On the 18th January the Jersey Evening Post published a letter from a former States Member in Guernsey, appealing to us not to end our system of an island-wide mandate. It can be read here.
Well, the appeal was just a part of the letter. Much of the rest was an ill informed attack against the fact we are not being offered an option of change that includes keeping the Senators, as that is "an anti-democratic farce".
This of course forgets the fact that the people of Jersey have every democratic right to vote against any reform and to keep the Senators that way. And also that there has been an incredibly comprehensive public consultation exercise and lots of money spent on expert reports. So it cannot be said that anything is being forced onto the people of Jersey against their will.
I've written a response to his letter to the JEP, so hopefully that will be published, but regardless it is produced below.
I am currently working on a comprehensive post on the Electoral Commissions final report and the upcoming referendum which should be up in a few days.
I write following the letter (18th January) from Mr Tony Webber from Guernsey. It is always good to hear from our sister island and learn from both what they do well and what they do badly. But the former Conseiller makes a couple of bad points and from a non-Jersey context.
That context is that Guernseys electoral system is infinitely better than Jerseys current system, in that it provides for almost total equality across the island meaning their States is much more representative of the island than the States of Jersey is. We have an option in the referendum (Option A) that essentially just copies it (though is better because it has STV and all constituencies have the same number of reps). With any luck, when given the chance, the people of Jersey will enthusiastically choose that system.
In an ideal world, all of our States Members would be elected by the whole island, but Mr Webber can’t tell us to keep the Senators without telling us HOW we do it. It is just impossible for 42 members to be elected on one ballot paper. It works well in Gibraltar where they have only 15 MPs and (crucially) party politics. But Jersey and Guernsey are too big for it to work well and we don’t have parties. It’s just not possible.
He uses rhetoric about an “anti-democratic farce”, but he is just being over the top and illogical. All people having the right to vote for all members is not a key component of democracy. The vast majority of countries do not have such a system, the only ones that do, are much smaller than Jersey. The key components of democracy are principles like “equality”. It is entirely possible to have a democratic system that embraces equality wholeheartedly, without an island wide mandate. In fact we have one, it’s called Option A.
We have had an extensive public consultation and thousands of pounds have been spent on expert reports, but no system could be suggested to enable all islanders to elect all members. Further to that, there is no way that having a 2-tier membership enhances the system. Senators are not “senior” to the other States Members, they are all equal when they walk through the door, so they should all be equal in terms of their mandates too.
However, the former Conseillers points on the Constables (or Douzaine reps) are different to his comments on the Senators. Because whilst the island-wide mandate is not a key component of democracy, equal representation is, and having Parish reps in the States makes it impossible to have equal representation, so it is right to unequivocally say that they should not be in the States. What he says about Guernsey not feeling their loss I suspect will inevitably come to be true in Jersey.
But it is disingenuous to say that an absence of an option retaining the Senators is undemocratic for the simple reason that there IS an option. It is Option C for no change. At the end of the day, if the people of Jersey are adamant they want to keep the Senators, they can vote for Option C. It’s as simple as that.