Monday, 17 June 2013

A Power of Recall

Over the past few weeks in the UK there have been several debates that appear to have captivated a degree of public attention. Not least of these is the issue of equal marriage (which it won’t surprise any of my readers that I fully support and hope will become law in Jersey soon enough). But something that has also been discussed is the idea of introducing a system of recall for politicians, so that it is possible for the public to sack an MP before their term is up.

I think this is a great idea and want to suggest how it could work in Jersey.

For those that haven't heard of the concept before, a recall motion is essentially a petition that is launched by members of public which, if it can obtain the signatures of a certain percentage of the electorate, triggers a by-election for that MP's seat.

It is meant to exist as a safeguard to keep politicians on their toes and not to thoughtlessly disregard their manifesto pledges

At the moment there is nothing to stop an MP being elected, working for 6 months, realising that it isn't really their thing, then running off to relax on a beach in Barbados for the remaining 4 and a half years, at the taxpayers expense.

Or worse - an MP is elected on a key manifesto pledge of, for example, abolishing university tuition fees, only to then enthusiastically vote in favour of tripling them at the very beginning of their term in office.

They say a week is a long time in politics, so 5 years is close to an eternity. Knowing that their judgement day is not for a very long time, after all sorts of other political scandals may have passed to fog their constituents memories, it could be easy for an MP to get very complacent and forget the promises they made.

Knowing that there is a mechanism for kicking them out, if they are not conducting themselves in the way that they promised to get elected, would keep MP's from selling out and losing touch with the public.

It’s a system that already exists in many countries, including the USA and Venezuela. Most notably, former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected in an election that was triggered by a recall.

There is of course a legitimate worry that well organised groups could hijack the process and easily gather the required signatures so they can try and kick out a politician, not because they have done something wrong, but because those interested have a political agenda and want to get someone of their party/ philosophy elected in time for an upcoming vote.

However it has to be said that even in America, where those with pretty dodgy political agendas are very well organised, that this doesn't seem to have been the case. Recall petitions are launched very regularly, however it's only on few occasions that they succeed.

I think that the public would be smart enough to see through a petition that was launched by people with ulterior motives, rather than genuinely concerned citizens disappointed with the behaviour of a politician.

In the UK, Tory MP Zac Goldsmith brought forward a bill (which was subsequently voted against) which is very easy to read and worth having a look at to get an idea of how a recall system could work in a British context.

Now the government is looking to bringing forward legislation for a recall system, however it would be one in which a committee of MPs would decide who is up for recall. Meaning the public would have no direct say in initiating it, instead leaving it exclusively to those with a political agenda and wanting to get rid of those that are causing too much of a fuss and refusing to obey the party whips. It would be nothing more than a tool for getting rid of the George Galloway's or the Nadine Dorries' and certainly not in the interests of advancing democracy.

So how could a recall system work in Jersey?

Here's what I think the process could look like -

  • Either available for download on the States website, or by request to the States Greffe, there should be an official petition template available (where the States Member and constituency is filled out) that must obtain signatures from 1% of the electorate in the relevant constituency.
  • Either the Greffe or the Parish Secretary (whichever is deemed to be more appropriate) then checks the petition against the electoral register to make sure all signatures are legitimate.
  • Then a polling booth should be set up in the Parish Hall to be left open for one month, in which time electors could come and sign the petition.
  • If at the end of the 4 weeks a significant percentage of the electorate has signed it (say 30%) then a by-election must be held on a certain day, in which the recalled candidate is free to choose whether or not to stand in.

Given how low our election turn outs are I think a 30% threshold isn't unreasonable, but it could be altered depending on how it works out.

So, since such a system could easily be put in place regardless of what electoral system we end up having, could a States Member bring forward a proposition to implement it? Deputy Trevor Pitman told me that he did once have a proposition drafted and approved that would do such a thing, but for one reason or another it was shelved.

I have no doubt that no-matter who brought such a proposition forward, it would never pass in a million years because the vast majority of States Members we have just don't care once iota about political accountability and, frankly, are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to understanding the philosophy behind democracy and just want to carry on managing the island like a board of directors with as little interference as possible.


