Wednesday, 8 August 2012

An abysmal performance from our Chief Minister Re: Electoral Reform

This morning I attended an Electoral Commission hearing to view the submission by Chief Minister Senator Gorst. He was the only one being interviewed for some reason, and the announcement of the hearing was made very last minute the day before.

I was hoping that I could report back on it with some glimmers of hope, some interesting suggestions and views, but I was utterly disappointed and I very much regret that I have to write such a negative blog post today. I honestly do try my best to like Senator Gorst and because I love Jersey I wish for him to succeed. After all, the alternative is infinitely worse. But time after time he falls below my expectations and I have to denounce him. His submission was completely underwhelming, incoherent and inconsistent. It was frankly painful to watch, especially hearing the sniggering coming from the viewing gallery when he said things that were just so manifestly absurd.

To be fair to the Senator, he got off to a reasonably good start. He addressed the problems that there is with reform in Jersey, based around the fact that there are the self interests of the members wanting to retain their seats, as well as the political perspectives interests in wanting to make sure people of various wings take an electoral advantage. He even acknowledged that there is a perception that the Constables are effectively a conservative ("some small c's, some big C's") block. But that is where the positives ended.

From then on, his ramblings were simply incoherent and he never laid out in straight terms exactly what it was he was proposing for Jersey, and instead took time to talk about each category and analysed it in turn. This is the totally wrong approach to electoral reform. Your starting point has to be the principles and the values behind what you are doing, because that lays down a purpose for what you are doing and sets out the criteria that you must adhere to. You build your democracy on top of the principles and values you hold. You don't simply change a system that was not built with democracy in mind and hope that it'll work democratically. You are better off starting with a blank canvass.

Lets not forget, what is the actual reason we are having this whole debate in the first place? It is Democracy. This isn't meant to be a PR exercise to make politicians look good (if it is, it's failing miserably), it is to find a solution to make Jersey more democratic. And so I took a tally to see how many times Senator Gorst used the word "democracy" in his submission. The number was precisely 0. He appeared to have absolutely no grasp on what he was actually there for. How on Earth can anyone make a sensible suggestion on electoral reform if they haven't got a clue on the context and philosophy behind it?

He stated his support for the retention of the position of Senator. A reasonable position that I have no quarrel with. But he seemed to suggest that an idea for their retention should be in the form of an upper chamber (I wonder where he got that idea?). And when he was pressed on that question, he declared that he wanted to make no comment over election or appointment. How inconsistent could he be? If the Senators are fundamental because of their mandate, then you have to comment on election or appointment, because it should be fundamental to the whole purpose of what he is suggesting. Thankfully some commission members appeared to realise this, but to my disappointment, they were totally impotent in any meaningful scrutiny of his suggestions. Had I been on the panel, I would have relished the chance to take his proposition apart bit by bit and show how little thought and logic there was in it. But instead, after a mild rebuke, they carried on. Maybe this was because they didn't want to embarrass him because of his high office (that's never stopped me!).

I completely denounce this suggestion that we have an upper chamber. It is nothing more than a silly compromise to try and keep either the Senators, or the Constables in a form that maintains their hegemony in policy when they are completely unnecessary. Senator Gorst talked about the history of reform at the beginning of his remarks, but he completely ignores the fact that the direction of history has been pointed towards more accountability, not less. An upper chamber is a step backwards. Fancy that, this paradox that when the country is debating having an elected upper chamber, we in Jersey are entertaining the thought of possibly having an appointed chamber! It's just unreal.

After this, he went on to talk about the position of the Constables. This is where it just descends into silliness. Aside from the usual nonsense about how the Parishes provide a vital link to the States (as if that is somehow necessary...) and that the Constables are wise and respected (two words - Saddie Rennard), he said that the Parish system would fall apart if they were not in the States. I completely refute this as I think them being in the States actually harms their position, but if I'm wrong and it will diminish the role... so what? If the parish system can only survive on life support by the States, then it just isn't worth keeping. If it's such a wonderful system it will survive because of it's use. Such a suggestion just proves that they are desperate.

Perhaps the funniest (if also saddest) part of the interview was when he said "the Parish system makes Jersey what it is", which prompted a comment from a member of the public "what, feudal?" which summed up perfectly how much of a stupid thing it was to say. You either have democracy, or you have the Constables. You cannot have both. That is simply a fact.

