Wednesday, 10 July 2013

My Report on Deputy Green's Amendment


I have distributed this report amongst States Members to lobby them to support Deputy Green's amendment to the Option B legislation to create an extra St Helier district, so that St Helier isn't disgustingly under-represented as is the plan now.

I should clarify my position first before I get accused of abandoning my principles -

I do not, nor will I ever accept that it is good for Jersey's democracy to have a two tier system, nor that it is good for the Parishes for their heads to be States Members.

I will always continue to argue that the Constables shouldn't be in the States and we should have one type of States Member, each with as much democratic legitimacy as the rest.

I believe that the best government (which is what Jersey deserves) is also the most democratic government.

But I also fundamentally believe that you have to live in the real world and play with the hand you are dealt with.

The sad reality is that next week there is a chance that the States may vote to implement Option B and Jersey will have a less democratic system than what we have now (and what we have now is pretty bad too). That is the worst case scenario. We have to accept that this is what might happen, and try and mitigate things as much as possible.

If Deputy Green's amendment is successful, it is better to fall back on that, than to fall back on Option B unamended.

The States will have to vote for or against any amendments, and then vote for the overall legislation. If I were in the States I would vote against the legislation, but still vote for the amendment, because if I was outvoted on the overall package, at least the amendment would be there as a safety net. Voting for the amendment is not legitimising it as a system, it is simply mitigating your losses and preventing an even worse system from being adopted.

Neither proposal is acceptable, but Deputy Green's amendment is far better than Option B on it's own, so it is better to eliminate the possibility of Option B, so that it becomes a debate on the new system instead. I have met with Deputy Green to offer him my support and I have confidence that he is doing this for all the right reasons.


If I'm really honest, I would quite like Option B to go through unamended so we can take it to the Privy Council and have lots of fun! But that is for another day...

In the meantime, here is the report -



P.64/2013(Amd)(2) and the Venice Commission


The Venice Commission says - “Equality in voting power, where the elections are not being held in one single constituency, requires constituency boundaries to be drawn in such a way that seats in the lower chambers representing the people are distributed equally among the constituencies, in accordance with a specific apportionment criterion, e.g. the number of residents in the constituency, the number of resident nationals (including minors), the number of registered electors, or possibly the number of people actually voting.”[1]

It goes on to say – “the maximum admissible departure from the distribution criterion adopted depends on the individual situation, it should seldom exceed ten per cent and never 15%, except in really exceptional circumstances (a demographically weak administrative unit of the same importance as others with at least one lower-chamber representative, or concentration of a specific national minority).”[2]

With regards to the above criterion, it is abundantly clear that the States reform proposition P.64/2013 is clearly not compatible with this international code of good practice for European democracies.

Whilst the Venice Commission is not a piece of legislation, it is a “code of good practice” and therefore to be in breach of it is to have a bad practice. A jurisdiction that is not capable of creating a fair electoral system is not the image Jersey should be aspiring to in the 21st Century and it will be challenged in the Privy Council if it is passed.

The figures for the P.64/2013 reforms are as follows –

District
Parishes
Eligible voters
Number of States  Members
Voters per D + C
% deviation from average
1
St Helier No. 1
13,960
5.5
2,538
32.19
2
St Helier No. 2
12,900
5.5
2,345
22.14
3
St Clement, Grouville, St Martin
14,010
8
1,751
-8.8
4
St Saviour, Trinity
12,960
7
1,851
-3.56
5
St Lawrence, St John, St Mary, St Ouen
11,100
9
1,233
-35.78
6
St Brelade, St Peter
12,600
7
1,800
-6.25
Total/ average
77,530
1,920



Half of the 6 districts fall well out of the limits prescribed by the Venice Commission. Two of them are over double that limit.

In the Electoral Commission’s own research by Dr Alan Renwick of the University of Reading, it is very clearly demonstrated that the reform option being put before the States actually provides for worse voter equity than the current system. Despite some States Members contributions to the reform debate in April, Dr Renwick very unambiguously states that this system is not compatible with the Venice Commission’s criterion.[3]

When the biggest failing of Jersey’s electoral system is that it is an unfair system, to then propose replacing it with a system that is even less fair defies logic.

The Oxford dictionary defines the word “Reform” as - “[Verb] To make changes in (something, especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it.”

Given that the “reform” is objectively more unfair, it does not even technically fit into the definition of reform.

States Members will have had their various reasons for backing Option B in the reform referendum in April. Most of these reasons will be concerning perceptions of the reforms impact on the islands valuable Parish system. These may be perfectly reasonable and genuinely held beliefs, but they must be reconciled with the fact that Jersey must uphold its commitments to democratic principles, as this is the 21st century and anything less is unacceptable (and even illegal, given European human rights law).

To reconcile this desire to keep the link between the Parishes and the States alive with your duty as States Members to uphold democracy, a compromise has to be sought.


The Deputy Green amendment

Deputy Green has lodged an amendment which aims to provide this compromise.

His amendment will essentially implement Option B, with the simple (yet significant) change of adding an extra electoral district in St Helier, with its own 5 Deputies.

This reduces the number of States Members, whilst keeping the Constables in the States, but does not deprive St Helier of its fair share of representatives.

It is in line with the principles that were voted for by the majority of those in the country Parishes, whilst addressing the primary concern of the voters in St Helier who overwhelmingly voted against this proposed reform.


