Tuesday, 3 December 2013
The Final Stand for the Gerrymander and an Opportunity on the Role of the Bailiff
This week is probably not the best of weeks to talk about electoral reform, given that the 2014 Budget is due to be debated, along with amendments. But it will be inescapable that once that is concluded, the States are set to move straight on to debating Senator Ozouf's reform option, and there has also been the interesting development of the Bailiff announcing his retirement.
Time for Carswell
The announcement that the Bailiff will retire on the 24th January 2015 presents the States with an opportunity.
So far there have been two independent reports done into Jersey's government, the Clothier and Carswell Reports, both headed by experienced judges. They both came to the conclusion that the Bailiff should not continue as President of the States of Jersey, but solely remain the head of the judiciary.
But as happens so often in Jersey, their recommendations have been kicked into the long grass, with many hoping they will simply be forgotten about. This won't happen. The principles in both reports are right and the shadow that is hanging over the States will not disappear until their reforms are enacted.
You can understand the difficulty to a degree. It is inevitable that if the Bailiff is to lose his role in the States, it will be seen as a judgement on how he, as an individual, was performing, and will inevitably be able to be argued against if the Bailiff at the time happens to be a good Speaker. Rightly or wrongly, the Bailiff is a position that is respected and revered in Jersey and so to seemingly want to tear the job apart isn't a politically easy point of view to have.
But the writing is on the wall, and most States Members know this. I even hear whispers that at the top levels of government there are people who accept it as inevitable but simply want to wait for the right time.
And what better time is there than at the end of a Bailiffs tenure?
For as little fuss as possible to be caused and to provide for a seamless transition, the most appropriate time to change the role of the Bailiff is going to be in January 2015. If Sir Michael can retire on the 24th January, then a new elected President of the States of Jersey can be sworn in on the 25th, and the new Bailiff can assume to responsibilities of head of the judiciary.
Sir Michael Birt will have only been Bailiff for 5 and a half years when he retires, which is actually a relatively short time compared to his predecessors. For all we know, his successor could be in office for well over a decade.
So now is an opportunity that must be grasped. I and Reform Jersey will be lobbying to encourage the States to set a timetable for this transition to having an elected President of the States of Jersey.
The Great Gerrymander
This is the last chance if there is to be any reform before the next election. By next year it will be too late to get all the changes implemented and the legislation amended. So it will be interesting to see if Philip Ozouf's reform proposal benefits from it being the last opportunity.
His reform proposal can be read here - http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/AssemblyPropositions/2013/P.093-2013.pdf
It is essentially Option B, with the minor change of one extra Deputy for each St Helier district.
I've already dismantled Senator Ozouf's argument in this blog post - http://sammezec.blogspot.com/2013/07/senator-ozoufs-reform-proposal.html
It is clear that this reform proposal is an insult to the people of St Helier. Senator Ozouf has vaguely accepted that Option B was unfair to St Helier, so his attempt to address that is to give each district just one extra Deputy, which doesn't even come close to giving the Parish equality.
Anything less than equality is unacceptable.
His solution to a system that is very unfair to St Helier is offer a system that is just quite unfair, and it should be rejected as the pathetic gerrymander that it is.
It is strange that Senator Ozouf delayed his proposition until today when he acknowledged that it stood no chance of winning when the rest of the reform proposals were debated last month. But it has ended up being debated literally straight after the 2014 Budget, which presumably (and rightly) will have preoccupied Senator Ozouf's time over the past few weeks. It will be interesting to see how much preparation he has done for this proposal.
It would be absurd for the States to adopt this reform when they have already agreed to hold a referendum on the Clothier reforms next year. Hopefully a majority of States Members will see through this proposal for what it is - an attempt to consolidate power and keep St Helier on it's knees.
He will need 26 States Members to vote this through. I can't see it happening. Good riddance.