Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Guest Post from Daniel Wimberley - Why Plémont Matters.

Tonight something a bit different. I have a guest posting from the former Deputy for St Mary Daniel Wimberley who has decided to wade into the debate on the future of Plémont. He disagrees with what I posted a few days ago on the subject and has dissected my argument bit by bit, which I am always grateful for.

Since the proposition to buy the land has been made by the Chief Minister and his assistant, for those on the progressive side of politics it would be almost instinct to oppose it for that reason only. But here Daniel has put forward a case from a progressive point of view that may carry more weight, so please have a read and share your thoughts.

For the record, I am happy to do more guest posts if readers see any value in them, so I'd appreciate if anyone wants to share any views on that idea in the comments section, or give ideas on who to guest and on what topic.



This Plemont issue is important as it throws so many of the key issues facing Jersey into stark relief. There is the question of private interest versus the public interest.  There is the question:  what do we actually care about? Then there is the confusion around ideas such as economic growth, population, and Jersey’s so-called “poverty”.  On all these questions, Plemont is a test case for the left. Which is why I wrote this piece.

At the outset, I declare an interest – I am firmly in the “return to nature” camp, and I do see that, on the face of it, it might seem hard to justify the likely cost of purchase. But please hear me out. I will just look at a few things Sam said in his Plemont post of 23rd November.

1    “The building work will even help stimulate the economy a bit.”   “unemployment is a huge problem at the moment,”   “Coupling that with the unemployment and rising population, it's going to be tough. I call that a mess,”

Indeed. Large-scale (for Jersey) unemployment coupled with a rising population on our tiny island is a mess. But both of these things have been brought about by the policies of our ruling elite, and I believe it has been deliberate.  If it is not deliberate, then it is a shocking indictment of their incompetence. Consider how strange this really is: rising population at the same time as unemployment is rising.


An ever-rising population ensures housing scarcity, which ensures high prices in all parts of the accommodation sector, including the value of the underlying land, which increases between 80 AND 200 TIMES in value when it is passed / zoned for building. Plenty of money to be made all round, then.
Those who say that the Plemont deal would cost the taxpayer too much might like to reflect on the fact that land prices are so grossly inflated in Jersey precisely because of the POLICIES OF OUR RULING GROUP. It is not Sam’s fault, or mine.
And when I proposed in the States that this massive increase in value should be taxed as it was an entirely unearned gain, it was voted down. How strange! Strange, I mean, that our States members should put the advantage of landowners above the interests of Jersey as a whole. Or then again, not so strange, depends how cynical you are.


Unemployment is high only because of the ludicrous numbers let into the island by the powers-that-be. There is supposed to be a tap for controlling inward migration – whoever was holding the tap was holding it wide open. Why? To keep labour costs down. And to hell with the consequences for the island. Same story again. (That is my explanation – has anyone got a better one?)

So to say that we must create yet more jobs for those mistakenly let in – where does it end, please?  It is a policy which will end up concreting all the island, not just Plemont.

What IS the population we are aiming for? I am not saying “send people away”. I AM saying: when people leave (as they do, about 2500 a year (if I remember correctly)) then gently close the tap of inward migration, so the population stands still, and then manage the jobs market carefully. This would solve a lot of our problems . . .

2  “This at a time when there are pay freezes all around, public spending is being cut . . .” and “The money is much better off going into . . .”

This is the classic right wing argument. You cannot have subsidised sporting opportunities / art and music festivals / a police authority / cleaned beaches / proper child protection / health promotion (delete whichever you personally do not think is essential) because we need the money for a new hospital / the refurbishment of Les Quennevais / a consultant to tell us about the future of the Finance Industry (select whichever you think is absolutely necessary).

But of course, we can have both / all of these things. Jersey is a wealthy well-run jurisdiction with large reserves, as our Treasury Minister tells us (often). So what exactly is the problem? The answer is ideology. We simply do not spend enough on our public services. That is why islanders have a hospital with sewage running down the walls. And why our dear States voted against putting any kind of filters into the chimneys at the former Bellozanne incinerator, preferring to run an incinerator which was poisoning their own citizens.
Yes, we do look after the roads, we do run a school system, we do have a fire service and so on.  We run the ordinary facilities of civilised life, but when it comes to our heritage we quibble and wobble.  When it comes to the town park it takes 12 years to get anywhere because fundamentally it is seen as an option.  It is seen as something that would make life better but it is not essential, and when it comes to our landscape, it just does not seem to matter. But these things DO matter.

