Sunday, 10 March 2013

Option A and the Parishes



Whilst we have yet to see the official campaign groups for Options B and C unveil themselves, there are a few hints that things are being worked on behind the scenes for some sort of announcement shortly.

Already the chairman of the Comité des Connétables John Gallichan has written to the JEP to warn us of the impending apocalypse should Jersey enter the 21st Century and adopt a fair electoral system. I don't have access to this full letter (being in the UK and all) but have seen the summary article on the JEP website, which I will try to address.

This also follows a few bloggers cropping up to make the case for keeping the link between the Parishes and the States.

Tony Bellows has this posting - http://tonymusings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/option-weakens-parish-system.html

A new blog by an anonymous called "Parish Advocate" has started up too - http://parishadvocate.blogspot.co.uk/

I regret the hint in Tony's blog that somehow us in the Option A camp are being disingenuous, and I regret the choice of name for the latter blog, because I believe that most of us in Option A are the real "Parish advocates". Part of why I support Option A is because I see the end of the undemocratic link between the Parishes and States as the perfect opportunity for the Parishes to initiate a program of reinvigoration to make our Parishes better. Option B means "business as usual", a vindication for their continued distraction by States work whilst the Parishes continue to decline. That is not something I want to see, and I think those that support Option B are misguided for thinking their option will benefit the Parish system.

Perhaps the most disappointing line in Tony's blog was this - "And how many Option A supporters do support the Parish by taking on honorary positions in the Parish, or standing for election for those?"

Actually Tony, lots. I won't divulge our membership list, but there are several people working in the A-Team who have been heavily involved in their Parishes. In fact, you might have noticed that one of our key supporters is Constable Crowcroft, who holds perhaps the most important and onerous honorary position in the island (given the population and the fact that St Helier is the capital).

I'm sure there are people in the Option A side that don't agree with me and want to see the end of the Parish system, but then I hope those in the Option B camp will admit that there are those on their side who also don't give a damn about the Parish system either, they just want to see St Helier under-represented because of their (incorrect) perception that that is where all the left-wing trouble makers get elected. The disingenuous in the Option B camp are far more malign than those on our side.

Tony poses three questions - "Why don't they come out and say that (1) it will weaken the Parish system (2) that is no bad thing, because that's a feudal legacy that we no longer need (3) Guernsey States manages well without it and has done so for many years."

So I'll take them each in turn.


1. It will weaken the Parish system.

Quick answer - because we don't believe it will. In fact the opposite.

The idea that somehow the Parish system will be weakened by the Constables having more free time to dedicate to their Parishes I think will strike most thinking and logical people as perplexing. That alongside with what the Electoral Commission recommends in their report, that all States Members must see their primary role as being in the States, not anywhere else. To make running the Parish a secondary job, rather than a primary one as it currently stands, is certain to weaken the position.

The reason the Parish system will survive is because there is merit in the system. It seems contradictory that those that support Option B feel that the system can only survive on life-support from the States. Oh ye of little faith! If the Parish system is so wonderful and obviously beneficial to the island, why do you think it can only continue if we keep the Island administration undemocratic?

I suggest that if the Constables remain automatically in the States, their position will inevitably become one that people will hold more and more disdain for. Those in the parts of the island that will be under-represented (that's 33,000 people in St Helier) will see a States that is making decisions that are not representative of the island (because the States will be skewed to the country Parishes interests worse than it already is) and that will be purely the fault of the Constables (whereas now, you can equally blame the Deputies). I suspect after a few years people will get really fed up of it when they see a States even further from the people than it currently is, and one which may be struggling to function at a minimum level because of 12 members being pre-occupied with another job.

A Constable who is elected to the States on a separate and equal mandate to all other States Members will be legitimate. Option B increases their illegitimacy, and how someone could think that is a good thing for our Parish system is beyond me.

