It’s been an interesting few weeks here in the Falkland Islands. Election fever had gripped the Islands. Full democracy was somewhat late arriving to the Islands (the very first elections took place in 1949 but only for a minority of the seats on the government, the rest being appointed by the British-appointed Governor). The first full election for an entirely democratic government here was in (astonishingly) 1977 so the novelty of election drama hasn’t worn thin yet. Interestingly, the government here is essentially one big coalition, with 8 independent Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) each taking a portfolio and being in charge of a particular area of government (e.g. one for education, one for public works etc).
Like most governments, there is no guarantee that those in charge of their portfolios have any form of experience in that particular area, but that doesn’t stop them taking the reins (after the meeting where the portfolios are amicably agreed on). Still, it makes for an interesting election as those running for government come from all kinds of backgrounds (far more diverse than the UK) and are strangely unable to definitely promise to carry out any policies. The coalition nature of the democracy here with no party politics means there is no overall leader. So, even when an MLA has an idea that the people want to see enacted, we’ve seen the proposal to DISCUSS the idea being out-voted by other MLAs. The government’s effectiveness, then, rests on its ability to work together. As a historian, I remain somewhat sceptical about the effectiveness of relying on a group of people in power working together, but I’d better not say too much more about the examples of that failing in the past. As Churchill put it: democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others that we’ve tried so far. Either way, we have some new and some veteran MLAs and the consequences of that will remain to be seen.
On our more personal front, last week I joined a “smelly boys’ trip” (Han’s words) to head to the South West peninsular of East Falkland (known as Lafonia after the man who began the wild cattle industry here in the Falklands in the 19th century). The main settlement of Lafonia is North Arm, even though it’s in the South. It’s a stunningly flat area, the map hinting that there is no more than a 15m rise above sea level across the many square miles of the peninsular. Very homely for a Man of Kent.
We weren’t heading for North Arm, however. That’s far too cosmopolitan! Instead, we turned off the road some 3 hours from Stanley and drove for an hour off-road through a featureless landscape to reach the apparent film set of North West Arm (an old shepherd’s house).
Facilities were, as expected, basic but adequate. The water was fed from a spring (the Wild West wind pump had been replaced by an electric one, but the tower was still in use), the heating/cooking was on a peat stove and the electricity ran on an open wire from the ‘sturdy’ diesel generator that needed coaxing into life.
On the way, we stopped at a re-seeded field where the local (and abundant) upland goose was taking full advantage of the farmer’s efforts and some colleagues wanted to go for a (perfectly legal and, frankly, encouraged) shoot. I joined them to shoot my first goose on the Islands, though I know that’ll bring mixed feelings for those outside of here. If it helps, we took the meat and I made some rather tasty upland goose pasties.
The house itself overlooked a creek filled with mullet so we also caught some fish, though I released the one I caught as I’m not as big a fan of fish as I am wild fowl.
Many, I know, would look at the house and be put off, but that kind of isolation and simple living does go to show that those who would enjoy this place will probably need a particular type of mindset. I loved it. Would you?