There’s no denying that Senator John Le Fondre’s had a tough week.
He faced a vote of no confidence from Jersey’s States members in his leadership.
Senator Kristina Moore, who lodged the vote, said islanders lacked confidence in his ability to steer the island through the troubled waters of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the global economic crisis.
However, after a long day of political wrangling and many, many speeches from deputies in the States, Senator Le Fondre fought for his political survival, comfortably surviving the vote of no confidence.
He made an impassioned speech disputing Senator Moore’s claims, saying he’s worked incredibly hard to steer the island through difficult times and had received plenty of public support for his efforts.
Before the row and subsequent States debate, he spoke to ChannelEye about his ambitions and how he’s handled his role as leader.
Did you have any other ambitions, if you hadn’t become a politician?
“I didn’t set out with an ambition to become a long-term politician, let alone Chief Minister. My career was likely to have followed the accountancy profession with some honorary work and family business to boot. Whilst my career has not necessarily taken the originally envisaged route, it has certainly proved far more interesting than I had originally envisaged.”
Your father was a politician and you’ve followed in his footsteps. Was this something you always saw yourself doing? What it’s like to come from a political family?
“I wouldn’t say we were a ‘political family’ although I’m actually a third-generation politician (both my father and grandfather were in the States). I never knew my grandfather and whilst my father generated an interest in politics, it was never overtly encouraged.
“I came into politics having firstly become a trustee of Les Vaux Housing Trust and secondly being heavily involved in Parish matters, being asked ultimately to ‘project manage’ the St Lawrence Millennium footpath project and assist in both the Parish Magazine, new Battle of Flowers Association and the Millennium Committee. That reinforced to me the strong community roots that exist in our island and are one of the things that make Jersey special.”
There’s no doubt that 2020 has been incredibly testing for most people due to Covid-19. What’s it been like for you? How have you handled the pressure of being the man in charge at such a testing time?
“The Covid-19 Pandemic has been a huge challenge for jurisdictions across the world. In Jersey, we’ve been fortunate thanks to both our economic and geographic position. Meeting the challenges posed by Covid-19 has nonetheless required an immense effort and I have been proud to lead an excellent team of experts, officers and ministers to meet this crisis.
“It is thanks to the people of Jersey, and to those involved at an operational and strategic level, that we find ourselves, today, in a comfortable position.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have sought to secure our Island’s position both in the theatre of public health and through economic stability.”
Senator Le Fondre says the achievements he’s been most proud of include establishing a Nightingale wing to the island’s General Hospital, ensuring comprehensive PPE supplies and a thorough track and trace system.
He also points to the island’s border testing regime which ranks amongst the best in Europe, a mobile laboratory to process additional PCR tests on island, the largest financial support package in Jersey’s history and the extensive coordination with local businesses to offer payroll support, loans, sales tax exemptions and expert advice.
“Each of these achievements, amongst several others, have served to secure Jersey’s position, with each representing an important milestone in our pandemic response. Each of these measures have provided reassurance to Islanders and in turn, to the Council of Ministers and myself as we’ve stabilised our island’s position and implemented a thorough response.
“There is no escaping pressure in a job such as this and it very much comes with the territory. I’ve been fortunate to lead a highly professional team and work alongside medical experts to implement the right measures at the right time.
“I’d also like to pay a particular tribute to those officers who have come under enhanced public scrutiny and seen their roles politicised in a way which would not occur during normal times. These officers have at times been subject to the whims of petty politics when they might otherwise have been engaging in our pandemic response. Despite this they have always managed to balance both their engagement with States Members and the media, their part in responding to the pandemic and fulfilling their day to day duties as officials.”
How do you see Jersey moving forward over the next few months?
“Going forward, Jersey is in a good place. Our public health has been safeguarded, our economy is being stabilised and our island remains an attractive place to do business.
“As the global economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, Jersey is well placed to assist other jurisdictions. Our island has a well-regulated and outward-facing economy, with a long tradition of trading in high-quality goods and services with customers from around the world.
“Our position as a leading international financial centre has, historically placed Jersey as a conduit for global business flows, acting as a facilitator for outbound foreign direct investment (FDI). This role will be particularly important post Covid-19 as we assist others in their recovery, ensuring the smooth movement of global capital.
“Covid-19 is of course, not the only issue our island is navigating this year. The UK’s ongoing Brexit negotiations continue, and we have utilised our existing bilateral links to ensure that the interests of Jersey are represented, engaging with our UK counterparts throughout the process.
“I believe our island is well placed should we experience any increase in cases over the winter months, we have strong PPE stocks, excellent track and trace programs in place, a Nightingale wing to furnish additional capacity and a wealth of expertise to draw upon.
“Furthermore, we continue to see an excellent level of community compliance with the current public health measures and it is this final aspect that’s most important. Only with the cooperation of islanders can we mitigate the worst effects of Covid-19 and their efforts throughout this pandemic have been inspiring. Islanders have come together to assist one another, support local businesses and keep our island safe.”