If the Constables remain automatically in the States under Option B, we will see more, not less, uncontested elections. Those wanting to become politicians would not choose the route of being a Constable, when there is another election in which they can come 5th and still get a job, plus being a Constable would mean taking on a greater workload than it currently does. And those that might want to be a Constable would be put off by the fact that they will be expected to spend more time on States duties. We don't want to be putting people off from standing for Parish roles, we want to be encouraging them! If being in the States is optional, more people will come forward to be Constables and the public will then have the choice of whether they can be in the States or not.

Constable Crowcroft says - "To those who fear the collapse of Jersey's parish system if Option A is successful, I would say that 11 years in post has convinced me of the robustness and resilience of the parish system. Whether 1 or 12 of the parish constables are also elected as States Deputies (under Option A) Jersey's parish system with its unique living tradition of Honorary Police, sworn officers dealing with rates, roads etc., will in my opinion continue to prosper."

I see no reason to doubt him, and certainly no reason to question his sincerity.

I've said in a previous blog that the idea that there would be people thinking they'd like to volunteer for their Parishes Battle of Flowers float, or become an honorary, or stand for the Miss St Saviour or whatever, but think "oh, what's the point? My Constable isn't in the States!" seems so unlikely to me.

Mike Dun (who is backing Option A) wrote a good submission to the Electoral Commission in which he outlined a vision of a Parish system and Comité des Connétables that was more accountable, more involved and more interactive. This is what we should aspire to, and I suggest that it will be far easier under Option A, not Option B.

Some have said that not being in the States would reduce the Constables access to ministers that is vital for some Parish issues (because apparently outside of the States it would be beyond them to pick up the phone and arrange a meeting). But at present, the chairman of the Comité des Connétables sits in on all Council of Ministers meetings. Just because the Constables wouldn't be automatically in the States doesn't mean that practice could not continue where concerns and suggestions could be relayed through that forum, or even having joint meetings of the entire Council and Comité for certain discussions. The possibilities are endless, but it seems as though those favouring Option B aren't feeling imaginative.

Senator Gorst was asked in the States a few weeks ago whether he would allow that practice to continue if the Constables were not in the States. Disgracefully, he just bluntly refused to answer the question (further showing contempt for the whole practice of questions that I referenced a few posts ago). This sort of disengagement is what we have to overcome.

Option B is business as usual, Option A is the kick up the arse that the Parishes need.


2. That is no bad thing, because that's a feudal legacy that we no longer need.

The legacy of people being indirectly members of a legislature, despite their hugely varied electorates is pretty feudal and I'm interested to hear an argument in favour of that feudalism. Losing that would certainly be no bad thing.

But the Parishes themselves are not a feudal legacy and I hope no one on the Option A side would make such a silly point. Having a local administration is an effective and cost efficient way of delivering services at the lowest level possible to the people. How could anyone argue against that? They have it in the UK and it's incredibly important. Elected councillors elections are almost never uncontested and the role is unpaid. But the heads of their local authorities are not automatically MP's too. Why not? Because frankly it's an absurd idea and is met with a pretty derisory response when I put it to my friends here as an idea.

I heard somewhere recently that the honorary police make up around half of the islands total police force. How fantastic is that? People in the community wanting to give something back in the form of their time and service doing an essential job. It's wonderful. Imagine if we lost it. How many professional police officers would need to be hired to make up the service lost, and how much would that cost? That would certainly be a bad thing for the island.

Recently St Peter could not find someone for Centenier and came close to receiving a heavy fine. This despite the fact that their Constable is in the States. Some help it was. Had they not been in the States, perhaps their efforts could have been better focused on a recruitment drive.


3. Guernsey States manages well without it and has done so for many years.

Sorry, but Jersey is not Guernsey and Guernsey is not Jersey.

Guernsey's Parish system has historically always been far weaker than Jersey's, even when they did have the arbitrary and undemocratic link to the States (which they were smart enough to get rid of, without the need for a referendum). They don't have honorary policing for example. They don't have that long standing tradition of honorary service that we do, and I pity them for it. They are missing out. We have a totally different and much stronger starting point.

