Why did you do it?

As always, there’s more than one reason.

I was working in the voluntary sector at the time, so, job-wise, I could change tracks fairly easily. I’d done some time in the civil service, so I kind of knew what I was letting myself in for.

I was enthusiastically helping out other first-time candidates, when I realised that I enjoyed it and cared about it, and there probably wasn’t going to be another time in my life when it would be any easier to stand than right now, so … if not me, then who?

But there were other things, too:

Not long before the last Election, it was suggested that Guernsey should do something in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. This provoked a massive public reaction – some of it really horrible. I felt strongly that the voices that were coming to the fore at that time – many of them hostile, angry, even aggressive – did not reflect the reality of my beloved Island community, and the generally welcoming, caring and compassionate nature of most people who live here.

But I was afraid that those voices would continue to dominate in the media, and to unduly influence political decision-making, unless there were enough people in the States who were prepared to put forward, and believe in, a more compassionate way of looking at the world. So that is what I have tried to do.

I should also confess to the thing that inspired me, and which I keep going back to when I need to recharge. The trouble is, it’s a bit pretentious and self-important. But here goes:

There is a scene in Selma where (as I remember it) the campaigners are gathered together in someone’s small living room; a couple of men lounging on couches and armchairs, others standing around. It was one of the movie’s smaller, quieter moments. A moment of friends together, in someone’s house; talking about strategy, united by a common cause.

I wouldn’t dare to compare myself to the incredible men and women who led the American Civil Rights movement. And I’m not trying to. But they were human, like us. That was what inspired me. The idea that great political changes are born in poky living rooms and on battered couches, perhaps more so than in the magnificent halls of power. That ordinary people with ordinary virtues and vices are capable of creating and leading extraordinary things.

Those people were remarkable, but still that moment made me see politics as ordinary people, in ordinary places, planning and muddling through and making change happen step by step; regrouping and lifting each other up and trying again. It reminded me that politics is not for “other people”, it’s for people just like us. And if we don’t step up, we just won’t achieve the changes we want to see.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

When do I have to make my decision?

As soon as possible!

You have until 21 August 2020 to register on the electoral roll. If you don’t register, you won’t be eligible to stand.

The timeframe for the Election itself is set out on the Election website. You need to know that nominations open on Tuesday 1 September and close at 4pm (four o’clock in the afternoon, for the avoidance of any doubt!) on Friday 4 September. If you want to be a candidate in the 2020 Election, you need to get your nomination in during that short window.

There are some important things you need to get ready before nominations even open. You need to have a proposer and seconder who are willing to put you forward as a candidate. And you need to have prepared your manifesto – especially the bit that goes in the combined manifesto booklet, because you’ll be asked to provide that straight away. (Keep an eye on the Election website for guidance so that you know what to prepare.)

And then you need to hit the ground running. Election Day is on 7 October. Advance polling will open from 3 October. People who are using postal votes might fill out their votes even earlier than that. So you need to be ready to start getting your message out to people from the start of the campaign period, with plenty of time for them to find out more and make up their mind to support you.

If you’re interested in standing, but haven’t quite made up your mind yet, I would be more than happy to meet up for a coffee and talk it over with you, if you’d like to get in touch. I’m sure other Deputies would be just as happy to do so.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

What if I really can’t do this right now?

You’ve thought about running for Election. You’ve had all the conversations you need to have. You’ve worked out the financial implications, and what it would mean for your current work or your future career. You’ve thought about what it could mean for your health and wellbeing, and for your family’s.

And you just don’t feel you can do it right now.

That’s okay.

Politics isn’t for everyone. For some people, it’s never going to be the right choice. For others, it feels like it could be an option when things are different, but not right now.

There are lots of other ways to make a difference in your community, and you might well be involved in many of them already. But because these posts are about politics, I’m going to concentrate on a handful of other things you could do to enrich local democracy, if you don’t feel that standing for the States is the right thing for you.

