What if my opinions are controversial?

OK, a couple of questions.

First, why are your opinions controversial? If they are hateful or violent; if you enjoy “playing devil’s advocate”; then there’s nothing much I can do for you.

But there are lots of other reasons why opinions can be controversial. Sometimes you can’t avoid having a controversial opinion – in the recent abortion debate, everyone had a view for or against, and everyone alienated some people through their view. If you are going to have the confidence to take on polarising debates (which you’ll need to, as a States Member) then you will have to accept that sometimes you can’t please everyone.

Sometimes you are trying to defend an underdog, and shift the weight of tradition, law and influence. Calls for drug reform, until recently, might well have fallen into that category. Anything that says “we should stop criminalising X” or “start criminalising Y” is likely to be controversial, at least to begin with.

So, what are you going to do with your controversial opinions?

If you plan to act on them during this States term, then I think you should share them during the campaign. In the case of both abortion and drug reform, the debates we started this term will come back again next term. You’re going to be part of that, and the public will want to know how you’re going to act. You don’t necessarily have to include every controversial opinion in your manifesto, but you can expect to be asked questions on the campaign trail, and you need to be prepared with answers.

There are other areas where your opinion might be controversial because it’s new; because it would involve significant change; and because you intend to drive it through the States even though there’s no interest in it right now.

For example, Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a policy concept which would see every person receiving a basic income – enough to survive on – from the government. You might want to see it as part of our pandemic recovery plan, as a buffer against the next disaster. But it would certainly meet resistance from certain entrenched interests, while other people would need to be convinced it was a practical and affordable solution. There is currently no public call for UBI, and no movement within the States to introduce it.

If you were determined to bring in UBI during your term of government, then I think you should be open about that during your campaign. You would need to invest more time in educating people and myth-busting, because you’ll find it is a fairly new concept to most; but perhaps it’s also something you can get people excited and enthusiastic about, and win them over to your bold vision. (See what I did there? Make it positive. Switch it up from a “controversial opinion” to a “bold vision”. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does.)

But! What if your controversial opinion is “every household should have UBI” but you also know that “there is no chance I will get this through the States”?

In that case, I don’t think you need to share that opinion at all unless you want to. If you do share it, you will probably have to spend time educating and myth-busting, convincing voters that you’re a sensible and rational person. That will cost you time and energy which are in short supply on the campaign trail. If you don’t intend to act on your controversial opinion; or if you know that any action you do take will fall far short of your ideal solution; then why mention it? (Unless you’re asked, of course.)

You can be honest and authentic, while still being realistic about the limits of what you can achieve. For example, I have never been convinced that UBI will work as it is supposed to – I think a far better safety net would be to take the cost of housing out of the equation. But I was never going to write a manifesto that said “I think all islanders should be entitled to a free home” because I knew I couldn’t make it happen, and I knew it wasn’t where I would focus my attention for the next four years.

It would be a complete waste of my time to convince people of the sense of my controversial opinion, when I had no intention of acting on it and no chance of making it a reality. Opinions you might share with a friend in the pub, but which aren’t going to be the focus of your political term, don’t need to be put out there just for the sake of it.

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