  1. Surprised that this is not already in place. The only downside I can see to it, is that the power of the state media could be used against certain politicians who did not 'toe the party line' ... for example, if this were in place now I bet the Jersey Evening Pravda would be doing their best to get the 30% required to remove Montfort Tadier, in order to stop him speaking out against the Finance industry. Deputy Pitman would most certainly be in the firing line, just as Syvret would have been, back in his day.
    But then, it's so blatantly obvious that the local media have considerable bias towards their pet politicians, and have no qualms about promoting or publicly denouncing them as they see fit. I'm sure we all remember the disgraceful pro-Bailhache coverage which ensured our beloved Emperor obtained a plethora of votes.

    That aside, this seems like a good idea - so not at all surprising that 1) a good politician like Trevor Pitman tried to draft this, and 2) it was rejected. Perhaps we'll get to see a watered-down version of this sometime in the early 2030's, a decade behind everyone else as usual.

    1. I should clarify that from what he told me it wasn't rejected, he just decided to not lodge it for debate for one reason or another.

      I suspect that you are right though. The knives are clearly out for Pitman and Tadier. But then I suspect that had we had a recall system in place recently, Philip Ozouf would probably have been the first victim of it.

  2. He'd be the second, Sam.

    The first would (justifiably) be the Constable of St Saviour.

  3. 'The European Convention of Human Rights does not impose any legal requirement that each vote
    in an election must have equal value in determining the composition of the legislature

    Can you explain, as someone with legal training, how you have managed to misinterpret the legislation so consistently whilst stridently informing everybody that the opposite was in fact true in recent months ?

    1. A quote from our esteemed Attorney General who, judging by the fact he didn't even quote the name of the Venice Commission correctly, I presume it's not his area of expertise.

      If you put two layers in a room, you'll end up with three opinions.

      If you read the European Convention on Human Rights, it is incredibly wishywashy and doesn't overtly say much on anything. It's about interpretation. My interpretation is that Option B is undemocratic and does not provide for the "free expression of the people", because it is a gerrymandered system.

      I'm sure there are many lawyers that disagree and I'm sure lots that do agree. That is the nature of the law.

    2. In fact, to add to that, there is also nothing in the ECHR that imposes any obligation on the state to give prisoners the right to vote.

      But as Hirst v the UK 2006 showed, when it came to the ECtHR, they interpreted that it should include that.

      That's how these things work.

      I also suspect that the case of Matthew v UK will one day be relevant for Jersey.

    3. Most of your comments in relation to Option B's compliance with ECHR were not preceded by the phrase 'it is my interpretation..' but were given as absolutes, which seems a little odd, given that you now see fit to dismiss the legislation as 'incredibly wishywashy, and doesn't overtly say much on anything'. I can go back through your previous comments if you like, but I trust that this won't be necessary ?

      I also wouldn't be so petty as to try and deride your argument, or understanding of this matter, on the basis of your inability to spell 'lawyers' correctly, or your missing 's' when quoting one of the landmark ECHR voting cases.

    4. I think you'll find if you go back to my very first mention of the ECHR the word "arguably" appeared in front of it and most subsequent times too.

      Saying the ECHR is "wishywashy" is not dismissing it. It's a simple statement of fact. I think the fact it is wishywashy is to it's credit, because it then gives it a wide scope for interpretation and inclusion of all sorts of issues that might not be directly and overtly mentioned. So don't put words in my mouth. I would never dismiss it, I think it's the most important piece of legislation in the whole of Europe.

      He got name of the commission wrong, which to me suggests that he either hasn't read it, or didn't bother to check when he wrote his answer. He was just going by his recollection of the word he thought he had heard being thrown around during the referendum campaign. To me that suggests his answer wasn't particularly pondered over. Hardly the same as a typo.

  4. I apologise. I assumed that describing something as 'wishywashy' would be using as most people would use it in a pejorative sense.