3   “spending such an excessive amount of money in this case is totally unacceptable when Jersey is in the state it's in.”

Jersey may seem like it is in a mess, but as some commenters pointed out, Jersey is not really in a mess. It is one of the richest places on earth. The reason we have the problems I described above. Is that Jersey spends a lower proportion of its wealth on its public services and facilities than virtually any other rich country, (and most of them have economies in better shape than ours – but that is an aside).
Also, we have apparently not heard of the concept of investment. We hear often about the need for sound business minds in the States, and yet we do not do what every business does – namely borrow to invest for a better future.

We pay for capital assets with a life of 30 or 40 years with CASH. Not sure why we do this. No other government does this, no business does this, no household with a mortgage does this either. It prevents us from grasping a whole host of “spend – to – save opportunities, because “there is no money”. It is crazy and has held us back and turned the government into a NO CAN DO government instead of a CAN DO one. That is why, in Jersey, so often, good ideas get strangled. No oomph, no drive. Just inertia.  Looked at this way Plemont is being bought by 100,000 people and it will last rather more than 100 years. Does not look so expensive then, does it? (taking 100 years as the figure, I make it 75p each per year.)

4   “The plans actually look quite nice”

That is a matter of opinion. Or is it? Jersey farmhouses do not sit as a rule on cliff-tops. The old chaps knew better than that. Nor are they built in clusters. For better or worse, the Jersey farmhouse is a rugged statement of self-reliance, hard work, and wealth, and it nearly always stands on its own. . And yet it is proposed to build an entire hamlet of them. Also, the old holiday camp buildings were horizontal in their overall effect, and thus less obtrusive – the new 2½ stories high “farmhouses” will stick out (up) like sore thumbs. It won’t be as violent a difference as at Portelet but the principle is exactly the same – we will have swapped horizontal for vertical on a very sensitive site.

Aesthetically it is a complete nonsense, it has no cultural legitimacy, and in planning terms, as the Inspector pointed out in his report, it would NEVER get planning permission in normal circumstances. So why on earth are we giving this proposal the time of day?

5   “When they say "return it to nature", well, there hasn't been any nature on that site for over 150 years from what I can gather.”

I am not sure if Sam said this or a commenter. Whatever. I am not sure what this means. However, the plan is NOT to build on the existing footprint, but to take virgin Green Zone land to the South. This is “nature” now, if hedges and a green field count as nature, and if it is built on it would become “suburbia”. Removing the old ruined buildings would indeed be the first step to returning that land “to nature”.

6   “would-be developers who are actually coming up with good ideas and, frankly, being very generous.”

Crumbs. Trevor Hemmings is worth £400 million or so:  before the crash the poor chap was “worth” over £1 bn. When is enough enough? And yes that is a moral question. And yes, moral questions belong in the political arena. What else is politics about? He is not being generous. He got the entire former Pontins property portfolio for a song, £30 million (in the year 2000), he has long since got his money back on the deal, generous would be to say – ‘OK in this case I can see the extreme beauty of the site and the gain to the people of Jersey, I will sell at the “bracken price,” you are the government- you have the right to purchase the site.’ I have not heard anything remotely like this, but one lives in hopes . . .

7   the question of private interest versus the public interest

I asked in the last debate about buying Plemont:
“Maybe we should start acting like a government.  It is the rights of the landowner, who in this case bought the land purely as a speculative investment, compared to the right to enjoyment of the public and why do we not do the right and decisive thing?  We could calculate the value of Plémont as part of his £30 million purchase of Pontins, divide up that asset and estimate how much he actually paid for Pontins.  We could add inflation and perhaps his fees and negotiate on that basis.  Why do we have to negotiate on the basis of an inflated value?  Why do we not show that we mean business?”