First, there are some very practical things you can do to make sure that the Election itself is a success. You can encourage family, friends and neighbours to register to vote.

A lot of the things that happen on Election Day and in the run-up to it rely on volunteers in order to run smoothly. If you think you could help out at a polling station, or otherwise get involved, you could contact the Election team to see if there’s anything you could help with.

Alternatively, you could concentrate on supporting other candidates for Election. You will need to understand what you can and can’t do – there are rules about Election spending, and it is illegal for other people to spend money promoting a particular candidate. (There will be guidance on the Election website about this.) But you can volunteer to help out as a friend – you could be part of a team stuffing envelopes, for example, or dropping leaflets through letterboxes, if that’s what the candidate you support wants to do.

The need for politicians to have supporters they can rely on doesn’t stop on Election day. Things like practical assistance with admin or research, or straightforward moral support, continue to be needed throughout the States’ term. I’m writing a section on Community which takes a look at the different kinds of support that Deputies need – and which maybe you might want to provide.

There are many different aspects to democracy – standing for the States is a pretty central one, but it is not the only one. If you’ve decided it’s not for you, perhaps you could consider some of these options instead?

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

What is the hardest thing I will ever have to do?

Oh, wow.

Other Deputies may have a different perspective on this, and it’s well worth asking them for their views. The recent decisions we’ve had to make about managing a public health emergency have got to rank up there as some of the toughest.

But having watched the States for a few years before becoming a politician myself, I cannot think of anything worse, anything harder, than having to apologise to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one who died on your watch, and who never should have died.

It could happen almost anywhere. It is most likely to happen if you sit on the Committee for Health & Social Care, with its breadth of responsibility for health and care services. The work is life-or-death by nature, and the reality is that people sometimes get it wrong. And sometimes the buck stops with you as the Committee, for failing to change a culture or to make right a known risk, without which this death might have been avoided.

But it could just as easily be a death in custody under the watch of Home Affairs, or a tragic school accident laid at the door of Education, Sport & Culture, for example. We try to minimise the risk of these terrible things happening, but sometimes they do.

And if you are on the responsible Committee – especially if you are the President – you have a duty to be accountable when they do.

Sometimes that accountability takes the form of stepping down; sometimes of staying on to make things right. That’s something you would have to figure out in the circumstances at the time. But one thing accountability will always involve, is saying sorry to the people who have suffered a loss because of your action or inaction – and there are few tests in politics as hard as that.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

Does it matter if I’m not from Guernsey?

No, it doesn’t matter. So long as you meet the basic residency requirements (check the Election website if you’re not sure), you’re entitled to stand for the States.

And why shouldn’t you? You love Guernsey enough to have chosen to make it your home. You chose to become part of this community; to contribute your work and your taxes to this economy; to educate your children in this Island’s schools. You may not have seawater flowing through your veins, but you chose this place, and that counts for something.

Of course, not everyone feels the way I do about this. There are plenty of people who will criticise Deputies who were not born in Guernsey for being “foreign”. But then, even States Members whose Guernsey roots can be traced back for generations have been told off for not “acting local” when they make decisions some Islanders disagree with.

That, if anything, tells you how meaningless this dislike of “outsiders” really is – it’s hardwired into Guernsey political commentary as an acceptable way of calling out politicians you disagree with, but it’s not OK, and you don’t owe it a moment of your time.

I suppose the only practical point to mention is that if English is not your first language, that’ll make some parts of the job harder. But you know what you’re capable of, and you’re already here – working in an English-language environment – so that alone is no reason not to go for it.

Besides, some of the most important things the States does – such as voting! – are done in French, which is almost no Deputy’s first language. So there’s a language barrier which affects more people than you’d realise, but we make it work, and so will you.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

What if I don’t have a thick enough skin?

Thick skins are overrated. Being able to be moved, even saddened, by other people’s experiences, is a great asset in a policy-maker. It will help you to make more realistic, more human decisions.