    And do you also not think it would be possible for a person under the pressure of speaking publicly to a massed government to make a simple error of speech, rather than implying, because it fits your political agenda, that that person either hasn't read or checked his information ? I didn't see you rushing to condemn Hugh Gill, one of the vocal Option A supporters, when he referred to it on your twitter feed as the Venice 'Convention' ?

    1. You have a much longer memory than me. Hugh Gill isn't paid £170k a year out of taxpayers money to get these things right.

  5. Brilliant. So your level of pay should depend on your degree of infallibility when public speaking ?

    It seems, despite your apparent fondness for a wide ranging interpretation when it comes to such things as ECHR, you will not countenance any other interpretation of the AG's mis-pronounciation of the name of the commission as anything less than a deficiency in his understanding or knowledge of it ?

    With all due respect, I think you are wilfully closing your eyes to any other explanation because it does not suit your political agenda.

    1. It would be a good idea to read my comments properly before getting vitriolic.

      The Attorney General gave a written answer, not oral, so public speaking had nothing to do with it.

      As for me not countenancing any other interpretation, go back to my first comment to you. What did it say?

      "I'm sure there are many lawyers that disagree and I'm sure lots that do agree. That is the nature of the law."

      My political agenda is to give Jersey a 21st Century democracy. If you consider that sinister, it says more about you than me.


    Benefits that do not require 5 years residency

  7. As is everything you post James, but I think I've got less to be worried about than you ;)

    Anyway, the fact you are going through all that bother is very very creepy! Perhaps I could suggest you get a hobby.

    In a weird way it's flattering that you consider me worth the effort... I think :|

  8. Chill out James. "Prick" is hardly an appalling word!

    Actually it was deleted because I wouldn't want to be seen to be associating with someone as pathetic as you and certainly don't want to inadvertently draw attention to your petulant contributions.

    Do you not realise how sad and lonely you sound when all you do with your time is stalk me on twitter and Facebook. Seriously dude, get a life. No one cares that I resorted to calling you a mild name after you purposely acted an arse to provoke it. Most islanders have better things to do with their time and you should follow their example.

  9. Reads to me, Sam, like you are another target for the Troll of a 1000 fake Avatars. he should be ignored because for sad-sacks like him he would still dismiss your view and talk against an idea even if you came up with an idea that could trun base metals into gold.

    Like that famous saying goes: not all right-wingers are stupid people but most stupid people are right-wingers! And in Jersey some even have a tendency to sink into trolling.

    But just to put things in perspective for our Troll Boy here - only within the meeting with the Justice Select Committee on Monday one of the members made the strong point that just because a government lawyer states something is fact - this is just opinion - as proven by a number of recent cases where the UK's advice turned out to be wrong and was successfully challenged.

    The best advice is that if the Jersey Establishment say something is good for all of us it almost certainly isn't. As for the re-call proposition I may well dust it off and lodge it with the others I have in the pipeline for after the summer.


  10. When will Nick Le Cornu make a statement about running in the bi-election for the two vacant St. Helier seats that will be open due to the Pitmans failing to pay the JEP?

    1. There are no scheduled by-elections so no one has any obligation to make any statement.

      I doubt there will be any by-elections despite the foaming at the mouth of some sinisterly motivated commentators.

  11. On institutionalised corruption; can someone do a 'link' for this please :

    "AS another storm swirled around Scotland Yard last week, sucking in officers over alleged secret smear operations against Stephen Lawrence’s family, three MPs boarded a plane for the Channel Island haven of Jersey."

    Continues into a good article but is quite short and limited and does not even mention the constructive dismissal of the corruption and child abuse fighting Police Chief Graham Power and his replacement with another plastic pet-copper on a leash.
    "Sniff here, No- don't dig there, Wee here, GOOD BOY! have a biscuit."

    There is a comments section for the Sunday Express story if people wish to register on the site. It might be worth submitting links to some of the good blog postings from the past that will fill in some of the blanks that the article did not have time for.

  12. To the Anonymous who posted a comment last night based on something I Tweeted - I agree with you entirely.

    He is what some would call "a useful idiot".

    I just wish other progressives would realise that he is someone that we should not associate with because he does nothing but make the rest of us look stupid.