Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Kit Ashton on Climate change, Trump and bigotry - a guest post

I'm delighted to publish for the record the recent letter to the paper written by local democracy and Jèrriais campaigner Kit Ashton.

He tackles climate change, Donald Trump and Jersey-based racism, and what progressives need to do to respond.

We'll be discussing some of these subjects at our next 'Pint and Politics' event upstairs at the Green Rooster at 8pm on 9th December. Come join us for a discussion on the "Trump Effect" and how progressives should respond. We'll have guest speakers and live music. The last event was really good fun so hopefully this one will be even better!


Dear Editor

I write regarding Bram Wanrooij’s perceptive column on the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the populist far right.

Mr. Wanrooij makes some excellent points, and the questions he raises are now paramount not just for abstract debate – but – and I mean this with no intention of alarmism – for the continuing existence of humanity as we know it.

Beyond Trump’s arrogant, bullying manner; beyond his ignorant, fascist, nepotistic, and (partly) anti-Semitic cabinet; beyond his disgusting approval of racism, misogyny, torture, murdering the families of whoever he decides is a terrorist, pre-emptive nuclear strikes, and authoritarian autocracy; there is one policy position that should strike dread in every citizen of Earth: his stance on climate change.

On the same day Trump was elected, the World Meteorological Organization delivered its latest report, which reconfirmed the urgency for action: climate change is happening, it’s devastating, and humans are responsible. The evidence (if you’re a person who will actually weigh up evidence) is compelling.

Yet Trump is planning to defy 97% of peer-reviewed climate scientists, billions of global citizens, and the painstaking agreement of nearly 200 nation states, by tearing up the Paris Agreement, which may have mitigated the worst effects of environmental chaos. This is very bad news indeed.

So what can we do in little old Jersey?

First, I believe we should get our own house in order – Jersey’s slow progress on our carbon footprint, our dependence on petrol cars, indulgent lifestyles, over-population, and our woeful food security must be addressed. This mean us all mucking in.

Second, we can pressure our politicians to act - and to influence Trump’s position where possible.

Third, we need a cohesive community response, public debate, and a positive alternative to the politics of hate, division, and of course climate denial. This has already begun - with Jersey in Transition, Reform Jersey, and other helpful groups.

Finally, the good people of Jersey must remember our history and not shrink back from confronting and calling out the far-right for what it is. Trump’s bigoted allies and supporters are amongst us, though they mostly hide in euphemistic language.

Indeed, judging by his consistent, cringeworthy endorsement of all things Trump on social media, one such person even writes a column for the JEP… I’ll give readers a clue: he’s not from Jersey, he’s got a few quid, and his name is not Bram Wanrooij.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A Day in the Life of Deputy Sam Mézec - Town Crier

This month's edition of the St Helier Parish magazine, the Town Crier, features an article about what I get up to on the job!

It's available in outlets across town, but here's a copy for those who miss it.


So what is a typical day in the life of a States Member actually like? Well, the short answer is that there is no such thing!

I guess that is partly why I enjoy being a Deputy, because there is always a new challenge on the horizon or a new controversy brewing which must be dealt with, which keeps the job exciting and keeps me motivated.

But the one thing which is the same for me every day is that I get to start the morning by walking through the heart of St Helier No. 2 where I live, through the Millennium Park and get to stop and chat to constituents, often friendly words of support but also keeping me up to date on the local issues in the area.

The park is always packed with people enjoying the open space, playing football or taking their kids to the playground. I will continue to put pressure on the Council of Ministers to keep their promise to improve life in St Helier by purchasing the Gas Works site so we can extend the park and provide more open space in the most densely populated part of town.

The most important duty of a States Member is to attend debates in the States Assembly and represent our constituents. I think I’m a very active States Member in the chamber. I regularly bring propositions to try to achieve my manifesto pledges and ask more questions than most other States Members put together to hold the government to account. I think the majority of people in St Helier are dissatisfied with how the Council of Ministers is letting our Island down, so I try to give a voice to those people who want to see the government of Jersey deliver something much better than we are currently getting.

Sometimes it can feel like banging your head against a brick wall, but I feel optimistic that one day in the future we will have a proper States Assembly which will genuinely work in the interests of ordinary Islanders!

