Tuesday, 8 April 2014
Parties or a direct election - which will it be?
After posting the wording and report for my first States proposition, I want to now go into detail on why I have proposed this and what I see as the opportunity the debate will provide us.
But first, I want to make this point very clear - I make no apologies whatsoever for lodging this proposition. My manifesto said "I will propose that the Chief Minister be elected by the public" and I am sticking to that promise. We need more States Members who will actually do what they said they will during the elections, and fewer that just keep their heads down and hope not to upset enough people to stop them getting re-elected. I do not accept a single word of criticism that says I shouldn't be doing this. I promised I would, so I'm doing it.
Now onto the reasons for why this proposition is needed, because it is more complex than it first appears.
There is currently a vacuum of accountability in Jersey politics. The way we vote at the ballot box has only a nominal effect on who ends up in positions of power and what policies end up being implemented.
Some over-egg the importance of the Senators, and suggest that that is where our real influence can be found. I say this is nonsense. How we vote in a senatorial election has never influenced the make up of the government.
Our first two Chief Minister's were chosen by the States having not faced the electorate for three years, and having come 5th/6th when they did. Our current Chief Minister arguably has a much better mandate than the previous ones, but to get the job he had to beat the only other member with a greater mandate than him!
Half of the Council of Ministers are Deputies, including the portfolio with the biggest budget (in fact, the Deputy holding that portfolio has never faced a contested election at all!). Of the half that are Senators, only half of those were elected in the 2011 election, the rest having not faced a contested election for 3 years.
So only one quarter of the current Council of Ministers was determined by the last island-wide elections.
And how do we know that Ian Gorst got the votes that he did because they wanted him to be Chief Minister? Maybe they were actually voting for him because they liked him as Social Security Minister and wanted him to stay there. There is no way of indicating for what purpose you are voting for a candidate.
We, as voters, have no way of marking our ballot paper in an election to give a clear message as to what sort of government we want and whose vision we want to lead it. We have no way of kicking out a government and replacing it with a new one.
All of this considered, combined with the fact our electoral system is massively disproportionate, is it any wonder that the majority of islanders steer well clear from polling stations on election day? When there is no connection at all between how you vote and what you get, you can't blame anyone for feeling as if voting isn't worth their time.
As someone that believes in democracy and has a vision of a world that is better than the one that we live in (and hopefully you do to, seeing as you're reading my blog), this self evident truth is very depressing. Trying to convince my friends in Jersey to go out and vote is an almost impossible task. Contrast that with my friends in the UK, for whom going out to vote is second nature. It's just something you do. Your parents probably do it too. In fact, you may even be related to an elected councilor, or an enthusiastic activist.
Jersey does not have that necessary democratic culture, and we are a poorer island because of it. The government does not reflect the values of the community, and that is because the community is not ingrained into the government.
In my view, there is only one realistic way forward for democracy in Jersey, to fill that vacuum - party politics.
It is only a party system (with multiple parties, not just two) that will provide a framework for participatory politics, training up potential candidates and engaging with the community en masse.
This system of independents is hugely uninspiring, noninclusive and does not allow the best candidates to come forward. It is a club for a few as their play thing.
I dream of a politics in Jersey where elections see hundreds (maybe even thousands) of islanders actively campaigning for their local candidates, advocating the vision their party puts across and creating a new dynamic that is captivating so that islanders will be well informed and motivated to actually go out and cast their vote.
Only this system will give a team of elected representatives a true mandate to govern the island. Anything less is not democracy.
But what does all of this have to do with my proposition which is, arguably, completely incompatible with party politics?
Whilst I believe that a party system is the best way to fill that vacuum, it is not the only way.
With the Chief Minister about to propose increasing his powers, allowing him to hire and fire ministers, binding them to collective responsibility etc, it is urgent that something is done to balance what is otherwise, in my opinion, a power grab.
A vibrant party system will take time. We don't have it. If the Chief Minister's proposition wins, then the elections in October are a complete waste of time. The power will be taken away from that assembly and given to one person, who the public have no real influence on deciding who it is.
My proposition to have the Chief Minister elected by the public is a safety net. It aims to redress that balance between power and accountability.
For the first time in our history, the public will have a direct and unambiguous say in who leads our island and whose vision has a mandate. I believe that that election would be the most exciting we will have ever had and will captivate people to actually coming out to vote, because they will know that their vote actually counts for something,
It will go some way to re-energising our democracy.
Yes, there are practical problems with it. I completely accept that. But they aren't anywhere near as bad as the problems we have with the current system and the problems we will have if only Senator Gorst's proposition is accepted.
If the States reject my proposition there will be no democratic justification for accepting Senator Gorst's proposition.
If Senator Gorst wants more power, I give him this ultimatum - Form your party by October and stand on a joint platform with like-minded candidates. If you cannot do that, then you must accept that we need another mechanism to hold you to account.
Will my proposition succeed? Almost certainly not. I am ready for that. But we will have a debate, and in that debate these points will be made.
A rejection of my proposition and the principles behind it mean that there will only be one viable option left on the table - party politics.
We deserve a better democracy and it's time those in power got their act in gear and worked to deliver that change.
Reform Jersey invites all islanders to join us for a public discussion on these issues at a meeting at the Town Hall at 7.30pm on Thursday 24th April.
There will be guest speakers with experience of the previous collective responsibility debates, and I will be there to set out my case.
There will be plenty of time for members of the public to stand up and give their thoughts on the proposed changes or ask questions of the speakers if they wish.
This is our democracy, and we cannot let changes go past without our fair say.
Reform Jersey hopes to register as a political party in the next few months. If you wish to be involved, please get in touch with us either directly to me on email@example.com or to firstname.lastname@example.org