Saturday, 20 July 2013

Letter to the JEP Re: States voting against Option B

Just a brief update with the letter I have sent to the JEP following Tuesdays vote not to implement Option B into law. I will do a full update when I have time.


Tuesday’s vote in the States not to implement Option B into legislation was a sad day for democracy. But we must rest assured that the alternative would have been a catastrophic day for democracy.

It was a sad day because it is utterly shameful that this state of affairs has ever been allowed to happen and that it got as far as it did. The public were presented with a flawed set of reform proposals in a sham of a referendum after the reform process had been hijacked by politicians with vested interests.

We were meant to have an independent Electoral Commission whose primary aim was to create a fair democratic system fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Instead we had three biased States Members (who had already declared their support for the retention of the Constables and lowering the numbers to 42 for some inexplicable reason) create a system that was judged by all expert observers as being less democratic than what we currently have and non-compliant with the Venice Commission Code of Good Practice on Electoral Matters (which therefore makes it a bad practice).

No self respecting democracy would ever have allowed that to happen (in fact our sister island the Isle of Man has just done the precise opposite).

The reform that was before the States was undemocratic in that it left the rural parts of the island totally over-represented at the expense of the urban areas. No number of referendums can legitimise that sort of gerrymandering and taking away the right to an equal vote of the residents of St Helier.

In fact, the majority of voters in April’s referendum actually voted against Option B! Even after 2nd preferences were counted only 8,190 people voted for it, when 16,779 came out to vote. That is less than half. That is not manipulation of figures, it is simple arithmetic. This still ignoring the fact that ¾ of population didn’t even vote. By no stretch of the English language can what the States did be described as “ignoring the will of the people”. The people were either totally ambivalent or totally divided. There was no mandate for this change, especially when the change itself was unfair and undemocratic on voters in St Helier who are not second class citizens.

28 States Members have stood up and risked a slating in the press and unpopularity because they actually stood up for the people of Jersey and said that we could not have an electoral system as ridiculously unfair and undemocratic as Option B for which there was no real mandate. Deputy Baudains described the reforms as an attempt to “consolidate power”. He was spot on and thank God it lost.

So long as those 28 retain their commitment to seek a fair democratic system for Jersey, then they deserve our congratulations and thanks, not our contempt.

For Reform Jersey, the campaign for equality and fairness in our electoral system carries on.

Sam Mézec - Chairman of Reform Jersey


  1. Sam

    You argue cogently, as ever. But your current argument is undermined by your past behaviour.

    Here are three additional facts.

    1. In the referendum, voters were presented with three options for the future composition of the States Assembly, which could broadly be characterised as "radical reform", "conservative reform" and "no material change."

    2. You advocated Option A passionately, engaging openly with the referendum process as defined.

    3. Despite the energetic and well-reported efforts of the Option A campaign, those who voted selected the "conservative reform" option, according to the mechanism used for the referendum.

    It is disingenuous of you to support those States members who sought to deny the electorate the reform that was democratically selected in the referendum, given the passion with which you engaged with the referendum campaign process.

    You and many others had your chance to argue against Option B during the referendum campaign, and you did so.

    You seek to use the argument that "it's not fair" or that Option B "wasn't really the winner" (my inverted commas to evoke the tone of an aggrieved child) because the aggregate of the votes for Option A and C was greater than those for the eventual winner. This argument fails on two counts.

    Firstly, procedurally, because all of us engaged with the process on the same terms. Option A might have won the referendum by exactly the same margin that Option B did in reality. I am certain that you would not have been complaining about Tuesday's vote in the States if it had resulted in a pro-Option A result in the referendum by the same margin being ratified and passed into law.

    Secondly, conceptually. It is very hard to imagine that very much could unite a typical Option A voter (radical reform) with a typical Option C voter (no change), other than their shared dislike of Option B. To suggest, as you do, that the majority of people who voted represented some identifiable ideological bloc that is collectively more valid than Option B is patently absurd.

    The States vote on Tuesday will have been driven by a complex combination of motivations on the part of the 28 States members who denied the electorate their referendum result. It will include some self-interest, some dogma, and some sour grapes at the loss of the referendum result by A and C.

    Those who rejoice in Tuesday's vote to deny the island the reform it voted for are not in tune with public sentiment. The public have lost patience with the endless "process". It might be that your immediate circle does not relay that impression to you.

    A wise former States member commented to me on Wednesday that the correct response to the referendum for States members who didn't support Option B would have been to ratify the referendum result and work in the future to implement further incremental change. "Pragmatic incrementalism... it's what Jersey's good at." I believe she's absolutely right. The dogmatic position of the 28 has denied Jersey its chance for its selected flavour of "conservative reform" and then further incremental reform in the future. You, as one of their cheerleaders, should ponder deeply on whether your own dogmatism is truly in the best interests of the island you love.

