Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Young Guns That Aren't For Hire - The Patronising B-Team

On Friday morning the Option B side officially revealed itself with their front-man former Senator Shenton as the lead spokesperson.

Obviously I'm biased, but I thought the announcement was very anti-climactic. Ben Shenton on BBC Radio Jersey did not seem well prepared and made several mistakes that he must make sure he corrects or face being taken to task by the Option A campaigners who (okay, now I'm really biased) have been demonstrated to have a better grasp with the facts.

He claimed that under Option A some Parishes would end up with none of the Deputies from their district living in their Parish and therefore unable to attend their Parish Assemblies.

This is 100% false. Page 41 of the Electoral Commissions final report outlines their 3rd subsidiary recommendation which is to change the law and allow the Deputies to attend all Parish Assemblies of all Parishes in their district. So actually, the Parishes that now only get one Deputy to turn up to a Parish Assembly, will get seven Deputies to turn up instead. I call that an improvement.

One has to wonder if Shenton has even read the whole report, for making such a school-boy error like that.

He also said that Option A was "awful" (clearly going for some uncreative alliteration there, shame it doesn't stack up with the facts though), because it would lead to having 54 paid politicians. There is no basis for this whatsoever, because most (maybe even all) Constables can be elected as Deputies too, so he is assuming that none of them will be elected (shows how he has no faith in the talent of the Constables). He is also assuming that Parishioners will vote to remunerate the Constables from the Parish finances. That's quite an assumption to assume the Jerseymen and women (renown for always keeping their eyes on the money) would let something like that slip past them. The beauty of Parish Assemblies is that the public in each Parish can make up their own mind and it can be tailored for the requirements for each Parish.

So not the best of arguments there, if he doesn't want to trust ordinary islanders to make the right democratic decision on payment for Constables.

I very much look forward to standing on a platform with him and taking his argument apart bit by bit!

One such other Option B supporter that I hope gets as active in that campaign as possible, is of course the former Senator Terry Le Main.

Le Main wrote to the JEP this rather fantastic letter that is essential reading on why to vote for Option A -


On another forum, Terry Le Main was less diplomatic where he said something along the lines of "Option B is the best because it keeps all the lunatic left-wingers out". I pointed out to him that was a pretty fascist line of argument, to have him rather ironically accuse me of being insulting! Got to laugh at such a complaint right after he had accused left-wingers of being lunatics. (I plead guilty to being left-wing, but whether I am a lunatic or not is pending further clinical assessment).

So lets dissect his letter bit by bit -

"During my long time as a States Member, and especially as Housing president/Minister for 11 years, it was so important in my role to have a very close working relationship with the Constables, either individually or through their committee.

I well know other politicians continue to work with the Constables, especially on individual and personal matters relating to parishioners and, of course, social policy, especially housing their parishioners, either the first-time buyer and now, increasingly, the urgent need to house the elderly in their home parishes alongside their families and friends

Absolutely, and there is nothing to say this won't continue under Option A. In fact it is my opinion that the relationship between the Constables and the Ministers could flourish, so long as the opportunity is seized.

For a start, lots of Constables will be elected Deputies and still in the States anyway. But those that aren't can take a more active role in developing the Comité des Connétables which is currently very under-utilised.

"Over the last ten years we have seen a deterioration in the behaviour and ideologies of some newer Members of the Assembly and I can assure your readers had we not had the Constables as they currently exist in the States Assembly then we could have been in serious trouble financially and socially."

Little needs to be said of this, as most readers will be able to gather that it is nothing more than hot air. There is no evidence whatsoever to say that if the Constables were not in the States, that their seats would not be taken by like-minded independent candidates. In each particular election in each constituency, the most popular candidates get elected, and many of those with behaviour problems as he see's it, end up getting re-elected time after time. People like Le Main will just have to get over that. The reason these people are in the States is because there is demand in their electorates for them to be.

At the last election, Le Main campaigned in St Helier number 2 district on this very basis and resoundingly lost. That isn't a personal attack against him, it's just a demonstration that his particular argument there does not resonate with the public.

"The rainy day fund would be empty and we would be borrowing externally, thus putting our independence severely at risk. We have seen lunatic proposals being promoted in the States and media by a few. Had we not had the wisdom of the Constables, then we would be in serious trouble."

