Saturday, 29 December 2012
2013 - A Year for Campaigning
Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all reading this. The past year has been a mixed one for myself personally, but one of the most positive parts of it has been the feedback I've gotten from readers of this blog and those that support the aims of Reform Jersey.
Politically, the year has not been what it was hoped it would be at the start of the year. After last years election and Senator Gorst becoming Chief Minister, plus the prospect of an independent Electoral Commission beginning it's work, many (including myself) thought we were seeing the beginning of a time where politics became less petty, people worked together more sensibly and real progress could be made in Jersey. None of this has come to be. The divisions that existed before the election have been exacerbated, not calmed. It's business as usual and the States has not improved it's image amongst the public one iota. The old popular cynicism will only have become deeper entrenched by this.
Jerseys political culture needs a real kick up the backside to kickstart a transition to a society in which we can have serious debates and discussions, based on ideas rather than personalities, and where people are actually encouraged to participate and we can breed a culture of activism where ordinary people are empowered.
With any luck, this next year will be a politically unique one for Jersey. If all goes as it is supposed to, we will have our first proper referendum (not including the CET referendum in 2008, which doesn't really count). If all parties treat it with the seriousness it deserves, this should be something that we in Jersey have not experienced before, outside of the usual parameters of an election.
The people of Jersey will be given the choice over whether we democratise our electoral system or whether we continue to have an archaic and undemocratic system. To most in the democratic world, the answer to such a question is blindingly obvious, but, alas, this is Jersey, the battle will not be easily won.
I have been told that we should expect the final recommendations of the Electoral Commission to be published on the 11th January. From then, presumably the Privileges and Procedures Committee will need to work out the practicalities, the date, the question etc. It will be our job to help facilitate that process, insofar as the public can do with lobbying. When we know for definite what shape the referendum will take, it will be the time to start a proper campaign. We will have to divide into different sides, which will inevitably be coalitions across the usual divides, and have a public debate and campaign the likes of which has not been seen in Jersey before. It will be an opportunity for people to get involved who wouldn't in an election (simply because it's about putting yourself on a platform for a job at the end, rather than a principle) to knock on doors, hand out leaflets, get discussing etc.
The role of bloggers and the media will also be something interesting to observe throughout all of this. The BBC and Channel TV have so far done a very good job of covering the works of the Electoral Commission and giving equal airtime to people with different views on reform. The Tom Gruchy blog has also done an excellent job of gathering political people for interviews on reform and gain perspectives from various different sides. I'm optimistic that they will carry on playing the role they should and host proper debates in the campaign. What I hope is that they will realise how important an event this will be for Jersey and will afford it the priority in coverage that it deserves. If people witness a proper campaign and public debates, with a media properly facilitating it, it will have an impact on how future campaigns work and how people expect elections to function. If it is done properly, it has the potential to be a model and set a precedent for future elections and debates in Jersey.
The JEP will inevitably be partisan in their coverage and editorial line on what side they take. They have already made it clear with their opinion columns where they stand. If that is a taste of what is to come from the paper in this campaign, then we must brace ourselves for their every attempt to poison what has the potential to be a good episode in Jerseys political history.
The first report from the Electoral Commission argued that there should be two referendum questions. The first would ask the voters to approve the reformation of the composition of the States. The second would be to then ask if the Constables should be a part of that new States. The case for such a procedure has been intellectually trashed, not just by myself but by many others who wrote to the commission to point out how such an idea is flawed.
My guess is that the only way that it is possible to proceed with a way of reforming the States but retaining the Constables is by asking a single question, but with three possible answers, and letting voters rank their preferences in order, rather than ticking a single box. That isn't my preferred solution, but I'm fairly sure that is what they will propose.
What remains to be seen is whether they will go as far as to recommend an upper chamber or the STV voting system. I would find it funny to see them reject the idea of STV, but then propose a referendum that uses a weighted voting system to get the most accurate result.
So the challenge for myself and those on the same philosophical page as me this year is to snatch up this opportunity with this referendum to get active, encourage others to join us and create an organised campaign that shows what democracy is all about.
All of this, tied in with the fact that Jersey now has a new commemorated day of celebration in the form of Jersey Reform Day, hopefully this new day will be utilised properly to engage with people to understand what the 28th September 1769 was all about and galvanise people in at least a small way to understand that what will lead to improvements in Jersey is the mass participation of ordinary people.
Alongside all of this, we also have the looming spectre of unrest from public sector workers and the bus drivers. I've made my views clear that I support ordinary people taking action if they are being treated unreasonably. The bus drivers were purposely misled so that changes to their terms and conditions could be imposed and any strike would be futile (as this next one in the coming days regrettably is). Public sector workers have not been properly negotiated with and any imposition of a pay deal is not the right way to go about it.
A few days before Christmas I had a drink with an old friend from primary school who now works in the public sector and had checked his bank balance the other day only to find that his 1% consolidated pay had already been given to him, despite the fact that he never agreed to it. He is naturally very uncomfortable about this, because the condition for the pay rise on the 3rd year is accepting "modernisation of the terms and conditions" (read as - "reduction in standard of terms and conditions") which he knows nothing about.
How all of this fits in with what I mentioned before about public involvement in politics, I don't know. I fear it might not be positive in the way that the electoral reform campaign can be. I just hope the unions can put forward a positive case for their actions and I'll do what I can to help.
Having seen what the bus drivers have gone through, the scrap metal workers and also others I know who are working for companies that are being sold, it is clear that Jerseys employment protection laws are totally inadequate and Jersey desperately needs a TUPE law like the UK has. Maybe that can be a campaign for the unions to do that can be their equivalent of the electoral reform campaign.
Anyway, it's not quite 2013 yet, so a couple of days of relaxing until getting stuck in to a new year of progressive politics! Have a great new year!