    Matthew Robins

    1. That is funny Matthew.

      complete with insults .... e.g. "my inverted commas to evoke the tone of an aggrieved child"

      Well done for using your own name. You do not always do this but I have noticed your keenness to do so when there might be a benefit in ingratiating yourself with TPTB.

      Let's cut to the chase.
      As a professional PR pundit your job is to mislead people and present partial information

      Where do I begin?

      The 'beauty' of the hijacked process is that it gave us 3 cr@p options -Sam chose the least bad.

      Young Sam could be accused of being a little naive, but without the expense of employing a spin-quack such as yourself he was aware of the necessity of positive and clear campaigning; as in "Vote A", without allowing a "Don't Vote" undertone to confuse the message.

      But on occasions Sam did reveal his true feelings e.g. "hold your nose" i.e. the whole thing stinks !
      I'm sure there are better examples but here is one that a quick google threw up:

      Re: The Electoral Reform Commission
      « Reply #158 on: March 10, 2013, 02:42:38 PM »Quote from: Chevalier Blanc on March 09, 2013, 09:41:23 AM
      Then i ask "Why not C"?
      If this won the votes then surely they would have to go back to the drawing board with independent people only sitting on the commission
      It would show that we do not want the 3 choices that the States came up with or rather bailhache and friends.
      Sam Mézec replies:
      Because then we have to put up with several years more of a States of Jersey, a bunch of which are unelected, of those that are elected, most get a pitiful number of votes, and all of them represent totally different numbers of people, with the rich countryside continuing to be grossly over-represented.
      Alternatively, you could hold your nose and vote for Option A, which whilst it isn't perfect, it's a darn sight better than what we currently have. All States Members will have to be elected, all will have to receive a large number of votes, all will represent the same number of people, and no Constables.
      Surely that is a far better stepping stone than Option C?
      I expect that Sam could provide better examples.

      Don't you think Sam and Option A did rather well against the combined likes of yourself and the JEP ?

      Wouldn't functioning democracy be great on our island Matthew ?
      I seem to remember you receiving a marketing award for "affecting the result" of a previous election.
      Or put another way; Government chosen by Neo-con PR Prats -democracy in action?
      You must be so proud !

    2. This fiasco proves that any Democratic Reform presented must respect Democratic Principles ..... otherwise it is an UNdemocratic Reform

      Like Option B was LOL

    3. Sam, which is it then, "aggrieved child" or "a little naive"?

    4. Thanks for the comment Matthew. I'll respond bit by bit.

      Firstly on your 3 bullet points -

      1. I don't agree with your characterisation of the 3 options as "radical reform", "conservative reform" and "no material change."

      Option A was not a radical reform. The principle of equally weighted votes and electoral districts of equal population may have been radical in the 1800s, but it isn't today. In fact it is the same system that Guernsey has and that the Isle of Man is about to adopt (more or less). So it wasn't radical, it was actually very standard.

      Option B certainly was not conservative reform. It wasn't even really a reform. The definition of reform is to improve something. Given that Option B created worse voter equity, it was regression not reform.

      2. You're right, though I am on record as having reservations about the number 42, thinking it was too low. I was also on record as having said that I would not accept a victory for Option B and would take it to the Privy Council if it came to it. So my consistence can't be denied on that point.

      3. "according to the mechanism used for the referendum" is the key point.

      Despite you implying I had said "Option B wasn't really the winner", I have never actually said or suggested such a thing.

      Option B clearly was the winner. The referendum had rules and those rules were followed. But all referendums have results, because they are designed to. The purpose of a referendum isn't to get a result, it is to get a mandate. There is a difference a "result" and an "answer". The referendum gave us the former, but not the later.

    5. Personally, I don't consider the fact it lacks a proper mandate to be my primary motivation for opposing it. Some States Members considered that important, but for me it was a secondary issue. The primary issue for me has always been the fact that Option B is a defective system that is out of line with basic democratic principles and a regression from the current system and that remains a static point no matter how many votes Option B got.

      None of those points would have been relevant for Option A. So if the tables had been turned, in the States debate, the most powerful argument for opposing the reform would not be there. So I would have expected Option A to be passed, though had there been amendments to it (like increasing the numbers, or keeping some Senators), I may well have supported them as concessions for the fact the mandate wouldn't have been that strong.