On a day when the States is not sitting, I’ll probably be out and about in town scurrying between different States departments trying to help people who are having difficulties, or working with the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel of which I’m a member.

I meet several times a week with my colleagues in Reform Jersey, Deputies Geoff Southern and Montfort Tadier. We work very closely together and I think we’re a great team and are much more effective than we would otherwise be if we were independent members.

Politics is serious business and it can easily grind you down if you don’t make sure you keep enough time free to enjoy yourself. So even though this job dominates my life (and I’m not complaining!) I keep sane by playing guitar in a band and spending time with my friends and family.

Monday, 17 October 2016

My submission to the States Members Remuneration Beyond 2018 review




Dear Mr. J. Mills CBE and SMRRB Members,

The topic of the level of remuneration which Jersey’s elected politicians receive is one which usually provokes emotive and strongly held views on all sides of the debate. As a sitting States Member (and one who hopes to continue beyond 2018) I have a direct financial interest in what the basic rate of pay is. I have been careful at election hustings and in media interviews to steer clear of that particular element of the remuneration debate which I have stated should not be a matter for politicians, and so in this submission I wish to make no recommendations on that particular element of this consultation.

However, I will say that I believe the decision taken by the SMRRB in recent years to avoid recommending pay increases during an electoral term has been an eminently sensible decision which I hope over time will be appreciated by the public, as many people I speak to appear to be unaware of this decision and believe that the previous arrangement of pay rises every year is still in place.

Instead I wish to focus on the arguments surrounding the pay structure and, specifically, differential pay.

Starting principles

The SMRRB has in its terms of reference the inclusion of two points of principle which I wholeheartedly agree with. Namely that the rate of pay should be at a level which allows the broadest possible spectrum of persons to be able to serve as States Members and sustain a decent standard of living, along with the important consideration of the current fiscal climate and public finances.

However, I am strongly of the view that a fundamental consideration in determining the pay structure for members of Jersey’s parliament should be that the structure should complement a system designed to uphold basic principles of democracy.

That may sound a bit vacuous or clichéd, but I will try to find a coherent way to explain what I mean.

Serving as a member of a parliament is a privilege and a huge responsibility, and it is one which is only temporary so long as our constituents continue to have faith in us to represent them. It is essential that those in that position be people who are held to an incredibly high standard with regards to their behaviour and performance in that role.

The States Members’ Code of Conduct states that members must observe the following principles of conduct whilst in office – Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. (Otherwise known as the ‘Nolan Principles of Public Life’)

Whatever our pay structure may be, it must not be one which could inadvertently lead to situations where there is a financial incentive to disobey these principles.

Members must always be able to act according to those principles without any consideration of what that could mean for their personal finances.

Whilst it is true to say that most people involved in politics in Jersey are in it for the right reasons and act with integrity throughout their political careers, it is a fact that corruption exists in political systems around the world and we must be vigilant to ensure that it is not allowed to creep into our own system by taking a complacent approach to these issues.

Non-remuneration related factors to consider

It must be said that there are a whole host of factors which affect people’s decision on whether to stand for election or not, or whether or not to seek ministerial office, which have nothing to do with how they will be remunerated for it. In fact, in many cases the remuneration is actually a very unimportant consideration to them.

The most significant of these factors is that Jersey lacks a proper party political system which would otherwise offer support and training for prospective candidates, as well as a selection process which aims to target every constituency for a contested election.

In other jurisdictions, established political parties contest power through elections and this gives their entire process a completely different dynamic to what we have in Jersey.

Here, somebody who wants to serve their community but who has no idea how the practical side of elections work has a mountain to climb before they can be considered a viable candidate. This can be daunting and I am certain will put off a lot of people from putting their name forward for election. A party system would provide the infrastructure to enable more people to get into electoral politics and stand for election.

Another factor is that we have a broken electoral system.

The mechanism by which our States Members are elected is overcomplicated, gerrymandered and has a propensity to lead to uncontested elections. People are less likely to challenge a sitting States Member if they are perceived to have a ‘safe seat’. It also leads to ‘carpet bagging’ i.e. candidates chasing the seats they are mostly likely to get elected in so they can pursue their political agenda, rather than stand in a place they know well and have a connection to.