As if that wasn't enough, he then went on to say that the deputies had to be changed because of different districts and constituencies varying in size and population there was a democratic deficit that couldn't be maintained... But hang on, how on Earth does that not apply even more so to the Constables?! You couldn't make it up. The democratic deficit is unacceptable for the Deputies, but it's A-okay for the Constables?

He was asked how he'd like to see the new boundaries for Deputies worked out, particularly if he would like an independent boundary commission. He responded that he would rather not have one, to which Deputy Tadier tweeted "Does he want a partisan one?", which I couldn't have put any better. If you are after democracy, the boundaries have to be decided independently, otherwise you get gerrymandering.

But one of the biggest points of hypocrisy and inconsistency was when he stated at one point that he agreed with the Clothier recommendation of 42 or 44 States Members (this sort of cherry picking of the Clothier Report is exactly why it failed), without a hint of irony shortly after he had talked about the problem many States Members have of not being able to spend enough time studying legislation. How exactly does reducing the number of members help this problem? Surely it just makes it worse?

Finally, there was not a single word on voter systems. It didn't even come up. Despite it being crucial to deciding who represents each district and there is no consensus at all on First Past the Post, you'd have thought it would be something to consider.

And here is where I will get dismissed for conspiracy theories... Senator Gorsts performance today (for that is what it was) was just his turn to toe the party line and argue for what Bailhache has probably decided months ago would be the outcome, as a way of making it appear legitimate. The coincidences were too great, and no individual who had actually taken time to think through their position would have made so many school-boy errors as he did. He just went up, knowing what the desired outcome is, and tried, and failed, to adumbrate it as he'd agreed to do.

This is exactly why it is so important for people to take heed of what Reform Jersey has said, and write to the commission to make it obvious to any independent observer that these sorts of ridiculous recommendations by those in power are not what the public want. If we roll over and let them get away with it, we will suffer the consequences for decades to come.

I really do apologise for the undiplomatic, uncompromising and strong tone of this post, but you really should have been there. It is so difficult to say anything other than what I have said after such an abysmal display.

After the brief comment I made on the submission from the Constable of St Peters, I intend to petition for a Parish Assembly in St Saviours in the next few days. Stay tuned for more info!



  1. Straight to the point post Sam and on the button. I was the anonymous who suggested a man of your talent rally the young to stop the few from
    pushing forward a mandate that will shrink democracy not enhance it.

    Some even call it feudal its not difficult to take that view. Feudal is old school you are new school bring it, take it to their door, we will help.


  2. While the retention of the Constables would not be in line with voter parity (as for instance with the Deputies), it could be argued for on the grounds that Sherman had in the USA in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, that a second chamber was "an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty" of the States. Sherman's idea was that each State should have representation in a second house to preserve the balance of the States against central government. Of course, it doesn't exactly work brilliantly in the USA, but it is an argument based on checks and balances to power, which is at the heart of democracy.

    1. I understand that, and think it would be appropriate for the US. Also in the UK there is voter disparity in Scotland and Wales which are overrepresented (in terms of MPs per population). It's good for places like this because of their size, however because of how small Jersey is, I don't think it's at all necessary. Especially when they often act the oppose as a check and balance on power haha!

    2. I can't see an Upper House being anything other than a more exclusive Council of Ministers on steroids, which will be hugely negative for democracy in the Jersey.

  3. The second house in Barbados, however, is wholly non-elected by the citizens and would be a terrible retrograde step.

    Incidentally Matthew Price said that in the UK, a place the size of Jersey would have just one MP. The solution - reduce the number of States members to one Senator. I bet Sir Philip has dreams of that solution!

    1. An appointed upper chamber means he wouldn't have to waste his time on a silly election campaign and engaging the public to make sure he is the islands next Chief Minister!


    2. Deputy Sean Power, wrote the below lines in his submission to the EC.

      Voters who have faith and want democracy take note. Deputy Power is in favour of an upper chamber put there by high-ranking friends in Government and for public (read the chosen few ) will be part of a closed club.

      Deputy Power was elected democratically. Before he offered to work as a special consultant for Dandara, stating he had friends in high places, his offer was turned down. Now his friends in high places need his vote. What will be the reward, a higher seat in the senate when he loses his seat at the next election? What lap dog.

      Deputy Sean Power.

      Higher Legislative Senate:

      This upper chamber could be elected by an electoral college such as the States Assembly and by nominations directly received by the public.