      When it is a fair system v an unfair system, the requirements of mandate are not the same. For an unfair system to be legitimate, it would need a very very strong mandate to be acceptable to pass. In this case, St Helier voted overwhelmingly against Option B (unsurprisingly given how much it screwed the Parish) and to have implemented it against them could not have been democratic. They didn't agree to less representation, so to take it from them would have been nothing other than theft.

      "Those who rejoice in Tuesday's vote to deny the island the reform it voted for are not in tune with public sentiment. The public have lost patience with the endless "process". It might be that your immediate circle does not relay that impression to you."

      You are absolutely right that it isn't in line with public sentiment. I don't believe in populism, I believe in doing what you believe is right, so I will carry on making the point regardless of how popular it may or not be. As for my immediate circle, you don't know who they are or what they think, but we aren't living in a bubble, we know what public sentiment is. But it won't stop us because we are arguing for something that is right. The suffragettes were very unpopular and arguing against public sentiment for a long time too, you know.

      "You, as one of their cheerleaders, should ponder deeply on whether your own dogmatism is truly in the best interests of the island you love."

      I'm arguing for nothing short of Jersey accepting basic international standards when it comes to democracy and I want all islanders to have an equal vote. What they then do with their vote is nothing to do with me. There is nothing sinister about that. I'm on the side against those that don't believe in equality. I sleep very soundly because of my position and think the idea that pursuing equal votes is bad for the islanders interests is a very odd position to hold.

  2. Sir

    Presumably you won't be supporting any kind of STV voting system in the States?

    1. I agree with Dr Alan Renwick who said that there is virtually no case at all for Jersey having any other voting system other than STV in multi-member districts or AV in single member districts, no matter what the electoral system is.

      So I'll be supporting Deputy Tadier's proposition to implement it in time for the next election.

      The fact there were incredibly few spoilt ballots in the referendum has shown that the concept of voting using numbers instead of crosses is certainly not beyond the intellect of the ordinary Jersey man and woman.

    2. So you are happy with STV when it suits you bit not when you don't like the result?

    3. The referendum was done using AV not STV...

      I'm also pretty sick of people saying it's about me "liking" the result or not.

      It has nothing to do with my preferences, it's about objective democratic standards contained in the Venice Commission.

      Had we had a referendum between two fair and compliant electoral system and the one I didn't like won, I'd concede immediately if my preference didn't win. But we didn't have two fair systems. It was between a compliant and a non-compliant system. I'm therefore arguing that the non-compliant one was illegitimate. That has nothing to do with my preference.

  3. Sam

    Get real. The deputies were saving their own jobs.

    1. Deputies like Constables Len Norman and Phil Rondel? Deputies like Senators Le Marquand, Farnham, Ferguson, Breckon and Le Gresley?

      Think it's you that might need to get real.

      The only people that were voting to save their jobs were the 10 Constables who showed they were willing to sacrifice democracy if it meant they kept their safe seats that they generally don't have to fight elections for.

    2. OK, most of the deputies and some senators.

      The members who voted against the will of the people are (mostly) cowards who were simply putting their own interests first. I think you'll find if A had been on the table many would have voted against that as well. They weren't holding out for democracy.

      B would have been a stepping stone to A. Now reform is dead in the water for another 20 years.

      The States have become a laughing stock. At least Simon Crowcroft has shown some real courage in a sea of cowards.

    3. Did you actually read the blog?

      I've dispelled this "will of the people" myth. There was no will of the people for Option B. Most of the voters voted against this system.

      The idea that they were putting their own interests first when there was bound to be a public backlash against them is absurd, especially when there were actually 10 Constables who were voting to keep their seats.

      Simon Crowcroft has not shown courage, but treachery. He committed treason against his electorate by backing Option B in the States and I hope his electorate remember that.

    4. I think you are seriously out of touch with public opinion.

      You need to stick your head out of your bubble and see what is really going on.

      Crowcroft has showed integrity.

      I live in St Helier. Do You?

    5. Have you read any of my other comments? I've already said that I know my view isn't in line with public sentiment.

      Just because someone doesn't agree with the majority doesn't mean they're in a bubble.

      I live in St Saviour. Why do I have to live in St Helier to believe Crowcroft was treacherous?

    6. Crowcroft showed real courage. To suggest he was treacherous shows how twisted this whole sorry saga has become. I think you should be ashamed of yourself for using such language. Crowcroft is one of the finest politicians this Island has ever had. He supported option A but had the courage and integrity to accept what the people wanted.

    7. Crowcrofts electorate have the same right to an equal vote as all islanders. The argument for keeping the Constables in the States is for them to look out for their Parishioners. Constable Crowcroft did the exact opposite. He was willing to sell his Parishioners right to an equal vote down the river. People have elected representative to look out for their interests.

