Thursday, 12 February 2015

The lie at the heart of politics - JEP Editorial

There is a lie at the heart of our political system. That deceit concerns party politics. 
Today, the Council of Ministers lodged a proposition entitled Code of Conduct for Ministers and Assistant Ministers. It might well have been called the Ministerial Rubber Stamp (Jersey) Law. 
This draft piece of legislation starts well, setting out the seven principles of public life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. 
As maligned as they are, those rise to the top of the greasy pole of Island politics - and indeed those who sit on the backbenches - generally do so because they want to make a positive difference to Jersey. 
Some, however, seem to struggle with the fifth virtue, openness. 
As ministers become caught up in the civil service machine, a bureaucracy prone to secrecy, they run the risk of forgetting that they serve the public and that they are custodians of information owned by all of us. 
But that is not why the proposition sounds alarm bells. 
It spells out how collective responsibility should work. Ministers will speak publicly with one voice and assistant ministers will not against their minister when that minister tables a proposition. 
The reality is likely to be that assistant ministers will support the Council on the majority of issues, giving Senator Gorst a potential block vote of 21. Add the usually compliant Constables to the mix and the Chief Minister, who now has the authority to sack his ministers, sits at the head of a very powerful political party. 
It has never been more important that Scrutiny, the media and, increasingly, Islanders on social media to hold ministerial government to account. 
There is no doubt that we have a party of ministers, a corporation on whose board senior civil servants sit as non-executive directors. Reform Jersey, the three-man left-of-centre group, is not the only party in the States. 
For years, candidates, including many ministers, have argued at the hustings for our system of independent Members who have the freedom to say what they think and truly represent their electors. 
There are many women an men of great integrity and duty who serve Jersey as ministers and assistant ministers. Voters elected them and others to speak their minds on a whole host of matters, not simply those which are deemed 'issues of conscience' by the Chief Minister and his whips.


Not my words, but the words of the editor of the Jersey Evening Post Andy Sibcy (who kindly gave his permission for me to display it on my website).

There is virtually not a single word of this that I don't agree with, and I think it adumbrates the situation in Jersey politics very accurately.

When "independent" politicians are constitutionally bound to align themselves in the way that our new collective responsibility doctrine enforces them to, then we no longer have independent politicians.

They become, if only for the duration of the term, members of the Chief Minister's party. This despite many of them being elected on manifestos which will have had differences of policy.

There was one candidate at the previous election who was standing with the overt intention to then stand for Social Security Minister, yet his manifesto included pledges to support taking GST off of food. Had he been elected and become a minister, he would have been banned from supporting any proposition (no matter how well argued) to do so, because the Chief Minister would not have wanted it to happen in line with his policy vision.

So we end up with candidates standing making disingenuous promises.

When we have a voter turnout of just 32%, the last thing we need is a system which actually encourages more broken promises like this.

To that end, we have a party system in Jersey already (even more blatant than was the case before collective responsibility was introduced) where Senator Gorst leads a Jersey Conservative Party with a very strong whip system and loyal backbenches to secure his parliamentary majority.

But the problem is, because the lie that they are 'independents' is insincerely persisted, we have actually ended up with a very inefficient party system which leads to us ending up with the worst of both worlds.

The obvious example there is that we vote for candidates in an election without a definitive declaration of what party or grouping they would tend to align themselves with once elected. So voters can inadvertently vote for somebody, thinking they would side with those with social democratic views, but once elected realise that they were actually a staunch Jersey Tory (or vice versa) who just knew how to use their words smoothly. This ultimately puts voters off politics, makes our system over-complicated and is, in my view, responsible for our embarrassingly low voter turnouts.

But an example on a more practical level -

A few weeks ago we saw the Council of Minister unveil their Strategic Priorities Document, outlining what they want to focus on in this term and what they want to achieve.

There was absolutely no detail at all on how they would achieve what they wanted to achieve.

We saw this tax-payer funded nauseating party political broadcast -

Our election was on the 15th of October, yet we don't actually get to see any definitive statement on what the government wants to focus on until almost 4 months later. We won't get a vote in the States to endorse this until 6 months into the term.

If we want efficient and effective government, this should be considered totally unacceptable.

In a party system, all of this work would be done before the general election, and would be done as an extra-parliamentary engagement (i.e. not funded by tax payers), with party grassroots involvement and wider public consultation. This would then be presented either before the election, or directly after it, so that the newly formed government can crack on with it straight away (they may even have the draft legislation ready to go) without wasting so many months.