One thing that Guernsey does right is that it has an electoral system that makes all islanders equal. As an unsurprising result, they have far greater rates of political participation than we do. Of those registered in Jersey, only 36% of them bother to vote, whereas in Guernsey it's 70%. To not want to copy that, would be insane.

In fact, Guernsey's Chief Minister Deputy Peter Harwood is actually an elected Douzenier (a Parish official). Politically, it would be incredibly difficult for a Constable to become Chief Minister in Jersey because of their mandate. But in Guernsey it's not a problem, because they hold two mandates concurrently but separately. They can legitimately take both Parish and States roles, both democratically and only if they want and are capable of doing both.


Parish Representation

Now onto Constable Gallichans letter. He says that under Option A, we would lose Parish representation and those Constables elected as Deputies would not be representing their Parishes in the States.

Well, to a degree that is only true in so far as single Parishes having single dedicated representatives. But this is actually a good thing, as I'll explain. And no, they wouldn't be representing their Parishes, but you wouldn't want them to anyway, you'd want them to represent their constituents. That is sort of the point of a politician.

The States of Jersey is the islands national parliament. They decide issues that transcend the Parish boundaries, and therefore, individual Parish representation is therefore totally unnecessary. There is nothing about taxation, education policy, immigration etc that solutions can only be provided with a Parish perspective. Only an island perspective is necessary, and the point of these super-constituencies, is to push candidates into focusing on more island issues than local at election time, and rightly so.

So, that type of Parish representation is not important for central government, but in so far as Parishioners having representatives, Option A actually provides them with more representatives, it's just that they share them with other Parishes too.

As it stands, even when the States is deciding an issue that is particular to one particular Parish, most of Jersey's 12 Parishes are totally helpless to defend themselves in the States. Most of Jersey's Parishes have only two representatives in the States, one Deputy and one Constable. But under Option A, each Parish will have the ability to call upon 7 Deputies. That's 5 more States Members than Grouville, St Marin, St John, St Ouen, St Mary, Trinity and St Peter can currently call upon.

The Electoral Commission has specifically recommended that the law is changed to allow Deputies to attend the Parish Assemblies of all the Parishes in their district, not just the one they live in. So if one Parish has an issue, they can call upon more Deputies to fight their corner than they currently can now. That goes for every single one of the Parishes.

In fact in some districts, it's likely that several of the Deputies could also be Constables of other Parishes, meaning at Parish Assemblies they could have the expertise of other Parish administrations to bring ideas forward directly.

Surely everyone is a winner in this circumstance?


The Numbers

The final and most important point is the numbers.

As my recent post shows, Option B is statistically worse than what we currently have, in terms of providing islanders with adequate representation in the States.

District 5 (St Ouen, St Mary, St John and St Lawrence) and District 3 (St Clement, Grouville and St Martin) have a combined electorate of 25,110 and will have 17 States Members in total. Whereas St Helier will have a slightly greater electorate of 26,860 but only 11 States Members. How can that be fair? How can that be rational? How can that possibly endear people in St Helier to a Parish system which will be to blame for their inadequate representation?

I have asked several times of the supporters of Option B to give me an explanation as to why it is that the country areas deserve to have more representation per person than those in the urban areas, and not one them will even acknowledge such a request. Why? Because they have no answer whatsoever. There is no logical and democratic argument for giving one group of people votes that are worth more than another in an island as small as Jersey. None at all.

Nick Le Cornu did a very interesting blog post looking at a petition to the Privy Council in 1886. In those days, St Helier had over half of the population of Jersey (more than the other 11 Parishes combined), yet had only 5 out of 38 States Members. The petition for fair representation was rejected.

We are 127 years later, and the battle for fair representation for St Helier is still being fought and will continue to be fought for another 127 years and another and another, until democracy wins the day. A victory for Option B will not be the end, the marginalised will not be silenced.


