Monday, 21 April 2014
On Thursday this week Reform Jersey will be hosting a public meeting to discuss the proposed changes to the role of the Chief Minister.
On the 29th April, States Members will be debating the biggest change to the way that Jersey is governed since ministerial government was introduced in 2005.
There has been virtually no public discussion on the proposed changes whatsoever, and we have no idea if the public are concerned that power is being taken away from the States Members they elect and given to a Chief Minister that they don't elect.
Reform Jersey opposes these changes and believes that democracy in Jersey is under threat, yet again.
We are providing an opportunity for members of the public to stand up and give their opinions on this important topic and hopefully give an indication to the States on what the public mood is on these changes.
If you care about democracy and accountability in Jersey politics, we hope to see you there.
Date - Thursday 24th April
Time - 7.30pm
Venue - Town Hall, St Helier
Monday, 14 April 2014
This latest letter follows my previous blog post explaining how, if the States will not accept my proposition to see a directly elected Chief Minister, the only viable way forward will be party politics.
The JEP then published an editorial column on Thursday 10th April which described my proposition as "an interesting idea" (I'll take that compliment!) but then went on to say -
"Unfortunately though, the only realistic way to address the deficit in accountability is through some version of party politics, which would enable electors to vote for candidates with a clear set of achievable policies and a clear candidate for Chief Minister. Until that happens, the reformers are doing little but tinkering around the edges."
I could not agree more.
Wonder if the Editor has been reading my blog? Certainly hope so!
I read with great interest the editorial column published on the 10th April titled "Are party politics the answer?" and was delighted to see that your answer to that question is the same as mine - Yes.
I have lodged my proposition to have a directly elected Chief Minister in response to a proposition that Senator Gorst himself has lodged, which would see certain powers taken away from the States Assembly and given to the Chief Minister.
Democracy is meant to be about how a society allocates power and balances it with accountability. I worry that if the powers of the Chief Minister are enhanced, we will be selling away power without asking for an increase in accountability for the public.
Everybody in Jersey knows that our electoral system and machinery of government leave much to be desired. Something has to change.
There is currently a vacuum of accountability in Jersey politics. I believe that there are only two possible ways to fill it. The first would be by adopting my proposition so the people of Jersey could directly choose the Chief Minister. The second would be to have a party political system, where islanders would be electing teams who formulate policy before the elections, rather than individuals who form policies after the elections.
Should the States reject my proposition for a directly elected Chief Minister, then the only option left will be party politics.
When I stand for re-election in October it will be as a member of a political party. I hope others, including Senator Gorst, will do the same so that the public will finally know what they are getting for their vote.
Deputy Sam Mezec, St Helier No. 2
Tuesday, 8 April 2014
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com
Tuesday, 1 April 2014
THE STATES are asked to decide whether they are of opinion -
(a) to agree, in principle, that the Chief Minister should no longer be elected by members of the States, but should instead be selected through an Island-wide vote of registered electors from candidates proposed by members of the States after each general election:
provided that this new system will not be instituted until the States have agreed appropriate amendments to the rôle and powers of the Chief Minister to enable a system of government including the selection of the Chief Minister in this manner to be workable;
(b) to request the Privileges and Procedures Committee, in consultation with all members, to bring forward to the States for approval, proposals on the necessary framework to allow the Chief Minister to be elected by the public.
DEPUTY S.Y. MÉZEC OF ST. HELIER
“If one meets a powerful person, one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”
The late former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister, Tony Benn
Since the failure of previous Assemblies to adopt the full reform package comprehensively laid out in the Clothier report, it is virtually universally agreed that Jersey’s system is in desperate need of reform, both in terms of the composition of the States Assembly and the machinery of government.
On 18th March 2014 the Chief Minister lodged P.33/2014 to enhance the powers of the Chief Minister. In my election manifesto, I said that any attempts to give more power to the role of Chief Minister must come with more democratic accountability. I have lodged this proposition as a direct response to P.33/2014, and hope that members will consider this proposition in light of that.
Our job as members of Jersey’s parliament is not to act as anonymous managers, acting behind the scenes to run Jersey like a private business, but it is to construct a vision based on our mandate from the people, to change Jersey society and make it better in a way that satisfies the desires of the public that elected us.
Currently faith in the States of Jersey and the democratic process is at rock-bottom. The Jersey Annual Social Survey last year showed that 75% of Islanders did not have faith in the States of Jersey. 60% of Islanders do not vote. Jersey’s democracy is in a permanent state of crisis, and governments with such weak mandates suffer from a lack of legitimacy.