Instead, you and I and funded the Jersey Conservative Party coming up with this document and we have so far had no say whatsoever in what the document contains.

There will now be a public consultation, but we know how much of a waste of time that will really be when the Ministers have already set out their key visions, they won't be backing down on them.

When you compare this, in terms of timeline, level of detail, and mandate, our system fails to deliver on all counts.

Contrast this with the party political system of Gibraltar which saw a multi-party election in 2011 fought by 4 parties, the governing Gibraltar Social Democrats fighting for another consecutive victory, against the opposition Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (in coalition with the Gibraltar Liberal Party), and the new Gibraltar Progressive Democratic Party giving it a shot.

Here are their manifestos, just to give you an idea of how credible the options for government are there -

Gibraltar Socialist Labour/ Liberal Parties
Gibraltar Social Democratic Party
Gibraltar Progressive Democratic Party

In that election, the people of Gibraltar turned out in huge numbers (81%) and voted to kick out the GSD in favour of the GSLP/Liberal alliance.

How in Jersey are we able to do such a thing? It is impossible without an overt party system.

One criticism that is sometimes (unfairly) labelled at Reform Jersey is that a party is an artificial construct. But nothing could be more further from the truth. The party was simply a gathering of individuals who were already like-minded, shared the same set of political values and who realised that working independently would be far more ineffective than officially working as a team to try and get our values featured in the laws of Jersey. That is exactly what the Council of Minsiters is, they just aren't open about it.

Mr Sibcy calls us "left-of-centre". I am comfortable with that description.

Reform Jersey's constitution does not assign ourselves any party ideology, but does commit us to a set of progressive values which are, I think, relevant to anyone who might consider themselves a liberal, a social democrat, a green, a democratic socialist, or progressive independent.

Senator Gorst's party is a Jersey Conservative Party which does not appeal to the politically disengaged Jersey people. Our challenge as a party is to spend the next few years showing that we can operate effectively together to demonstrate that there are more ways to politics than just toeing the Establishment line.


  1. Excellent Sam, and doubly so for getting permission to reproduce it!

    You may also care to view my own discussion of it:

  2. Note that although it may be difficult to achieve practice because the gap is narrow - the Troy rule is really the only safeguard left to ensure that complete rubber stamping does not take place.

    1. Absolutely, and the States is currently in breach of the Troy Rule anyway.

      Whilst Senator Ozouf is still technically an assistant minister, we know that the Chief Minister is currently preparing the creation of a proper ministerial role for him.

      Deputy Wickenden is essentially operating as Senator Ozouf's assistant minister, without legal authority.

      At some point this may cause a real problem in the States.

  3. The public want decision makers and you seem to think you are a voice of the majority for some reason.

  4. You may like this, Sam....

    Q: It’s difficult as a minister, when you are bound by collective responsibility, to drive forward an individual agenda. You are always compromised by the system, aren’t you?

    Tony Benn: Not really. I developed a way of dealing with that. I realised that collective responsibility applied to the present Parliament, so I would say “looking ahead ten years this is what we will have to think about...” so I could open up a whole area. They couldn’t get me on that. I would also say: “I’m getting an awful lot of letters at the moment saying this, that or the other...” It didn’t please colleagues but I think that on the whole, a government where it is known there is a debate going on is more credible than the pretence of unanimity. The idea that a Cabinet is unanimous on every issue isn’t true and everybody knows it isn’t true.

    1. Thanks Tony. From one great Tony to another!

      I think his last point about debate looking credible compared to pretense of unanimity is a really good point. May have to quote that in a speech sometime!

  5. Sam.

    It has to be said that Andy Sibcy deserves full credit for doing what journalists are supposed to do and holding power to account/questioning it. He has a long way to go before he undoes all the damage caused by his predeccessors but in fairness to him he is giving it a good shot.

    I've not bought a copy of the JEP for 10 years but am now seriously considering buying one.

  6. I meant to say don't "give it a rest" Jon. I could do with a break from you on my Blog right now so it would be good if you could hassle Sam for a while and give me some peace.

  7. Hope you don't mind me reposting my comment and question from a previous post, as your focus on the new post means you may have missed answering my question.