The final factor is that the level of support provided for States Members varies on what category of member you are or what office you hold.

An ordinary backbencher has no dedicated office facilities, no support staff and no researchers. They have to do it all themselves. Ministers have personal assistants and Chief Executives for their departments and the Constables have their office and staff at their Parish Halls.

These are three serious factors which have a huge impact on who ends up standing for election and how Ministerial roles end up filled. The salary structure can never rectify the problems caused by these deficiencies and so the SMRRB should not attempt to mitigate those failings by just proposing pay increases as a solution.

Of course these factors do not fall within your terms of reference to make recommendations on, but I do not think it would be wrong to at least make a passing comment on the effect these issues have on our political process and how it makes your job more difficult.

Differential Pay

It is certainly true to say that our States Assembly is unusual in contrast to most parliaments around the world in that all elected members receive exactly the same remuneration, irrespective of what other offices they hold. But then we are an unusual Island!

There is a logical argument that says that salary rates should reflect the level of responsibility somebody has, as is common in many other professions. However, the peculiarities of our democratic system must be taken into account and the other factors which will affect how those in positions of responsibility act should be considered.

A rate of pay which reflects the level of responsibility a member has will not necessarily reflect how hard that member actually works.

As I said previously, backbenchers do not have any administrative support whereas Ministers do, which can make their job less onerous. It is also the case that some departments do not involve as much work as others. The clear example here is the Housing Minister who no longer actually has a department to run as it has been incorporated into Andium Homes Ltd. Is it fair to pay the Housing Minister more than a hardworking backbencher and the same as, for example, the Health Minister?

The point must also be made that if this were implemented in the current Assembly, the people who would see the biggest increases in pay are those members who are actually already the wealthiest, whereas those who would see the biggest drop are those who are of the most modest means.

Another argument that is often made is that differential pay rates (i.e. a higher pay rate for Ministers) would encourage more high calibre candidates to come forward for those positions.

I believe this is a flawed argument because it does not take into account that a person standing for election as an independent candidate has no way of being sure that they will end up becoming a Minister once elected.

The only way that a candidate could know that if they were elected they would be appointed as a Minister (and get the pay rise that comes with it) is if they forged a deal behind the scenes before an election with the person most likely to become Chief Minister in return for mutual support. Otherwise they would run the risk of standing for election, being isolated from the Council of Ministers for not sharing their plans for government (despite their personal credentials) and then have to spend 4 years in office on a lower rate of pay than they anticipated, or resign and cause a by-election.

This would encourage a quasi-party system to exist only behind the scenes and not included on the ballot paper for voters to judge. This cannot be conducive to having an open and honest political system where political alliances are open and known by voters.

“Legalised Bribery”

I think that the strongest argument against differential pay has come about since October 2014 when changes to the States of Jersey Law 2005 came into force which introduced the doctrine of ‘collective responsibility’ to our system and gave the Chief Minister the power to fire Ministers.

If Ministers were entitled to a higher rate of pay, the Chief Minister would not only have the power to dismiss someone from Ministerial office, but would also therefore have the power to cut their pay.

This could very easily be used as a political tool to discourage Ministers from speaking their minds when they believe other Ministers are making mistakes.

If members are elected as ‘independent’ candidates, then it is wrong to provide a framework to allow the Chief Minister to essentially be able to bribe them into doing what he wants.

Many States Members are not independently wealthy and rely solely on their States Members salary to provide for their families. If one of these members were a Minister who received a higher rate of pay and had a difficult family circumstance where they might have to spend a lot of their income on professional care for a relative, or perhaps they had multiple children who were struggling with the cost of higher education, that extra supplementation to their salary would be an incredibly difficult thing to lose over a point of political principle and they would have a clear financial incentive to put their integrity aside so they could continue in office and receive the extra income.

In previous States debates and media interviews I have described this concept as “legalised bribery”.

I accept this could be seen as an extreme way to describe this situation, but I consider it to be so incredibly dangerous for our democracy that it must be treated very seriously.

Having served as a States Member for two and a half years, both before and after collective responsibility was introduced, I have seen first-hand how the Council of Ministers works and know that it is not a slick operation and that there are Ministers who are incredibly calculating and would know full well that this could be a tool that could be abused to serve the political agendas of the most senior Ministers.