My starting point for speaking like this is the fact that Trevor Hemmings has enough money already. The government is there to weigh precisely these conflicts. In this case: his interest versus the public interest – it is a no-brainer for me.  So it was for instance a crass mistake not to include the whole site in the Coastal Park.
In conclusion, it pains me to see progressives marching under the right’s banners on this.

“We can’t afford to buy Plemont” even though Jersey is still one of the richest places in the world. Even though we would like to do this, we can’t. I have heard a Constable say exactly this in a debate about a miserable penny-pinching cut in a Business plan debate –“I do not want to do this but I have to”

“It will help create housing” when the shortage has been wilfully created, and will continue to be created.

“It will help create jobs” when this is not the answer to our mis-match between people and jobs. We need solutions, not stop-gaps which succeed only in putting off the day of actually tackling the problem.

I suggest that, from a progressive political standpoint, the arguments for not buying Plemont do not make sense. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

If you really love Plémont...

I just want to make a very brief post tonight to try and counter some of what is being said by what is, admittedly, a very well run campaign by the National Trust of Jersey who have announced that they have received pledges of £2.5m to help purchase the Plémont site to return it to nature.

They've named their campaign "Love Plémont" which I think is very unfair. When I was a kid I used to go to Plémont all the time, my family used to eat at the café up there quite a bit and I used to love exploring all the caves. I love Plémont too, but I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in what the NTJ are proposing. I'm not going to claim to be an expert on the whole process, but I'm more going to write about my general instinct on the whole thing.

We found out today that the States debate on the compulsory purchase of the headland has been delayed until the 11th December so that a valuation can take place following the housing plans being given planning permission. There is also going to be a public meeting on the 5th December.

Now that planning permission has been given, I think it's time for the Chief Minister to back down from his proposal and admit that we are getting an excellent deal from the owner of the land and we really should snap it up without causing a fuss about it.

We have two options on the table - buy the whole area and return it to nature, or let the developer build some housing on it and return some of it to nature.

Leaving it as it is, is not an option. The problem has been left unresolved for far too long and the Pontins site is an eyesore (not to mention very unsafe) that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

The second option sounds admirable at first. At a time when the population is going up, housing inevitably needs to be built, we decide to take a piece of land on the coast and safeguard it for the future to make sure that it is kept green and unspoilt. Well that sounds lovely, but then we find out how much it's going to cost and who is footing the bill. It's impossible to put an exact figure on it, but the £2.5m raised by the NTJ is only a small proportion of it and the final price could stretch into millions more than originally anticipated (I recall seeing a valuation of £8m before the planning permission was given) and it will be paid for by the taxpayer.

This at a time when there are pay freezes all around, public spending is being cut and we're in desperate need for a boost to the economy to get jobs created. The least it will cost us £6.5m, which is £6.5m more than we should be spending on it.

Alternatively, we have a proposition on the table for someone to come and knock down Pontins and build a few modest houses there and even donate a chunk of the land to go back to nature. How much will that cost the taxpayer? Nothing! The building work will even help stimulate the economy a bit.

Here's an artists impression of it* -

See, it looks great! The red lines indicate where the current Pontins building is.

Now, after what happened with Portlet you can understand why people are keen to protect areas like this from development. Portlet was a disaster and something like that must never happen again. But this is nothing like Portlet. The plans actually look quite nice. It's not exactly building Canary Wharf on it, it's like a little hamlet. And a large part of it is going to go to nature anyway.

When they say "return it to nature", well, there hasn't been any nature on that site for over 150 years from what I can gather. So, if there is going to be a bit of development on that land, at least it's somewhere that doesn't currently have any nature on it, rather than taking another part of our coast an ruining it.

My enjoyment of Plémont was never in anyway inhibited by the existence of the old Pontins site and I cannot imagine that it would be even vaguely improved by the addition of a field up there. So spending millions to do that seems logicless to me, particularly when there's a way to get some land back and build a few houses for free.

Both possible outcomes are an improvement from what is currently there, but one is very expensive and the other will cost us nothing. There are far better things the money could be used on.

Some have complained that the houses there won't be affordable for most people. Okay, maybe not (though that doesn't mean they're un-sellable), but then how does it help those that need affordable housing for the States to throw away millions of pounds that could otherwise be spent building cheaper houses, or helping first time buyers get on the ladder, or even building new social housing?