    'So how would you define a 'racist' party ? I believe that UKIP's primary aims are to limit immigration, and to return powers of self-determination to the UK government that have been lost to the EU.

    Looking at the growing ethnic diversity of their membership, and the party's stated policies, I find it difficult to reconcile the left's constant labelling of the party as racist, with the reality of the situation. (As an aside, I honestly believe that this determined misrepresentation by all of the main parties, who seem more interested in telling voters who they shouldn’t vote for, and branding voters racist if they consider voting for UKIP, is driving voters to UKIP, rather than the other way around. People are not idiots, and resent being told what not to think, or do, and especially resent being branded ‘racists’ when they are patently not).

    Of course I agree that UKIP have had more than their fair share of embarrassing racist idiots and bigots in the past as part of their membership, however as you have agreed, the actions of the members do not necessarily determine the official policies of the party.

    So I'm genuinely interested. Which of their policies do you find to be 'racist' ?'

    1. It is perfectly legitimate for a party to call out another party for being racist. When the main parties did so to the BNP they were absolutely right. The only reason that there is indignation when the same is said about UKIP is because UKIP have more money, wear slicker suits and are often more articulate. That doesn't stop them being racist, nor does it stop it being legitimate to accuse them of being racist. That also does not mean that everyone who votes UKIP is racist.

      Firstly, Nigel Farage undoubtedly holds racist views.

      The views he expressed in this interview ( are racist as far as I'm concerned. Believing that Romanians have a greater propensity to commit crime than any other race is racist, and feeling uncomfortable when hearing people speaking other languages is just xenophobia. Foreigners are human beings like the rest of us and are not more or less likely to commit a crime by virtue of them being foreign.

      UKIP in the EU Parliament is part of a grouping filled with racist parties, like the Lega Nord of Italy and the True Finns. They are able to join with them because their views and policies are aligned.

      UKIP do little else other than try to expand their support by feeding on the worst prejudices of society for political gain. They intentionally scaremonger over immigration and are, as my studies for my law degree showed me, absolute liars when it comes to their statements on EU law (to say that 75% of our laws come from Brussels is just a lie).

      The politics of pitting people against each other based on where they are from and encouraging people to blame their foreign neighbours for the bad things in the country is gutter politics at it's worst.

      The ultimate proof? That UKIP has to constitutionally define itself as 'non-racist' and bans ex members of the BNP from joining. Why do they need to do that when the other parties don't? Because they would be flooded if they let ex-BNP members join, as it is the natural successor.

      But worse than all of that, UKIP is more neo-con than any other British party and would see government policies that would decimate the living conditions of the worst off in Britain, whilst letting their high-flying mates in the City get away with murder (probably literally in some cases).

    2. And there, in a nut shell, is why the main parties are struggling to deal with the threat of UKIP. Despite my direct question as to which of Ukip's POLICIES were racist, you have chosen to tell me:

      1) It's ok for one party to call another racist
      2) Their leader holds what you consider racist views
      3) There are other parties in the EU Parliament who you consider to be racist
      4) UKIP scaremonger in a way you consider to be racist
      5) UKIP think that immigration is causing social issues in the UK (And just to be sure, you've never been a member of a party that pits one section of a society against another ?)
      6) UKIP ban racists from their party
      7) In your view, UKIP are Neo-Cons.

      Now all of the above may or may not be true. But if the main parties have the arrogance to believe that simply shouting ' Don't vote for them. We think they're racists' is enough to dissuade people whilst some of Ukip policies actually chime with the man on the street, (And are obviously not racially motivated), is it any surprise they are polling as well as they are ?

    3. It was never stated by me that I believed they were racist because their policies were racist.

      I believe their inherit racism is down to much more than that.

    4. OK, I think I'm being a bit slow on understanding this. If it is not their policies that make them racist, nor the behaviour of their members which make them racist, what is it exactly ?