It is clear that something needs to drastically change.
Whilst one aspect of this will be to democratise our electoral system (which I hope will be achieved by a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum this October), it is not the ‘be all and end all’ to encouraging greater democratic participation. The most important thing we could do would be to provide voters with the belief that their vote matters and can deliver change.
To achieve this, we need a system in which voters can choose the head of our government and are able to give a clear mandate for a vision to take our Island forward.
Currently, no such system exists in the Island and I believe this is what contributes to such high voter apathy. Voters do not see a connection between where they put their cross on a ballot paper and the results. How often on the doorstep are we turned away by potential voters with the phrase “I don’t vote because it makes no difference”?
In the United Kingdom, a voter knows that if they vote for their local Labour Party candidate, it is not just a vote for that individual, but it is also a vote for Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister and to put together a Cabinet of other Labour MPs to implement the policies and visions detailed in the Labour Party Manifesto. The same is true of all the parties. There is a clear link between how one marks their ballot paper and what government is formed.
No such mechanism can exist in Jersey without party politics.
In October, the public will elect 49 independent States Members, all of whom stand on individual manifestos, none of which will be particularly detailed or costed, and all of which will be un-implementable, as there will be 48 other members who will not have signed up to the same programme in advance.
I believe that if this proposition is passed, the presidential style that this new election would take would revitalise democracy in Jersey. Ordinary voters would know that their vote counts and would be able to see a direct connection between how they vote and what decisions are eventually made.
A democratic deficit made worse by P.33/2014
What is proposed by Senator I.J. Gorst in his proposition to enhance the powers of the Chief Minister, in many ways, makes perfect sense.
It makes sense that if there is to be a head of government, that he or she should have some authority and ability to construct the most effective and cohesive team possible. A team that is a conglomeration of people with conflicting politics and personalities is inevitably not going to be as effective.
In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister is able to decide who is in his or her Cabinet and can reshuffle Ministers. But that Cabinet will almost always contain other members of the governing party (or coalition partner) who have signed up to their manifesto. This will not be the case in Jersey.
P.33/2014 seeks to put more power in the hands of one person, but makes no attempt at all to make that position more accountable to the public.
Power that was formerly held by an elected assembly will be transferred to an appointed office which, historically, has not even been held by the States Member with the greatest democratic mandate for the job.
As a unilateral move, P.33/2014 may be a forward step for effective government, but it is a backwards step for democracy.
A potential model
Ultimately it would be for the Privileges and Procedures Committee to propose the exact fine details of how this would work, but the model that I would suggest as most democratic and workable would be as follows –
- The general election to the States of Jersey occurs as normal.
- Once members are elected, their first job at a specially convened States Sitting will be to formally nominate their preferred candidates for Chief Minister.
- An Island-wide campaign commences, culminating in a public vote 4 weeks after the general election.
The number of nominations required to get on the ballot should be significant, so that only candidates are put forward that can command the confidence of the States Assembly. States Members should also be able to nominate more than once, so that there is less chance of there being only one nominated candidate who wins by default.
In the event that more than 2 candidates are nominated, the election should be done using the Alternative Vote system, to ensure that the winner has a majority.
I believe that this model provides the right balance between having a Chief Minister with a mandate from the public, whilst also being likely to have the confidence of States Members, to avoid the potential situation where the Chief Minister suffers a vote of no confidence shortly after being elected.
This model is workable and will not leave Jersey without a government for long periods of time due to political crises.
The opportunity that a focused Island-wide debate on the direction that we, as a community, want Jersey to go down and how we want our government to be led, is an opportunity for a democratic discourse that Jersey has never had before.
Candidates would have to outline their vision for Jersey in a comprehensive way, putting together manifestos more detailed than what we are normally presented with during general elections, and they would have to be more transparent in how they campaign and who their political allies are. All of this would be healthy for democracy.
The presidential style that the election would resemble would be far more captivating than our general elections currently are, and would hopefully inspire Islanders to pay more attention to politics, so that they are more informed and enthusiastic when they are asked to vote on any subject.
Democracy is the best form of government. A system that incorporates criticism and leaves all members accountable to the Public is fundamental to the rights of ordinary people to determine how their society is run. No parliament or assembly should be able to chip away at that and leave voters with less influence.
I hope members will see that, without a party political system, we cannot give more power to one individual without also requiring them to become more accountable.
Financial and manpower implications
The cost of holding a Senatorial election is usually approximately £30,000, which is most likely what a Chief Minister election would cost. However, this amount is insignificant compared to the amount of money that could be saved by having a better and more cohesive government.