The economy is in a mess and unemployment is a huge problem at the moment, so to spend all this money on a field seems totally illogical to me. The money is much better off going into projects to help create jobs, or into wage increases for nurses and teachers etc, or a tiny part of it could go to stopping this ridiculous £500k cut to higher education funding!

But by the fact that such a fuss has been caused over this, I really do worry about what message the government (and the people of Jersey involved in things like Love Plémont) are sending out to would-be developers who are actually coming up with good ideas and, frankly, being very generous.

It's the same with the David Place/ Bath Street proposals there were a while back where some developer wanted to come in and knock down that hideous old Odeon building and the surrounding buildings to build it up into new shops/ restaurants with offices and flats above. Some bright spark somewhere decided that the Odeon was a "historically significant" building and so couldn't be knocked down, so the developer backed off. Another great opportunity wasted.

When people come up with these ideas, we should be ready to snap them up, not be incredibly ungrateful as we have this time round. This developer even wants to donate land back! I mean, how brilliant of them! Obviously not every idea is a good idea so I'm not saying let anyone come here and build something, but for stuff like this we need to adopt a totally different attitude.

Since the vote is coming up on the 11th December, I want to urge people to get in touch with their States Members just to make the case to them that spending such an excessive amount of money in this case is totally unacceptable when Jersey is in the state it's in.

That's what our States Members are for, so don't be afraid to email them. I sometimes do it myself and they're always very nice and respond pretty quickly to me (I've even had replies early on a Sunday morning or been rung up at 8 in the evening for a chat about it, so just goes to show that it's not a 9-5 job).

If Love Plémont can be as organised as they are, those on the other side of the argument need to step up and make it clear to our representatives that we will not accept such a waste of money from a government that does not have the right priorities.

Rico Sorda has done some good blogs looking at the politics behind the upcoming vote and predicting who will vote each way based on their record and based on who is the one proposing the purchase -

It's going to be particularly interesting to see how Senator Ozouf votes, given that in 2010 he made an excellent case to support his voting against a compulsory purchase of the site, and since then nothing has changed to affect his then argument.

Emails are here -


Senator Paul Francis Routier M.B.E - 
Senator Philip Francis Cyril Ozouf -
Senator Alan Breckon - 
Senator Sarah Craig Ferguson - 
Senator Alan John Henry Maclean - 
Senator Bryan Ian Le Marquand - 
Senator Francis du Heaume Le Gresley, M.B.E. - 
Senator Ian Joseph Gorst - 
Senator Lyndon John Farnham - 
Senator Sir Philip Martin Bailhache - 


Connétable Daniel Joseph Murphy - 
Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey - 

St. Brelade 

Connétable Stephen William Pallett - 
Deputy Sean Power - 
Deputy Montfort Tadier - 
Deputy John Hilary Young - 

St. Clement 

Connétable Leonard Norman - 
Deputy Gerard Clifford Lemmens Baudains - 
Deputy Susan Jane Pinel - 

St. Helier 

Connétable Alan Simon Crowcroft - 
Deputy Judith Ann Martin - 
Deputy Geoffrey Peter Southern - 
Deputy Jacqueline Ann Hilton - 
Deputy Shona Pitman - 
Deputy Trevor Mark Pitman - 
Deputy Michael Roderick Higgins - 
Deputy Andrew Kenneth Francis Green M.B.E. - 
Deputy James Patrick Gorton Baker - 
Deputy Roderick Gordon Bryans - 
Deputy Richard John Rondel - 

St. John 

Connétable Philip John Rondel - 
Deputy Patrick John Dennis Ryan - 

St. Lawrence 

Connétable Deidre Wendy Mezbourian - 
Deputy John Alexander Nicholas Le Fondré - 
Deputy Edward James Noel - 

St. Martin 

Connétable Michel Philip Sydney Le Troquer - 
Deputy Stephen George Luce - 

St. Mary 

Connétable Juliette Gallichan - 
Deputy John Michael Le Bailly - 

St. Ouen 

Connétable Michael John Paddock - 
Deputy James Gordon Reed - 

St. Peter 

Connétable John Martin Refault - 
Deputy Kristina Louise Moore - 

St. Saviour 

Connétable Sadie Anthea Rennard - 
Deputy Robert Charles Duhamel - 
Deputy Roy George Le Hérissier - 
Deputy Kevin Charles Lewis - 
Deputy Tracey Anne Vallois - 
Deputy Jeremy Martin Maçon - 


