By Carolyn Labey
Deputy of Grouville & St Martin
Minister for International Development
The first sitting of a new States Assembly is like starting a new school year (and yes I can just about remember it!). There are some familiar faces and a lot of new ones. There is both excitement and anxiety in the air. But with the pandemic (hopefully) behind us, a general sense of optimism pervades the Chamber, a chance for a fresh start and a bright future.
In the guidelines for these articles we were asked for a personal reflection on our roles as Deputies. For my first impressions I would have to go back to 2002! Whilst the States Assembly still remains a very formal place with lots of rules and protocols – from how the seats are chosen, to where we can walk, and how to address colleagues – today’s atmosphere seems a lot more friendly than 20 years ago. There are more women for a start.
When I was first elected there were seven female States Members out of an Assembly of 52, and now there are 21 out of 49. We also have our first female Chief Minister, CEO and Greffier of the States. So things are moving in the right direction, albeit rather slowly. It is often the case that women bring a different perspective to debates, and they can act as role models to young girls in paving the way to create a more equal and fair society. So now with nearly half the Chamber made up of women, we should consider this progress. Only while writing this article did I become aware that at the end of this term I will have been the longest serving female Deputy in the history of the States Assembly, which I consider something to be quite proud of. I don’t know where the time has gone except when I look at my children who were 12, 10 and 8 years old when I first stood for election and are now grown up, my daughter having made me a grandmother and my sons both living away.
A States Member’s workload is relentless and can be overwhelming at times, especially for new Members. It is therefore essential to be organised – and to also love the work! I have immensely enjoyed the different responsibilities I have had, and my current role as Minister for International Development is no exception. I appreciate that International Development might not necessarily being in the forefront of people’s minds as they go about their daily lives, but it is an important portfolio. Giving something back to those less fortunate – and helping to make a better world for our grandchildren – is something which I think resonates strongly in our generous, outward-looking Island. I find it particularly poignant that within living memory we were recipients of overseas aid ourselves – my own family included. Lots of us still have Red Cross parcels somewhere in an attic, and so many people have told me how proud they are that we are now ‘paying it forward’ to places like Ukraine and the Horn of Africa.
People are also proud that it’s our own beloved dairy cows which are lifting tens of thousands out of poverty. Jersey ‘plays to its strengths’ by focusing our aid on things we’re good at, like finance, conservation and dairy. We’re also really good at rolling our leeves up and getting involved, and I love the fact that we are offering so many Islanders the chance to volunteer abroad, or even to start a career with JOA and the UN. Let us pray this wretched pandemic is behind us, as we restart our volunteering programme with trips to Kenya, Nepal and Rwanda in 2023.
I also have responsibility for the Island Identity project, which is a bit of a ‘slow burn’ and which cuts across various departments. Its aim is to promote the Island in a way we can all be proud of, and to recognise and enhance what makes the island special. It tries to draw the common strands together from our increasingly diverse population, and find the things we can all relate to as Jersey and unite behind. I am a strong believer in teaching our history and constitution in schools and to newcomers to the Island. We need to deliver a strong outward-facing, welcoming message and create a vision that everyone can work towards.
It’s always interesting to listen to inaugural speeches and votes during the first few months of a new Assembly. To note which side of which fence colleagues come down, and watch a different set of dynamics play out. But one thing which I think should always be acknowledged is that everyone in the Chamber put themselves up for election to try to make the Island a better place. Whether you agree with their views or not, they are trying. And so the Class of ‘22 is formed and in action, and although we all face trials ahead, the enthusiasm and energy of the new States makes me optimistic for the future. This new chapter of Jersey’s history will be a bright one.