      The Bailiff as Presiding Officer and the Role of the Dean:

      I do believe that the present system used by Jersey is effective and history shows that the role of the Bailiff in chairing the legislative assembly that we know as the States of Jersey has been exemplary. I see no need to change this in the future. Likewise, I believe that the Bailiff should continue to rank above the Chief Minister in official, state and diplomatic matters

      I see no reason why the presence of a Christian Minister cannot continue in this way as long as it is rotated.


    3. Yes I read this yesterday. Wish I could say I was surprised, but not when those words are coming from Deputy Power.

      He is actually recommending more institutions that are unaccountable to the public? How can this guy legitimately call himself a democrat!?

      Anyway, he is going to be delivering evidence to the Electoral Commission in a couple of hours, which I am going down to watch, so I'll maybe write up a blog after.

  4. No,No, No its time to loose the Constables.Its 2012 not 1776. If you want founding fathers think of democracy and of the First French Republic.

  5. The JEP did an article today on the Chief Ministers time at the Commission. Needless to say it was far less critical than I have been.

    I have written to the JEP, hopefully it'll get published. If anyone spots it, do let me know please!


    I write after the JEPs coverage on 10th August of the Chief Ministers submission to the Electoral Commission. As someone with a keen interest in electoral reform in Jersey, I attended the hearing with an open mind, hoping to hear our Chief Minister put forward some interesting ideas.

    I was completely disappointed, to the point where I am genuinely upset that I have to be so negative about it. His performance was utterly underwhelming, incoherent and inconsistent.

    What he and other politicians (including members of the commission) are completely failing to recognise is the actual purpose of electoral reform. The whole reason that we are engaging in this exercise is because Jersey is not as democratic as it could be. So why are politicians like Senators Gorst and Ozouf not actually talking about the principles and the values behind reform? I did a tally of how many times Senator Gorst actually used the word “democracy” in his submission and it came to a grand total of precisely 0. At not one point did he think it was appropriate to lay down any sort of philosophical basis for trying to form a representative chamber and then out lining why his specific propositions were in line with those principles of democracy. This is really worrying. If we don’t talk about the final aim of reform, how can we expect to reach an acceptable solution?

    If this is about democracy, we need to start with the principles and work our way up, not just try and shift things about for no apparent reason as the Chief Minister argued to do in his submission.

    What is most concerning is how the Chief Minister can somehow claim that there is a democratic deficit with the Deputies, yet the Constables are fine, even though their democratic deficit is even worse than the Deputies! The sad fact is that the Constables being in the States of Jersey is just not democratic. It is not a democracy when each person’s vote is not worth the same as everyone else’s. Yet in Jersey we have this peculiar (and absurd) situation where the 8 rural Parishes have a combined population less than that of St Helier, yet still have 8 representatives. This is not democratic. One person, one vote. Not one Parish, one vote.

    I completely reject the suggestion that the parish link is vital. The States of Jersey runs the island, not the parishes, so we only need island representation, not parishes. 8 out of 12 Constables aren’t even elected. I believe that removing them from the States would actually benefit them. Most people in Jersey have disdain for all politicians. If we stopped the Constables from being politicians, we could get rid of that disdain and make their job even more respected. Instead we politicise them, which harms the office. If the Parish system is to survive, it should do so because of its merits, not because it is put on life support by the States.

    For Jersey to be truly democratic, we need States Members that each represent exactly the same number of people, and all islanders, no matter where they live, should have the same number of votes. Keeping the Constables in the States makes this impossible. It’s a choice between the Constables and democracy, and it’s obvious which we should go for.

    I urge any readers to please write to the commission and ask for democracy. That is what this should be about and the commission are not hearing it enough.

    Sam Mézec
    4 Le Jardin a Pommier
    St Saviour

  6. I had to laugh at the JEP article when he said the constables were a vital link between the states and the parishes..... then a few paragraphs later we read that he said the parishes weren't the ideal way to vote in candidates due to their differing sizes (the parishes, not the candidates sizes, LOL)

    One has to bang one's head on one's table reading that kind of messed up logic.

  7. Sam, some interesting research about voting on the Electoral Comission website

  8. Sam,

    It is interesting that a very wide cross section of the political spectrum are now calling for the same thing. John Henwood, Pierre Horsfall, CONSTABLE Len Norman, Hugh Gill (Chef de Police of St Lawrence), Ed Le Quesne (Constable's Officer) all saying the Constables should not sit in the States. The Establishment are in dissarray! A wasn't it a desperate and brazen editorial in today's Pravda? Read all about it
    Jersey Evening Propaganda