Connétable John Le Sueur Gallichan - 
Deputy Anne Enid Pryke -

* - picture is stolen from the Love Plémont facebook page.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Submission to the Electoral Commission following the publication of the interim recommendations

Here is my submission to the Electoral Commssion -

Submission to the Electoral Commission following the publication of the interim recommendations

Dear members of the Electoral Commission,

I write following the publication of your interim recommendations to convey both what I am pleased with and what I am concerned with, as well as further comments on the matters you have not fully settled on yet.

Firstly I would like to congratulate the commission on making a series of recommendations that have certainly exceeded my expectations.  Obviously I am delighted that the commission has adopted, almost word for word, the three principles that we in Reform Jersey have been arguing for. And of course, the addition of a fourth principle (“A candidate should generally require a significant number of votes in order to be elected to the Assembly”) is certainly most welcome and I agree wholeheartedly.

I find it impossible to imagine a better set of democratic principles to base reform on and the commission has to be commended for adopting them.

I particularly liked the line “With thriving debate, and greater public participation, Jersey’s government will have a better claim to be founded upon the bedrock of popular consent” which I think really gets to the whole point of what electoral reform should be about.

A “Workable Solution”

One of the solutions on the table, 42 Deputies in 6 super-constituencies (which I will call “Option 1”), is a good workable solution that I am happy to endorse. It is not what I would call an “ideologically perfect” solution; however it is clearly tailored to what will be acceptable to the public given Jersey’s history and culture and is such a significant step in the right direction that I believe it is imperative that the people of Jersey adopt it. So it could be described as “practical perfect” solution, in that it is probably the best Jersey could hope for.

I also believe that a situation where all of our States Members are elected on equal mandates, none of whom will be elected unopposed, will do immense good for the political culture of Jersey.

All one has to do is engage in a 5 minute conversation with the average person in Jersey to realise how unpopular politics is, how little trust many people have in our leaders and, most importantly, how they feel they are unable to influence their government by taking part in the current political process.

As has been shown in Guernsey with their similar styled reform, I believe the new States will lead to a greater participation from the people of Jersey because it will repair much of the voter disparity across the island, meaning for the first time in Jerseys history voters will actually be all, more or less, equal.

However, unlike Guernsey, I also hope that a political system that is equal across the whole island will make it easier for political parties to form and fight elections. This will be the next important step that Jersey would need to take to improve its democracy. But as I said in my interview with the commission, that is something that will only occur naturally through grassroots movements, so it is right that the commission does not seek to make recommendations on it.

I understand that at the commission’s public meeting in Trinity, some parishioners expressed concern at being amalgamated with St Saviour for their electoral district. I am also aware that some have expressed concerns about some districts returning Deputies that all reside in one Parish, rather than be spread across all of them. I think such concerns are unnecessary. The States of Jersey is our national parliament; it debates national issues that are the same across all parishes, so where a Deputy lives is not really of any relevance. As it stands, many Deputies are currently elected in districts that they do not live in and it does not in any way inhibit their ability to represent that district. But for the joined up Parishes, I find it very difficult to believe that someone would stand as a Deputy intending to only be a representative for their Parish. Aside from the fact that it will not be in the job description, it would be a very bad strategy electorally when they should be campaigning for votes from all of the Parishes in their districts. Any candidate that ignores a large part of their electorate is less likely to succeed.

Though I have to say that Trinity’s opposition should be most surprising given that Trinity is currently a “rotten borough” that will only be able to have elections if it is joined with other Parishes. You would have thought they would be elated at this idea. That just demonstrates the political culture in some parts of Jersey that needs to be overcome.

