perspective, set their facts straight, and explain the impact they are having on you – it will be enough to turn the tide.

If the person is a colleague, and they are persistently undermining you, think about how you want to respond. If you think it needs to be addressed formally, you can raise a complaint through the Code of Conduct process, but I would suggest approaching that with a lot of care. It is not a very effective process, and it can’t guarantee that the person will change their behaviour. Using a formal process can make the person who opposes you look like a martyr, and make you look like you’re in the wrong. It’s a horrible upside-down form of justice, but it’s too often the reality, so I think it’s wisest to be honest about that.

There are other approaches you can use, if the person mistreating you is a fellow politician. If it happens during States Meetings, call them out on it in public or ask a supportive colleague to do so on your behalf. It it’s happening behind the scenes, one way to balance it out might be to consciously build relationships with other States Members. There’s nothing wrong with saying: “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, can we have a chat and try to understand each other better?” or “I think you’ve heard X about me, and it’s not the whole story, can I give you my perspective?”. There are some people whose minds you’ll never change, and I think you’ll have a fair idea of who those people are, but there is no harm in trying to build mutually respectful working relationships with your colleagues – even people who are on vastly different parts of the political spectrum to you – and you may find that it helps to balance out some of the malice from those who really don’t like you.

If the person is not a politician, your options are probably more limited. Start by thinking about the harm that is being done by this person’s vendetta. If they are making you feel threatened or unsafe, then ask for the help you need to make sure you and your loved ones are protected. If they are undermining your reputation in public, then consider whether you want to make a public statement or give media interviews to refute what they are saying. (This isn’t guaranteed to be a smooth, or even a fair, process. The media may interrogate you. People may still hear what they want to hear even after you’ve given your side of the story as fully and honestly as you can. But if you are being attacked in public, you may feel an equally public response is needed to help set the record straight.) If they are undermining your reputation with your colleagues, then the same strategy of trying to build bridges one-by-one and ask people to hear your side of the story, may help to provide you with a buffer of support.

I should say – one situation you might come up against is a constituent, or a person who uses the services provided by a Committee you sit on, who is not happy with the outcome of a meeting you’ve had, or a decision about a service they receive. It is their right to air their grievance in public, even to go to the media about it. In doing so, they may completely misrepresent what has happened. Tempting though it is to set the facts straight, you have a duty to protect their confidentiality, which means you can’t necessarily answer back. Frustrating as it is, sometimes you just have to bite your tongue and live with that.

How Do I Deal With Insults Or Attacks On Social Media?

I would usually let the insults slide. People who are using social media to air a political grievance are not usually looking for solutions, or even reasonable conversation – they are treating it as a space to give vent to their anger. And that’s OK, we all do that. If you think you can change somebody’s mind, or help them out with a situation they think will never be resolved, invite them to email or message you – take the conversation into a forum where you can address each other humanly and civilly, and you will have more hope of making progress.

If it spills over into anything that makes you feel threatened, ask for the help that you need to stay safe. If posts on social media look like hate speech or abuse, report them to the site as well, and ask others to do the same.

Defending yourself on social media is an almost impossible task, but you can do some good by defending others. If you see someone else being misrepresented or attacked, step in on their behalf if you feel able to. I don’t know what it is about human psychology, but somehow a third party speaking up on behalf of someone is much more credible than that person speaking out in their own defence.

What Can I Do If Someone Takes Against Me?

Well, that depends. Sometimes people have very legitimate, or at least understandable, reasons for being unhappy with their Deputies. Maybe they feel you handled their concern flippantly, or failed to resolve a situation that was very important to them. Maybe you voted the ‘wrong ‘ way on an issue that’s too close to their heart for them to be able to see the other side. That kind of unhappiness goes with the territory. You may not be able to make it go away, but sometimes you can do something to make it a little better – you can apologise, if you’re in the wrong (they may not accept your apology, and you have to learn to live with that – you can’t force it). You can explain why you did what you did – they may not understand or agree, but if you’re lucky, they might at least recognise that you behaved as honourably as you could.

On the other hand, some people will dislike you for reasons you can’t understand or justify. People may take against you because of who you are (who they think you are), or something you said that was taken out of context, or their assumptions about your politics, or something they think you’ve done which was nothing to do with you, or … just because. In a different way, that also goes with the territory. You can’t stop people disliking you. You can’t track down everyone who disagrees with you and explain your principles to them until they come around to your point of view. It’s so tempting to want to do that – nobody enjoys being the butt of someone else’s disapproval. But most of the time, you just have to find ways to live with it, and not let it take up too much space in your heart or your mind. As public figures, I think we have to have a bit more tolerance of people disliking us and grumbling about us in public, than we did when we were just regular people.

But it becomes a real issue if someone is actively working against you – spreading false information about you, perhaps, or sending you cruel or threatening messages on social media. When it crosses that line, think about how you want to respond – maybe discuss it with others, and explore what options you have. Sometimes dignified silence is still the best option (though if somebody is making you feel unsafe, make sure you get the protection you need); at other times, you might want to actively go out there and combat rumours or slurs. You don’t have to do it alone – sometimes it’s much stronger if someone else speaks up in your defence, and it’s OK to ask a colleague or a supporter to do that for you if you think that will help.

Are There Meeting Room Facilities I Can Use?

There has always been a chronic lack of facilities for States Members. There are clear political reasons for this – Deputies want to be seen not to be wasting the public’s money on themselves, whether that’s on wages, a dedicated parliamentary building or offices, or even research assistants.

But let’s be clear, that motivation isn’t half as noble as it sounds – the politicians who are able to push that narrative are independently wealthy, able to provide themselves with the resources to do the job well without public funding. Many Deputies and potential candidates from ordinary backgrounds are disadvantaged by this public performance of ‘wearing a hair shirt’, and it entrenches a political elitism which is not healthy for the Island in general.

So, no. As a Deputy, you won’t have a ‘constituency office’, or a fixed base from which you can meet with concerned Islanders, unless you’re able to provide one for yourself. You are entitled to book meeting rooms in public sector buildings – although I don’t know whether that policy will change with the fall-out from Covid. It is well worth doing that, rather than meeting people in cafes and public spaces – it gives you greater privacy to have the difficult conversations you may need to have, while also being surrounded by people.

How Do I Make Sure I Stay Safe?

I talk about safety a lot. I think it’s really important not to be complacent, or to say “it can’t happen here”. It can and it does. I was lucky not to have felt threatened during my term in government – I did feel unsafe, though. I felt like I’d put myself in risky situations, and didn’t have a clear escape plan if things went wrong. I think you owe it to yourself and others to be more careful than me: to be aware that, for example, if you’re meeting someone one-to-one, you need to do so in an environment where you can call for help, or can get away easily, if things go wrong. Make use of the ‘lone worker’ guidance you get. Ask friends or family who work in similar jobs what they do to keep themselves safe. Ask your fellow States Members what they do.

If you are threatened, as States Members sometimes are, ask for the help you need to keep yourself and your loved ones safe – don’t downplay a threat because it’s made online or by email, either.

On the other hand, I hope I haven’t made you think that there are dangers lurking around every corner. Most of the time, we’re fortunate to be very safe. But even so, it’s wise to think ahead and to avoid potentially sticky situations. Be aware that there are risks, and take steps to manage them sensibly.