      Also, for the millionth time, what is "what the people wanted"? It can't be Option B you are talking about because most voters rejected it.

  4. Sam,

    You mention the IOM. Did they have a population that mostly want to keep their constables in the States?

    1. No. They realise that it is impossible to do so whilst still allowing all voters to have an equal vote. It would appear that Jersey is the only Crown Dependency where this old fashioned view is still mainstream.

    2. Exactly, the view is mainstream. IOM didn't have that obstacle to overcome to get to where they are now. We do. We have missed a great opportunity for an evolutionary step to A. We won't get a chance like that again for a long time. No one will impose A on a population that still values constables in the States.

    3. Do you think that it is Constables being in the States that is the sticking point, or could it be more the idea of representatives coming from the Parish (regardless if they are Deputies or Constables)?

      I'm sure there were probably many people who either don't care or don't think the Constables should be in the States, but are adamant that representatives have to be elected on a Parish basis, so might have voted for Option B or C.

      For example, Constable Len Norman doesn't believe the Constables should be automatically in the States. But he had to come out and back Option B in the referendum because he couldn't stand the idea of Parishes not being represented in the States by at least one type of States Member. He agreed with the Clothier Report that Deputies should be elected by single Parishes, not districts.

      How likely is it that some people may find Parish representation more important than whether the head of the Parish administration is the one in the States or not?

      I'm going to propose that as a compromise, we have a bunch of Deputies elected by individual Parishes distributed fairly (so addressing peoples concerns of some Parishes being unrepresented) plus a few Senators (addressing the fact that the islandwide mandate is the most popular).

      It's not perfect to me, but I think it would be tolerable for people on different sides of the argument and address a lot of concerns and so could be a potential way forward.

    4. Most people I know want their Constable in the States. They don't much care for deputies. The Constable is the only person that matters. If they have a problem they go to the Constable, not a deputy. If its serious then they want their Constable to take it to the States. Any system that doesn't take that into account will never be accepted by the country parishes.

    5. "addressing the fact that the islandwide mandate is the most popular"

      But surely the referendum indicates that this is the least popular?

    6. The referendum doesn't indicate anything really. It is impossible to tell what voters had in their minds when voting and what they were compromising on. All polling shows that the islandwide mandate is popular and ideally islanders don't want to lose it.

    7. Previous polling numbers prove that the Island Wide mandate is most popular, along with an opinion poll not long ago. If the results of this lousy referendum are imagined to show otherwise, then it proves what a crappy referendum it was!

  5. I'm amazed at how many ignorant people there appear to be in Jersey, thankfully Guernsey DO have a fair election voting system, hopefully Jersey will too one day, and all thanks must go to the 28 deputies that voted against a less fair system than Jersey has at the moment.

    Keep up the good work Sam, you are obviously hitting the nerve centre :-)

  6. Just an idea to float that I'd be interested in hearing peoples thoughts on -

    As a way of addressing peoples concerns at Parishes being unrepresented, combined with the peoples support of the islandwide mandate, what do you think of this system -

    - 38 Deputies elected in single Parish districts (distributed fairly, similar to Clothier recommendations but altered to take into account changes in population).
    - No Constables, but they can stand as Deputies if they want, and can stand in their Parish, rather than having to appeal to voters in other Parishes in a superconstituency.
    - A number of Senators.

    Not sure whether to recommend going back to 12 Senators half elected every 3 years like we used to do, or stick with just 8.

    Also not sure whether to suggest Senators are elected a month before the Deputies like they used to. Having them elected on the same day in my opinion ruins what the Senators are supposedly meant to be.

    1. In one of the many amendments on electoral reform, before the Electoral Commission was even thought of, I remember seeing that 41 or was it 43 deputies can be made to be absolutely proportional when elected by parishes or parish districts. You (sam) would have to show that the same proportionality can be achieved with 38. Maybe it can.

      I would definitley go for 12 Senators - then Ministers could be restricted to these 12, including the Chief Minister. Then the people get to choose who governs them.

      They could be elected 4 at a time. Most would be sitting Ministers, so each election would be effectively a referendum on their performance as Minister.

      To avoid zillions of candidates, I would suggest maybe saying that only sitting States members could stand for Senator. Thus States members wishing to be Ministers would HAVE tp be approved by the voters as of ministerial calibre.

      The public would be in charge. Gosh whatever next!

    2. Sam

      I would support the composition you suggest if the number of senators was no lower than 12 and the number of deputies was fewer than 38. Not sure where the 38 number comes from. I really do want to see fewer members than the current number.

      I prefer the idea of the two halves of the senator group being elected out of phase, as in the old days, to the benefit of some longer term policy impact.