    5. I think I have already comprehensively answered that.

  8. Nigel George Romeril12 February 2015 at 22:12

    This undeclared party system is also responsible for the rot at the heart of Jersey politics.
    Able men and women have been passed over for office while pals or just plain odd choices have been promoted.
    Who can forget Freddy Cohen at Planning, Jim Perchard and Anne Pryke at Health and James Reed at Education?
    As for Chief Ministers, first we had Frank Walker.
    Completely unable to understand the need to build coalitions in a house of independents, he stumbled from one policy disaster to another, strangely he never accepted any responsibility, it was always someone else' fault.
    Then we had three years of Terry le Sueur as Chief Minister, despite being a brilliant man, he was totally unfitted to government, being unable to control the civil service, originate policy or delegate to other ministers.
    Now we have Ian Gorst; after one term of complete failure, his latest idea is a party system and collective responsibility without a declared party.
    As we run up to the next election no one in his 'cabinet' will wear this bridle as they will want to present themselves in the best light to the electorate.
    Jersey has to reform it's political system so it is effective and responsive and draws in new talent amongst other things, something that very few States' members are willing to consider.

  9. "This draft piece of legislation starts well, setting out the seven principles of public life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. "

    Sam, does not the current Ministerial Code of Conduct already cover exactly these?

    1. Here is the original Code of Conduct and it appears that you are spot on!

  10. Deputy Mezec,

    Much as I dislike the Conservative Party, I think you do even them a disservice by your hijacking of the name in regards to our Council of Yes-Ministers.

    1. Haha, you may well be right. I'm being far too generous to them!

  11. Only a suggestion.
    Perhaps before preaching anymore angry posts against those who were democratically elected in last October, you tried winning some proposals in the States to convince the Thousands of voters who support people like Ian Gorst that you are better?

    1. If you paid attention to politics even slightly, you'd see that there are no politicians doing more to achieve that than Reform Jersey.

      No other States Memebers have even lodged a proposition since the election.

  12. Sam, I never thought I'd say this, but the JEP leader comment is right: there is a lie at the heart of Jersey politics.

    Political power in Jersey has always been de facto organised - via a de facto - albeit covert, undeclared - political party.

    And here is something else I never thought I'd say: the current Jersey States assembly makes me nostalgic for the assembly of the early 1990s - even though I had my battles with it then. Back in those days - as now - it was a covert party-political environment. But - but - at least in those days there were enough Establishment people with enough wisdom to recognise that they had to - occasionally - make the fiction of 'independent' politics chime with reality - lest they and their system look absurd.

    So - occasionally - rank and file back-benchers would hold the executive to account - they would give the P & R Committee or the F & E Committee a bloody nose - occasionally, amendments and propositions from the rare rebellious back-bencher would get supported - back then, even traditional conservative members from rural constituencies would remind the 'leadership' that they weren't 'prime ministers', and reign them in from time to time - back then, not even the senior Establishment members dared try and impose a party-whip-style restriction upon the freedom of independently elected members to be independent.

    The Jersey Establishment these days refuses to tolerate even that - occasional - simulacrum of functioning democracy - and not content with having engineered an entire assembly which contains only maybe 4 non-Establishment Party members - even then the procedures and powers of the legislature - its very capacity to hold the executive to account - have to be emasculated, lest the Ministers - and their puppeteers - face any form of serious scrutiny at all.

    It is - at the last - a true indication of the basic weakness and inadequacy of Ian Gorst and his handlers - that for all his "nice, reasonable chap" appearances - he's taken the States assembly into such extremist, non-functioning territory - that even the Jersey conservatives of old would have opposed it.

    Stuart Syvret

    1. Indeed. All of this is exactly why I was so sad to see the States lose people like Sarah Ferguson, Gerard Baudains and Phil Rondel. None of whom had politics which even closely resemble mine (and were often completely loopy as far as I'm concerned) but at least they were so right-wing that even they would end up unable to support such a raving mad Council of Ministers.

  13. Historic Election Results show that the people of Jersey are satisfied with the way the Government in general is made up.
    Voters feel more relaxed with candidates who can work together rather than attack each other.
    It seems surprising that some people who used to be in politics cannot get their heads around this simple observation that repeats itself every 3 years, and people like Syvret had 20 years to change things and build a team but couldn't.
    Power is in numbers.

    1. Historic election results show no such thing.

      At the last election 70% of the eligible public did not vote.

      The Annual Social Survey the year before showed that 70% of the public have no faith in the States of Jersey.

      It doesn't take a maths genius to see the correlation there.

    2. Seeing as you think you are so popular it only stands to reason that you stand on an Island Wide mandate next time then.

    3. Usual flawed JSH logic.

      I've never said I think I'm so popular, even if I did it would not follow that I would stand for any particular office above another and I believe Senators should be abolished.

      Any other inane points to address Jon?