It was grey and drab outside and not too much livelier inside Grouville Parish Hall on Monday evening, when the first set of hustings for the Big District of the East were held.
A solid set of questions from a standing-room-only assembly was met with a solid set of answers from the six candidates vying for the three Deputy seats on offer in the district, which groups Grouville and St. Martin together.
The six wannabes sat along a long table, Last Supper-like, with the outgoing Constable John Le Maistre playing the even-handed master of ceremonies.
They are: Piers Sangan, Deputy Steve Luce, Philip Le Claire, Deputy Carolyn Labey, Guy de Faye and Rose Binet.
Deputy Luce was cleverly wearing a red-and-white striped tie, which means he can also don it for the St. Martin leg of the hustings on Friday, although one wonders if it does have a removable red tip.
Two of the candidates were party members - Deputy Luce for the Progress-JLC coalition and Mr Le Claire for Jersey Alliance - but you couldn’t help but sense that they felt rather shackled by their manifestos, and were actually far happier joining the others in sharing personal views and speaking spontaneously.
Mr Sangan - dapper in waistcoat and pink shirt - got off to a slow start, choosing to use only a fraction of the 10 minutes allocated to him to introduce himself. But he soon warmed up when questions about farming, fishing and other issues reflecting his particular environmental interests were posed.
He also revealed that the last time he was on stage in the parish hall had been to hold boo and hiss cards for the Grouville pantomime. One imagines that many islanders would love to see these props introduced to the States Assembly, perhaps as an alternative to the ‘pour’ or ‘contre’ button.
Mr de Faye - seeking to make a Rocky-style comeback to the political ring - has lost none of his oratory skills, while Deputy Carolyn Labey understandably referenced her long service to the parish and the States as a whole.
Pictured: It was a busy parish hall for the Deputy hustings in Grouville.
Newcomer Rose Binet made up the sextet. Clearly unimpressed with the current Government, she rattled off its perceived failings (new hospital, demolition of Cyril Le Marquand House, power of civil servants, Jersey Care Model etc) faster than well-oiled Gatling gun.
Although the six candidates endeavoured to establish their Grouvillais’ roots in their opening speeches, questions from the audience about the intricacies of parish life were conspicuous by their absence.
Not one questioner probed the candidates’ views on matters in Vingtaine de la Rocque or the state of the walls in La Rue Malo.
Perhaps this was down to - worrying for many - the erosion of parochial identity caused by the advent of districts.
Or maybe, as a corollary of this, parish matters are now perceived to be squarely in the domain of the Constable. Without the island-wide mandate, have Deputies risen up to fill the gap left by Senators, without them even realising it?
Or perhaps, after Grouville’s animated and energetic ‘requête’ meeting just a month or two back, which dealt with hyper-local issues right down to individual fields, parishioners felt it was time to lift their gaze to island-wide matters.
Matching the grey and damp evening outside, the hustings had none of the zest that accompanied the parish’s fight to save fields from development at the beginning of March.
The only edgy reaction/mass groan came when Guy de Faye, perhaps sensing that a verbal banger needed to be lit to wake everyone up, flipped a question about fee-paying schools on its head to argue that everyone should pay for education.
That suggestion didn’t seem to score highly with the audience - unlike the lady who sat two chairs down from your correspondent, who played Candy Crush on her phone for most of the hustings and seemed to clock up a very good score indeed.
Fitting for a country parish, a number of questions focused on the future of agriculture and farming. Unsurprisingly, candidates threw their support behind these bedrocks of island life and identity.
Envisaging how things might look in future, Mr Sangan said he’d recently seen solar-powered tractors at an agricultural show in the UK.
Clearly, a technological feat but one couldn’t help but wonder what happens to them on a cloudy day? Could following a John Deer from Trinity to St. Ouen be a three-hour journey when it’s overcast?
Another question asked for views about the lack of accommodation for migrant workers.
Deputy Carolyn Labey suggested one remedy could be to moor a cruise ship alongside South Pier. One assumes it would have to be a very squat liner indeed not to block activity in the Harbour.
Other questions covered such timely matters as healthcare, the cost of living, Jersey’s links with France and assisted dying.
Ms Binet said she fully supported the latter. Mr de Faye said the island already had it to some degree with palliative care, but he still supported islanders being able to choose when, where and how they died.
To combat rising prices, Deputy Labey said she would take off GST for locally grown products sold in the island, while Mr Le Claire said he wouldn’t want to remove the 5% tax off food because it was much better to help people through Income Support.
And so, as 21:00 edged closer, the hustings came to a close. There had been no fireworks but equally no significant faux pas.
With half of the six candidates due to become States Members, there is clearly everything still to play for in the Big District of the East.
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