You don’t need to be stony-hearted or thick-skinned. But you do need to be able to cope. So it helps to have some tactics to keep yourself from being crushed by the seriousness of some of the decisions you’ll have to make, or from being needlessly hurt by some of the hate that’s out there.

If you are on a Principal Committee – especially, I think, Health & Social Care, or Home Affairs, or Employment & Social Security, but probably many of the others as well – you will often come face-to-face with really difficult decisions.

This kind of difficult decision-making has played out at top speed during the pandemic – we’ve had to impose major limits on Islanders’ freedom, in order to keep everyone as safe and well as possible.

In normal times, government decision-making isn’t so dramatic or fast-paced, but it still deals with matters of life and death, with questions of whose freedom should be restricted and why, and with issues of poverty, inequality and deprivation. When you are involved in making these decisions, you’ll see that there is often no single good decision. Almost every decision has trade-offs, and you are trying to navigate towards the best possible outcome at the least painful cost.

It helps to talk about it. At least on a Committee, or in the States, you know you are not the only person grappling with the ethics of a problem. All your colleagues are in the same boat. That doesn’t make it easy, but it can make it more bearable.

But the other big challenge that comes with politics can be harder, and more lonely.

It’s this: Some people hate you now!

People you’ve never met, people who don’t know you at all, are all too willing to think the worst of you. They’ll post rubbish about you on social media. They’ll question your motives and your integrity. Once you are a public figure, people have a free hand to criticise and insult you, and many will do so, generally in pretty reductive and ignorant ways.

It took me a while to realise this, but – you simply don’t have to listen to it.

It is important to communicate with constituents, but you can communicate in ways that are constructive, for you and for them. People go on social media forums, or the comment pages of the local media, to vent and let off steam. Those are generally not places where you are going to be able to change anyone’s mind.

But if you prioritise one-to-one communication – whether that’s emails, phonecalls, or face-to-face – you can usually have much more productive and mutually respectful conversations. Sometimes even with the same people who are slagging you off in public online!

If someone has taken the time to call or email you, it’s a good sign (not a perfect one, but there never is) that they want to have a dialogue with you; that they’re not just playing “devil’s advocate” online for the sake of it. It is helpful to hear and speak with people who disagree with you, but you can choose to seek out the productive disagreements and avoid the places where people simply want to vent.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

Can I make a career out of this?

Yes and no.

You will often hear “career politician” used as an insult in Guernsey. But the truth is that Guernsey needs experienced politicians. Politics isn’t just about knowing what outcomes might be good for our Island – it’s about knowing how to deliver those outcomes. You need a unique set of professional skills to be effective as a States Member. You can’t get that training anywhere else; you can only really learn by experience.

We also need organisational memory – for want of a better expression – to be effective as a government. We need to know what has been tried in the past, what worked (and what didn’t), and why.

If there are too many Deputies saying “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work”, the States will be paralysed with inaction. But if there aren’t any Deputies who can say “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work – so here’s what we need to try differently this time”, then we’ll be like lemmings in a nightmare, throwing ourselves off the same cliff again and again.

Where would you go to get the ‘story’ of Guernsey politics over the last twenty or thirty years? You don’t really get that depth of political knowledge from the media or think tanks over here, as you might in a bigger jurisdiction. You don’t get it from party organisations, because they don’t really exist. You might be able to find it in the civil service, if you know where to look. Or you might find it by asking those who’ve lived it – experienced politicians (and, sometimes, campaigners).

Guernsey’s States can’t be ‘born new’ every four years. It needs experience to make progress. There is no shame in wanting to be part of that.

But at the same time, a political career is a hugely unpredictable one. You are up for re-election every four years. There are no guarantees that you will succeed. You can be highly respected and valued by your States’ colleagues, but barely known outside the Assembly.

Long service is not a bad thing of itself – it really depends on the attitude you bring to work, and the reasons why you are choosing to stay – but it is never guaranteed. You need to be prepared for that unpredictability, so that you have a back-up plan for life outside politics, in the event you can’t stay around for as long as you might have hoped.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

Will I be employable afterwards?