Whether the Constables are indeed all wise is subjective. There is no safeguard that automatically makes them all arbitrary paragons of virtue. If they are all wise, that is nothing more than luck.

But this point is one that is going to be made frequently in this debate, that the Constables are "wise", "they know their Parishioners", "they always vote for the best interests of the island" etc. Of course, this is nonsense because it's all subjective, but clearly those supporting Option's B and C will believe this when they say it. So why are they so scared of the Constables having to face a proper election? If they are undoubtedly the most capable people to be States Members, why do they not trust the public to elect them?

"I was for many years an active member of the Jersey branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and I have travelled to many Commonwealth countries for conferences, having led some and participated in many.

I just cannot say how many times I have on behalf of Jersey explained our independent membership (no party politics) and our world-famous honorary system. We had nothing but praise for our government and honorary system. It’s a tradition of hundreds of years that if you vote out the Constables with their direct link to their parishioners then I am afraid Jersey will be not unique as we are, but just like another UK county.

I too have had some involvement with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I represented Jersey at the 4th Commonwealth Youth Parliament. Being surrounded by intelligent and logical people meant that people were not universally praising Jersey. Why? Because not everything in Jersey deserves being praised. Those who I explained the undemocratic elements of Jersey's electoral system were very unimpressed that an island that is still British could put up with such obviously unacceptable electoral practices. Least of all in these was the speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow MP who described the dual role of the Bailiff as "totally unacceptable".

If Le Main told people about the dual role of the Bailiff and the huge discrepancies in the electorates of St Mary and St Helier and they responded positively, then I hate to break it to him, but it was just because they were being polite.

To pretend that Jersey is, as former Senator Jim Perchard once claimed, "a shining beacon of democracy to the world", is just farcical.

People see the huge undemocratic elements of Jersey's governance and their reaction is puzzlement, not jealousy. This is bad for Jersey's international image.

The diversity in Jersey's culture and our way of doing things is only a merit if that uniqueness provides us with a positive system. When another jurisdiction does something better than us, we should not shy away from copying them just because we are Jersey. That sort of insular and, frankly, backwards attitude is what has caused Jersey to have as many problems as it does.

The idea that we would be less Jersey if we adopted a proper democratic system is just insane. As a Jerseyman, I do not believe that there is anything inherently foreign about concepts like democracy and equality.

"The States made a huge error (yes, including myself) when the welfare system was taken away from the Constables and parishes."

Regardless of whether that is true or not, a fat lot of good having the Constables in the States did there!

"I now fear for the future with a benefit system out of control. Here we have a population of just over 90,000 people and benefits costing the taxpayer over £93m. It is frightening to see such expenditure. At least when the Constables dealt with welfare, there were 12 people who invariably knew the recipients and they were able to control handing out ratepayers’ money. Now we have one minister responsible for a huge budget of approaching £100m."

You can say that for St Mary, where there are probably only half a dozen people on benefits, but to say that the Constable of St Helier would personally know all the recipients of benefits in a Parish of 36,000 people is fanciful.

But here is the most astounding part -

"The public are being barracked by the young guns, some still students and others like several States Members who have never worked in the real world. They do not know what it’s like to borrow a pound and have to pay back three in employment or business."

Just, wow.

What a great way to alienate several thousand potential voters.

Given that a young person can vote, join the army and pay tax at 16 years old, a young persons opinion is no less valid whatsoever than an older persons.

We may not have paid much in tax or directly contributed to the economy, but the world you leave behind is the one we inherit, so we are entitled to a say in how it is run. Patronising young people in that way and denigrating them is a sure way of making them disillusioned with politics, when it is good for society to have people who are politically motivated.

In fact, whilst I'm on this subject, the very first time I met Ben Shenton was in 2008 at the Channel TV studios on election night. Myself and a few other Hautlieu students had been invited to give the token young peoples view on the results as they were announced. We were all 17 years old and had just voted for the first time because the voting age had just been lowered to 16. In between the live interviews, we met the then Senators Shenton and Perchard who explained to us young and enthusiastic folk that they had voted against 16 year olds having the vote because they believed we weren't mature enough or mentally capable of making a good decision.