Some who are upset at the removal of the Senators have also been upset at what they believe is a system that offers them less of a say over the whole assembly. For some in the island, this is correct, but only because they would have been living in a constituency that had several Deputies before where they had votes for a large number of States Members. In the old system, if you lived in a Parish with a single Deputy and Constable, at each election you were offered a say over 8 of the 53 Members of the States. That works out as 15.1% of the total. Whereas, in this new Option 1, they will have a say over 7 of the 42 members, which is 16.7%. So actually for people living in those Parishes, their proportion of a say is going up. Admittedly it is going down for those in the more urban areas, but it is not right for different parts of the island to have a different level of say, so this is a sensible compromise.

Option 1 has the backing of Reform Jersey and would like to enthusiastically campaign in favour of it in the run up to the referendum, but only if a few concerns are addressed.

Minor reservations

Even though I have endorsed Option 1, and would like to campaign in favour of it, it is worth pointing out the current problems there are with it in case solutions can be found to them before the final report.

The commission’s research by Professors Ron Johnston and Iain McLean outlined the percentages of deviation from the average number of voters per States Member in each constituency. Here is what I have worked out is the case for the new districts in Option 1 -

No. of eligible voters[1]
Option 1 – No. of voters per Deputy
Deviation from average
St Helier No. 1
St Helier No. 2
St Clement, Grouville, St Martin
St Saviour, Trinity
St Lawrence, St John, St Mary, St Ouen
St Brelade, St Peter
Total/ average

From this you can see that only one constituency goes outside of +/- 10% from the average, and that is the 5th district. This is obviously not desirable, however in the current system 8 of the 12 parishes are outside of the +/- 10% deviation, so this is a huge improvement. But it has to be said that changes in population are likely to only make this worse over time.

The difference between the largest and smallest constituencies is only 22.49% of the average population, whereas in the current system it is 95.5%. Again, a huge improvement.

I suggested in my original submission that the best way to ensure no voter disparity would be to have an independent boundary commission establish borders based solely on population, and could more easily alter them if the demography changes. I still maintain that this would be a better way of doing it, but a system that is based on the parishes like you have suggested is probably one that will be much easier to win in a public referendum.

One relatively minor point I might make is that perhaps the new members should not be called Deputies. Simply because they are not Deputies as they currently are. You have specifically (and rightly in my opinion) aimed to create a hybrid of the qualities of the current Senators and Deputies to make them better equipped to act in a national parliament. Some people are not fond of the Deputies as they are (for reasons like their small electorates or that they might spend much of their time only pushing for their particular constituents interests in their areas), so may find it hard to accept a States made up of just “Deputies” given the connotations that word may have to them.

Referendum v Referendums

I have real concerns with the commission’s suggestion of a referendum on the Constables both on issues of principle and practicality.

The public are not often offered a referendum for the simple reasons that they are incredibly difficult to get right and are not always the most democratic option. All one has to do is look at Scotland’s debate on independence where the SNP administration and coalition government had to wrangle to come up with an agreement on the terms of the referendum. They had to argue over how many questions there could be, when it would be held, who could vote in it etc.

There is an art to getting a referendum right. The best way to do it is for there to be one simple yes or no question on a straightforward issue. This is the only way to ensure an unambiguous answer that clearly shows a public endorsement. It is also important that there is no possible justification for a legal challenge to the answer. I therefore strongly recommend that the commission should only recommend one referendum.

A referendum with more than one question is far more difficult to get a clear endorsement that does not leave it open to room for interpretation. When there are two questions, if both are only won by a small margin, it will be very difficult to say that the public clearly believe in one thing over another.

But, most importantly, how can the public vote to endorse your recommendations when they do not actually know which of the two options they are being asked to endorse? Their vote in one question may be dependent on the result in the other question.

I asked at the St Helier meeting for clarification and was told that the first question would be asking to endorse the commission’s recommendations, then the second would be whether the Constables should be a part of that or not.

As I have said, I would like to vote for Option 1. But I do not like Option 2. In fact I think it is worse than what we currently have. So I will vote in favour of the recommendations, and then against the Constables. But if that second vote is lost, I will then have inadvertently voted for Option 2 by my yes vote to the first question, even though I absolutely do not endorse Option 2. I would have rather had voted against the recommendations than accidentally voted for them.

I, and possibly many others, will then be part of a statistic that is used to justify the changes, when I do not support them whatsoever. This situation is completely unacceptable.