I hope so. I can’t say “yes” from personal experience, because I haven’t got there yet, and I don’t know what will happen when I do.

Maybe talk to some former politicians about their experiences. There are all sorts of factors that might make a difference to how easily you move on to the next stage in your career – whether your retirement from the States was planned (which means you might have had longer to look for another job), or whether you stood but were not re-elected; whether you had continued with some part-time employment throughout the term, and so on.

If you can afford to do so, it is wise to try and save – even just a little – every month, so that you create a bit of a buffer fund for yourself and your family, in case the transition from politics into other work takes a little longer than you’d hoped.  

I’m sure we have all made a few enemies in this job. It shows up our weaknesses like nothing else, because it forces us to make so many decisions on things outside our usual comfort zone, within an endless public spotlight. That doesn’t look flattering on anyone – whether they are the most experienced and expert people within their field, or whether they are just starting out.

But if you gain enemies, you also gain admirers. Don’t forget that. There are people who will have watched your work during your time in the States, who will recognise you as a real asset to the community and will be excited to work with you.

And finally, when the time comes to look for new work, don’t under-sell what you have learnt and done during your time in the States. You will just have spent four years (or more) doing challenging work, managing absurd deadlines, gaining new skills and making connections you’ve never had before. If you can offer all that to a workplace, you’re going to be an asset. Good luck.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

But what if it’s me in the closet?

If your sexuality or your gender is a private matter, that’s okay. You’re in charge of who you tell, and when. You don’t have to tell anyone, if you’re more comfortable like that.

If your friends and family already know, but you don’t want it shared any wider than that, then you do need to have a chat with them soon to make sure they understand your wishes and respect them.

I made a decision to be visibly “out” as a bisexual woman from the start of my time in the States, because I knew that I wanted to be able to speak from the heart on subjects like same-sex marriage. I also feel strongly that it does make a difference to see people ‘like you’ in roles you might want to do – by being out, I hoped to make it a little bit of an easier decision for the next LGBTQ+ person who was considering going into Guernsey politics.

But I know that’s not a decision everyone can afford to make, or is ready to make – and whatever your reasons, that’s absolutely fine. No one is likely to force you to come out if you’re not ready, and you don’t owe it to anyone else to do so.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote

Should I be worried about skeletons in my closet?

Well, that depends what they are. If you have done something actually Bad, then yes, the time you become a public figure might well be the time it comes back to haunt you. And probably deservedly so.

But I don’t think there are many people who fall into that category, and I very much doubt you’re one of them.

If you’ve sneaked a look at this question, I suspect you might be worried that embarrassing photos of you from student days, or from a boozy stag or hen do, might make their way into the Press; or political opinions you’ve long since grown out of might be dragged up from the depths of your social media account; or someone you’ve crossed at work might go public with a devastating character assassination of you … Something like that?

So, first things first. You don’t see that happen much over here, and that’s certainly not because we’re better behaved, as people, than politicians anywhere else in the world. We’re just very lucky not to have a gutter press of the kind you see in the UK.

Very early on in my political term, I joked with a journalist about being doorstepped, and they were quick (and kind) enough to point out that would only happen “if something went very badly wrong.” Thankfully, our media doesn’t usually waste its time taking pot-shots at people’s colourful pasts or private lives.

Of course it might all change in future. Sadly, if it does, I think it’s likely to be politician-led. If we see parties form on a similar model to the UK, we’ll probably see the same pattern, where almost as much effort is invested in gathering up mud to sling at one’s opponents, as it is in developing and delivering one’s own agenda.

All I can say is that it’s not like that right now. You can be grateful for your colourful past, because it’s shaped you, and because you’ve learnt (sometimes painful) lessons from it that you shouldn’t have to repeat in future. And you can be fairly sure that, here and now, it’s not likely to be weaponised against you – and long may that continue.

Go back to Getting Into Guernsey Politics
Go back to Section 1.1: Making the Decision
Register to Vote