Democracy means everyone should have an equal say. That is regardless of age, gender, IQ or any other feature and people like Terry Le Main would do well to recognise that. He shouldn't also say utterly ridiculous things like this mad claim that we don't know what it is like to borrow money. Does he think we pay for our university fees with pocket money alone?

The A-Team has put out the challenge for mass public debates with the Option B and C teams, because we're confident that once the message is out, people will see that Option A is clearly the most fair, logical and democratic.

We've already been hitting the streets to canvass the public and have been getting a really positive response.

I'm back in Jersey on Friday for a bit, so hopefully on Saturday I'll be in Queen Street handing out leaflets. Do come say hi if you see me about!



  1. What is Ben Shenton getting involved for, he is not a politician so should mind his own business, I am sick of ex politicians ramming their opinions down my throat. Ben you have had your day no leave it to people who are elected.

    Sound familiar but with a different name????

    I would have kept quiet about your counter arguments as you are giving him the opportunity to make something up over time rather than putting him on the spot. Assuming that is there will be a public oppotrunity to ask questions and that he will of course answer them...being a former politicain of establishment caliber he will be very adept at not answering.

  2. Sam,

    Perhaps you could dissect intellectually the comments made by former Senator Ben Shenton on BBC Radio Jersey when launching the Option B campaign. He appears not to have digested the Electoral Commission Report in detail, relying on emotion rather than rational argument.

    Spending time on the illiterate and unpunctuated rantings of former Deputy Le Main advance little our understanding, other than as you say, reinforcing the case for Option B. Such an outpouring of vitriol and prejudice display the type of mentality that has retarded Jersey's democracy for several generations.

    Defending the Constable's automatic right to sit ex officio in the States Assembly has it seems become an article of faith for some of the most reactionary. Those that wish to see their Parish flourish as important hubs for community activity and local services need to seek persuasive spokespersons of merit.

  3. I head on Radio Bean this morning a trail for their "Politics Hour" (a whole hour a week!!) but for some reason they couldn't be bothered to actually include the time it will be on!

    Do they assume we're listening to their drivel all day long anyway?

    1. Yeah it does bug me that the BBC often doesn't have a very clear timetable, so if you miss something you have no idea that it was ever on.

      The Politics Hours is normally on 11am on a Sunday morning I think. They do a newspaper review the hour before.

  4. Over the last ten years we have seen a deterioration in the behaviour and ideologies of some newer Members of the Assembly and I can assure your readers had we not had the Constables as they currently exist in the States Assembly then we could have been in serious trouble financially and socially

    Two word answer to this ill-informed twaddle. Sadie. Rennard.

    1. Agreed.

      Nothing against Sadie personally, I'm sure she's lovely, but she is evidently not up to the job of being a Parliamentarian. She rarely contributes to States debates and when she does, she has to be told off and reminded several times the rules on how to speak in the States (and not to insult other members). She has only ever brought through one proposition and it wasn't even debated because it was against standing orders to do so (something she should have known before lodging it).

      She may well be a good Mother of the Parish, but she is not a good Parliamentarian. She does not have the experience and capabilities to scrutinise complex legislation and things like the Medium Term Financial Plan and is not contributing to good government as Le Main seems to think.

      Okay, whether incompetent people are elected or not is down to the electorate, that's democracy, but we need a much tougher and more rigorous election process, which only Option A provides. And we must be electing people to ONLY be Parliamentarians, not a combination of jobs which are not necessarily interlinked.

    2. She may well be a good Mother of the Parish

      She is no better a FOTP than she is a parliamentarian.

    3. Anonymous, you must not live in her Parish then, she has done great things for it, better than Hanning IMO.

  5. I like how from the off your title criticises the 'patronising' nature of the oppositions argument yet you take a very patronising tone throughout the entire article...bravo. I knew to expect this from you back when you actually posted an article telling people who and who not to vote for!

  6. I believe the biggest problem with Option B is being overlooked and those in the A Team are not capitalizing on it.
    As Option B stands, the elected members of St Helier (10 Deputies + 1 Constable) will each represent 2,442 electors. In district 5 ( 5 Deputies + 4 Constables), the elected members will only represent 1,233 electors.
    A staggering inequality and must surely be morally unjust.