In terms of its compatibility with the Venice Commission, these are the figures –

District
Parishes
Eligible voters
Number of States  Members
Voters per D + C
% deviation from average
1
St Helier No. 1
9,130
5.3
1,723
3.05
2
St Helier No. 2
9,710
5.3
1,832
9.57
3
St Clement, Grouville, St Martin
14,010
8
1,751
4.72
4
St Saviour, Trinity
12,960
7
1,851
10.71
5
St Lawrence, St John, St Mary, St Ouen
11,100
9
1,233
-26.26
6
St Brelade, St Peter
12,600
7
1,800
7.66
7
St Helier No. 3
8,020
5.3
1,513
-9.51
Total/ average
77,530
47
1,672




A comparison of these figures with those for the unamended proposal can be found as Annex 1.

It is immediately clear that this proposition provides a system that is objectively much fairer than what P.64 is proposing. It goes from having half of the 6 districts being far out of the Venice Commission limits, to having just one district being out of the limits.

Any politician that is committed to democracy and fair representation to all should find it very difficult to argue that this amendment should not be accepted.


The Referendum Result

One argument against accepting this amendment is that is creates a specific system that was not put to the public in the referendum in April. This is true and this point will probably carry much weight amongst many States Members and members of the public.

But it must be said that though Option B won the referendum by the prescribed rules, it did not obtain a majority from all voters.

In the referendum, 16,779 islanders voted, but only 8,190 voted for Option B. Most of those that voted for Option C did not indicate their second preference, and so their votes were not carried into the second round. This on top of the fact that the turnout was only 26% of the electorate.

I would submit that when the purpose of the referendum is to legitimise a reform that is built on unfairness, the threshold for an appropriate mandate is much higher than for something that is not objectively unfair.

The majority of islanders that voted in the referendum voted against the system that is now being pushed for implementation. The argument that “we are just doing what the public have said” is simply not true.

But what can be said is that a very clear majority of those that voted (80%) in the first round backed changing to a system that reduced the number of States Members and swap to larger electoral districts, so there is clearly a mandate for those particular changes, but they were split almost evenly down the middle on whether the Constables should stay or go.

On top of this, the States must accept that the islands capital, St Helier, must be treated with the same respect and dignity as the rest of the island. St Helier voted over 2:1 in the referendum for Option A, above Option B. It is fairly safe to assume that this will have been because Option A was the only option on the table that gave St Helier equal representation with the rest of the island on a population basis. St Helier has a 1/3 of the islands population, and so it is not unreasonable to suggest that they should therefore have 1/3 of the overall political representation.

To impose a system that disenfranchises St Helier as badly as it does and against their will by a huge margin is inarguably undemocratic by any standard.


Deputy Green’s amendment will allow the States to implement Option B but avoid this undemocratic catastrophe. A failure to accept the amendment will inevitably do two things –

  1. It will not silence the calls for further reform, it will make them louder. A system that has at its very foundation the unfairness and injustice of Option B will not be sustainable in the long run.
  2. It will push many that currently believe the Constables should remain in the States to change their mind, because it will be their presence in the States that causes this unfairness. Plenty of democrats will be happy for the Constables to remain, but not at the expense of fairness for St Helier. The retention of the Constables will make them unpopular amongst those that are under-represented because of them, and that is not healthy for the States or the Parishes.

It is clear that Deputy Green’s amendment aims to bring both sides of the argument together and reach a compromising point that caters for the extreme worries of both sides and provides a much better platform for progress in the future.



I urge all States Members who care about fairness and democracy to back this amendment.





Annex 1




Note – lines going upwards represent under-representation, whereas lines going down represent over-representation.




[1]  European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters, guidelines and explanatory report, paragraph 15
[2] Ibid

8 comments:

  1. I could back this. You make a fair case, and the one problem that cannot be solved by the Green amendment (the over-representation of the northwest) can only be fixed by removing the constables.

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  2. The problem here is counting all the constables of one district as representatives of that whole district. It is absurd to think the constable of St John sits in the States as a representative of a resident of St Ouen. The latter has no vote for the former. The maths is numerically correct there are 9 representatives of electors in distict 5. It is flawed in its application as noone in that district has 9 representatives. A better amendement would have been one that removed the vote of constables in the assembly.

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    Replies
    1. You're right. That's what so ridiculous about it.

      District 5 doesn't have 9 representatives... but the part of the island that constitutes District 5 does.

      It's a ridiculous system.

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  3. Ian Evans is trying to involve himself in the Jersey Referendum discussion. I fear that this is going to have negative ramifications for all involved. I know you don't need advice, but I would avoid all interaction with him.

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    Replies
    1. Agreed. I'm never trying to convince him, but sometimes enjoy provoking him to demonstrate himself how he isn't credible on virtually anything.

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    2. Do you honestly think he has the mental capacity to understand his own lack of credibility ? i find it odd how anybody chooses to engage with him or post links to his nonsense. This man can only cause damage to the progressive cause and should be avoided at all cost. Just look how he has turned on you for simply trying to explain where he is wrong ? And as for volunteering ones identity by joining his doomed protest, people must be crazy.

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  4. Will you be joining Ian Evan's march Sam ?

    ReplyDelete