It also means that people will be going into the polling station working out the chances in their heads and deciding on how to vote tactically. If in the days leading up to the vote polls show that the public are likely to vote for keeping the Constables, I am going to have to vote against the entire reform package, even though I do actually support one of the reform packages.

Two votes mean people are going to have to vote with their heads rather than their hearts. Fewer people are going to go in voting for what they actually want.

The only possible way that some of this may be avoided would be to have one question, but with 3 options (Option 1, Option 2 and the status quo). However, in that situation it must be imperative that it is done with a first and second preference vote, so that if no option receives 50%, the second preferences can be taken into account.

At the public meetings I attended, Senator Farnham and several others were irate at there being no referendum on the Senators as well. I do not feel that the commission made the point well enough that the new Deputies are intentionally designed to have all the qualities of the current Senators that made the public so fond of them (which is also why the name “Deputy” does not help). But it must also be known that referenda on the minutia of reform will only lead to a package that is incoherent and not led by an overriding thought out context. It will just be a conglomeration of various views trying to make everyone happy but inevitably leaving no one happy.

If the referendum process is flawed, as it is currently being set up to be, I will vote against the entire reform package because I do not want my vote to stand any chance of being used to back up a new system that I believe is less democratic than the current system.

Is a referendum democratic?

The practical problems with having two referendums are obvious, and in my opinion should be enough to deter you from having two referendums. However there are also the issues of principle behind it.

The worst part of a referendum is that it accepts the principle that issues should be decided by the majority. That is not democracy. Democracy is about much broader principles than just doing what 51% of people want.  It is about inclusion, freedom and choice. Having a referendum on a specific constitutional amendment can make sense, but some issues are not democratic just because they have been endorsed by a majority in a public vote. A system worked on just doing what the majority want is not a democracy; it is a dictatorship of the majority. A vote to endorse something that is undemocratic does not make it democratic.

For example, if the public voted to disenfranchise left-handed people, that would not be accepted because it is not compatible with our wider democratic principles of equality and choice, despite being endorsed by the majority. I would wager that if a public vote was held on reinstating the death penalty it would probably be won. But we do not accept it because it is not a democratic practice for the state to be able to have the power to end the lives of its citizens.

Voting to keep the Constables in the States is not democratic because it creates an arbitrary rule that all Parishes must send their Constable to the States and leaves no room for choice on the matter. If 5 out of 12 Parishes decide that they do not want their Constable in the States, why should they be forced to just because the other 7 Parishes do want theirs? The Constable and Parish administration is only the business of their parishioners and it should not be the business of any other parish, or the island as a whole to tell them that their Constable must be in the States.

The only democratic way around this is to accept that no Constable should be automatically in the States and that if a parish wants their Constable in the States, they can nominate him or her to stand as a Deputy and they can be elected through that manner. That way everyone has a choice and it completely does away with all of the current undemocratic elements.

Those that argue that the Constables should remain automatic members of the States often defend this position by praising the Constables wisdom and experience and the role in general. But it has to be said that this must be a totally disingenuous argument, because if an individual happens to possess all of those qualities, why would they be so fearful of them having to face another election? If it is widely accepted that the individual would be an asset to the States, they will easily win an election. There is no need to fix it so they are automatically in the States.

The real reason they make this argument must be because they are worried they would not otherwise get in. Such reasoning is from an undemocratic way of thinking.

A peculiar “Option 2” of 30 Deputies and 12 Constables

To put it bluntly, Option 2 does not make sense. It is clearly just a compromise to avoid the politically difficult (but necessary) decision to end the automatic right of the Constables to be in the States.

In the commission’s interim report it laid out four principles that it said were fundamental to reform, yet you have recommended the possibility of an Option 2 which is simply incompatible with those principles.

The commission says that “all electors should have the same number of votes” yet many Constable elections end up being uncontested. So those in Parishes with an uncontested election will have 5 votes, yet the rest will have 6. In Option 1 all elections will be contested and everyone will have 7 votes.

The commission says that “Constituencies should as far as possible be of broadly equal size” yet this is obviously not the case if the Constables are kept as each Parish has a very different population. In Option 1, all constituencies have a similar population.