And finally on the money. Well the "Parish Advocate" has worked out some costs of taking the Cosntables out of the States, and whilst I don't know if the figures are accurate, I make one simple point - if democracy costs money, then it is worth it. I really don't think the people of St Helier can have their under-representation sold to them on the basis of "it's cheaper not to give you full democratic rights".

And anyway, having to defend a case in the European Court on Human Rights for having a non-compliant electoral system will cost us a pretty penny!

Again, I've asked supporters of Option B to explain to me why I am wrong and how Option B is in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, and I've been met with the most pathetic of responses of "Errr, it just is." No articles, no precedents, no clue. Go figure.


The A-Team

The official coalition for Option A is now meeting very regularly and formulating our campaign. The key themes are - Democracy, reinvigorating the Parishes and increasing voter participation.

If you are wanting to get involved or offer whatever help you can, you can send me a message and I'll help you out, or you can contact the groups secretary Christine Vibert at christine@theATeam.org.je or call her on 07797 732558.

You can like us on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/theAteamJersey
Follow us on Twitter - https://twitter.com/TheATeamJersey

And spread the word!



Option A - Toujours en avant!


Sam

8 comments:

  1. A very good post! Well written, and well argued.

    Lots to think about. From by soundings to date though, I'd say that a lot of people don't want any of the options and may well just not vote because it is such a shambles. Look out for my blog posting coming up on Option C.

    I will also be addressing the fact that the end results may simply not be capable of any rational interpretation.

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    Replies
    1. I suspect you may well be right. Which is one reason why it's so important for as many people to vote as possible.

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  2. There is much valuable information to be gained from Guernsey politicians about the Jersey system of government.
    I have now posted interviews with St Peter Port Constable Dennis Le Moignan snd (Parish) Douzainier and (States) Deputy Lester Queripel on Tom Gruchy - You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/user/tomgruchy/featured.) together with another interview with Deputy John Gollop.
    Eventually I will post these on the tomgruchy blog but in the meantime anybody is welcome to view or re-post them on their own Channel Islands' blogs.

    John Gollop was featured previously but now comments specifically about some of the observations of his colleagues besides many other issues. His knowledge of political matters throughout the Channel Islands is truly remarkable and he expresses this with extraordinary skill. Anybody interested in current electoral reform issues is urged to watch these videos ...

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  3. Dear Sam,

    Let's face it, it's a crap shoot, this whole matter has been 'typically' engineered to make sure the 'power' remains where it is, if you don't vote the 'followers' of the annointed ones will and the end result will be as required, if you do vote for B & C it is 'business as usual'. So what does one do? well I personally have always felt and still do (despite what Mr. Gallichan says) that the Constables role is his/her Parish and not a defacto, paid, position in the States, for far too long we have seen the collective power of the '12' put to misuse or to be more presise selfuse. The time has well and truly come to end this incredibly un-democratic farce, so I will be voting Option .A. and ONLY Option .A....do NOT put a secondary vote option, this will for sure be obused. CONSTABLES OUT...FULL STOP!

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    1. Anonymous, I think we have to be more positive about it.

      As you say, it is absolutely vital that the Constables cease to be States Members, because it's totally undemocratic. But the more negative we are about Option A, the less likely others will feel motivated to vote for it. The Option B side is going to say how wonderful Option B is and that will motivate people. If they see an Option A side who is arguing and it's the "least worst" option, they won't feel as obliged to join us.

      As for second preference, as far as I'm concerned, Option B is Game Over, but Option C could mean back to the drawing board, so I'm putting that number 2 next to Option C.

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  4. Sam, you may be interested in the opinion of an ex-deputy in Guernsey, his column in today's Guernsey Press "Roffey writes" page 21.

    Extract:

    "The first was the loss of douzaine representatives from the States. This had to happen. Indirectly elected politicians being advised over how they should vote in the States by douzaine meetings held behind closed doors were just too undemocratic for the latter part of the 20th century"

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  5. Replies
    1. Thanks anonymous. Didn't realise this blog existed. Will add it to my blog list.

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