      As to election date, I'd prefer to see senators (the half that were up for election) and all the deputies elected on the same day. I've always felt that it was incorrect for failed senatorial candidates to have a second crack of the whip a month later.

      Matthew Robins

  7. Reform is stalled. It may not be possible to salvage even a greasy compromise before the wholesale mess of elections in 2014.

    It is evident that the political class in Jersey is incapable of reforming a peculiar and undemocratic electoral system to bring it in line with acceptable models elsewhere in the UK and Europe. This raises the specter of rebuke from the UK government, concerned about stability and respectability for an important branch office of the City of London.
    The interests of Finance are best protected, as they have for 50 years, by an unreformed political system that ensures there can be no political challenge from other interest groups. This has become more imperative as the nakedness of Finance’s rule is ever more apparent. The introduction of GST and the transfer of state revenue onto salaries and wages have been effected in order to offer no corporation tax to clients of financial institutions. This arrangement is being questioned by those same salary and wage earners, if as yet there is no coherent political formulation or organisation.

    Option B was designed to provide cosmetic change while in practice entrenching Executive authority. The appearance of reform would mask retention of power. Reduction in number of States Members would have served the dual role of removing the more vocal critics from the popular classes and a lot of the “dead wood” – usually politically reliable but incapable of playing a constructive management role in government.

    Retaining Constables in the States is simply anomalous in a modern democratic system. It cannot be justified rationally. However, their retention is recognition of political reality. The electoral base of the elite sees this particular institution as the guarantee of its continued social and political hegemony. The process by which Constables achieve office is rarely subject to the vagaries of electoral politics. Constables can be relied upon to provide a bloc vote for the Executive.

    The process of reform was carefully stage managed at every stage, from membership of the Electoral Commission, to the inevitability of the recommendations, confusingly presented as options to disguise the absence of choice and a public referendum designed to endorse the preferred option.
    The referendum went wrong in that it failed to achieve a convincing majority for Option B and attracted such a feeble level of participation, that it exposed a telling flaw in the electoral system generally.

    Ultimately it was the reduction in numbers that proved too much for a majority of States Members. It was not any niceties contained in the Venice Commission that provoked revolt. Careers, status and income were threatened by a scheme that had nothing in it for them. So who voted for Option B? Answer, loyalists and careerists of the party of government.

    By sticking to principles it will be possible to expose the feebleness of government and its lack of commitment to real democratic reforms. All costs we must avoid an obscene compromise that suits States Members and government but does nothing for democracy in Jersey.

    1. "All costs we must avoid an obscene compromise that suits States Members and government but does nothing for democracy in Jersey."

      Spot on!

  8. Sam,

    There is one point about the fairness argument that really has not been understood by many, in spite of the efforts of you and others to advance the fairness argument. It really needs to be spelt out in simple terms to those who refuse to listen.

    Let's take an example.

    Imagine that you live in St Helier.
    Imagine that you have a constituency issue.
    Imagine that you decide to approach your deputy.
    Imagine that they say "I'll do what I can, but I have lots of other constituency work".
    Imagine trying to obtain representation from a town deputy who has twice the caseload of a country deputy.
    Imagine that town dwellers are likely to NEED help more than wealthier country dwellers, for various socio-economic reasons.

    Now imagine that you live in St Brelade, or St Mary, or Trinity.
    Imagine what your deputy's case load is like, compared to that of a town deputy.
    On what planet is it fair that St Helier residents have to put up with deputies who, just by sheer number of constituents, have twice the constituency work to do compared to country deputies?
    The breathtaking arrogance of those who seek to deny St Helier residents equal representation is obscene.

    Would they play a game of football where they said "Our team has got 11 players. Your team only has 8".

    It is as simple as that. If Option B supporters don't now understand why we St Helier dwellers could not countenance this gerrymandered stitch up, they never will.

    I live in St Helier. I demand equal representation. I demand a deputy with an equal workload compared to country deputies, so that he/she has the time and energy to adequately represent me. I demand fairness.

    1. Anonymous,

      Sorry I didn't publish this comment sooner. For some reason I didn't get an email notification like I normally do.

      You've made some excellent points here and I think I might have to steal that football analogy!

    2. Steal away, young man! I'd be delighted to see it used.

  9. Why has the Chief Minister not offered his resignation? A tenet of his candidacy was to achieve reform and he has failed to persuade the House to achieve even a modicum of change. He was a strong supporter of B and B failed, the honourable thing would be to fall on his sword and take the whole house with him, calling for a general election while the people's blood is still boiling. While they stay and while the system continues in place, apathy will rule and continue to do so for ever and ever, amen.