The commission says that “a candidate should generally require a significant number of votes in order to be elected to the Assembly” yet some Parishes have very small populations, so even in the unlikely event the elections are contested, they will still barely get any votes. In Option 1 all candidates will likely receive a large number of votes (especially if the commission also recommends the STV voting system).

The commission says that “the electoral system should be simple, fair and easy to understand” yet this option will mean two types of States Member with different jobs and different mandates. Option 1 is far simpler.

Option 2 is totally incompatible with every single one of the commission’s principles.

But worse than this, even the commission has admitted that Option 2 is actually less democratic than the system we currently have. All it does is perpetuate the current overrepresentation of the country Parishes at the expense of the urban ones. It really is strange for the commission to have left an option on the table that is a backwards step in Jerseys democracy. If there was to be an Option 2, the commission should have come up with a completely different arrangement that kept the Constables but was not as undemocratic as what you are actually suggesting.

Under the current system, St Helier has 11 representatives and the District 5 Parishes have 9. This will remain exactly the same under Option 2. It also means that St Helier as a whole will only have 2 more representatives than District 5, despite having twice the population. Since the current systems biggest fault is the unevenness of representation, a new system that does not even come close to addressing that is doomed to failure and will only result in another 10 years of debate on reform.

As with Option 1, I have worked out how the Option 2 constituencies vary in their representation -

No of eligible voters
Option 1 – No. of voters per Deputy
Deviation from average
Option 2 - No. of voters per D + C
Deviation from average
St Helier No. 1
St Helier No. 2
St Clement, Grouville, St Martin
St Saviour, Trinity
St Lawrence, St John, St Mary, St Ouen
St Brelade, St Peter
Total/ average

As is obvious from this chart, Option 2 is far less democratic than Option 1 and still leaves each district with a disproportionate and unequal level of representation.

But just looking at the Constables constituencies on their own –

Eligible voters[2]
% Deviation from average
St Mary
St John
St Martin
St Ouen
St Peter
St Lawrence
St Clement
St Brelade
St Saviour
St Helier
61,891 – average - 5158

In the Parish constituencies, not a single constituency falls into the -/+10% area. In the 21st century, this as an arrangement of constituencies in a national parliament is totally unacceptable by any democratic standards and it just simply cannot be used as the mechanism by which Constables are put into the States. The only way that the Constables can be in the States in a democratic way is to have them stand as Deputies with the rest of the candidates in the Option 1 districts.

This Option 2 does not even come close to addressing any of the problems that this commission was set up to solve. I therefore urge the commission to either ditch it, or have a serious rethink on it and come up with an Option 2 that looks very different to this one and does something to address the issues with representation. Perhaps each super constituency could have 7 Deputies, minus the number of Constables that that district has. So District 5 would have 3 Deputies, each St Helier district would have 7 etc. That way each constituency would have the same number of representatives.

Further Issues

On whether Jersey should have an STV type of voting system, I will not repeat the arguments because they are well rehearsed. But I will say that the First Past the Post System is acknowledged in most democracies across the world to be inadequate and I think Jersey should not lag behind and be at the forefront instead. Form Senator Pierre Horsfall made a good case for STV in his submission and I endorse it.

The only thing to balance that with is whether it would make the reforms too radical that it would make it harder to win it in the referendum. I would hope that STV would be uncontroversial, but it’s always hard to tell in Jersey.

On an upper chamber, if the commission believes there are an appropriate number of members in the reformed chamber, then why would there be a need for an upper chamber? It seems to me to be a waste of time.


A brief summary of my points are as follows –

  1. Option 1 fits the democratic principles of reform almost perfectly and is capable of being won in a referendum.
  2. Option 2 does not fit any of the democratic principles and its mere existence creates a flawed referendum process.
  3. STV should be adopted.
  4.  An upper chamber is unnecessary

I thank the commission for the opportunities I have had to speak at several public meetings and submit this analysis of the report to them. I hope you have found it useful and I am happy to be contacted for any discussion on the points I have made if you seek clarification.

Many thanks,
Samuel Mézec

[1] I used the same figures used on the interim reports chart for this calculation.
[2] For this calculation I used the same figures used in the charts in Professors Johnston and McLeans report, Table 2.2, which appear to be different to those used in your report.