Fiscal climate and public finances

Lastly, and briefly, it must be said that it is insensitive to propose pay rises for Ministers who have spent the best part of two years cutting public services and support for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.

To make the case that a Minister (like the Social Security Minister), who has just cut £600 a year in support for disabled Islanders, should get a pay rise because the job entails a lot of responsibility will not be an argument that will go down well with the public.

Most Islanders are finding it increasingly hard to get by. The bottom quintile of earners in the Island have seen the value of their incomes reduced by 17% over the past five years.

This is quite possibly the worst time in the history of the SMRRB to contemplate a pay rise for those Ministers.

Q1: Do you agree that the Chief Minister should receive a supplement above the salary for a States member?

For the reasons I have stated, I do not believe that this should actively be pursued now.

I will however concede that the arguments that apply for how the supplements could be used as a form of bribery for Ministers do not apply for the Chief Minister.

As this is a role which is only accountable to the entire States Assembly and cannot be summarily dismissed by one member, it is clear that a pay increase will not have a potential impact on that individual’s attitude towards the job.

Q2: Do you agree with our proposal that the supplement for the role of Chief Minister should initially be set at 15% of States members’ salary (which at the current salary level would be £7,000)?

I see no logic why that particular figure should be used instead of any other.

I am also concerned by the use of the word “initially”. How long would it remain at that rate and would this be a slippery slope?

Q3: Do you agree with our proposal that in principle differentiation should apply to ministers and chairmen of scrutiny panels once the economic climate has improved?

No and I believe that this would be incredibly damaging for our democracy, for the reasons I have stated.

The economic climate has little to do with it. There may well be a case for differential pay when Jersey has a reformed electoral system and party politics, but whilst we retain so many deficiencies in our democratic system, this can only serve to make things worse.

Q4: Should States members’ salary (£46,600) be held level during the 2018-22 period?

I make no comments on this question, for the reasons stated at the beginning of my submission.

Thank you for taking the time to read my submission. I would be happy to make myself available to discuss any subsequent issues you may wish to explore in person.

Kind regards,
Sam Mézec
Deputy for St Helier No. 2
Chairman of Reform Jersey

Monday, 12 September 2016

My Election Reflection

Well, what an interesting month that was.

Firstly, let me thank the 3,518 people who came out to vote for me last Wednesday.

To have received such a huge amount of support from people of all walks of life across the whole Island and to have come so close to winning is a huge honour and I think is a demonstration of how badly the Council of Ministers has lost the public's support and how many people across the Island are now treating Reform Jersey as a legitimate player in Jersey politics who they trust more and more as time goes by.

I congratulate Sarah Ferguson on her victory and look forward to working with her on the policy areas which we share, including stopping the introduction of stealth taxes. Reform Jersey has propositions down to both stop the stealth taxes and, if those are unsuccessful, to ensure the rates are progressive and the burden is spread fairly to high earners, rather than purely squeezing Middle Jersey.

The bookies initially had me down to come 4th or 5th. They also had me down to lose in St Helier. I wish I'd stuck my life savings down on that bet...

We defied the odds in this election, have proven that Reform Jersey is here to stay and have laid excellent foundations down for the election in 2018.

Some important stats to note:

  • I almost doubled Reform Jersey's share of the vote since the last election (if we obtained the same share of the vote in a general election we would win 14 seats).
  • I increased our share of the vote in every Parish, up by 14% in St Helier, St Saviour, St Clement and St Peter.
  • I won a landslide in St Helier and also won St Saviour, the two biggest Parishes with a combined population of almost half of the Island.

But some anecdotal evidence is more important to bear in mind too.

From my experience, I spoke to hundreds of people who were voting for the first time ever because they were inspired by our campaign. This was not just young people, but many people who had lived here for decades and just never bothered before, despite being very aware of the big issues of the day and disliking how the government was handling things.

What caught them was that we made the effort to reach out to them, particularly on social media, and had a message that struck a chord. That message was simple - the States of Jersey doesn't work for you, but we think it should and we'll do our best to see that things get fairer.

People believe in that message. The old tricks that used to be thrown at us ("they're far-left, anti-finance, dangerous and evil" nonsense) don't wash any more because those hurling those stones thankfully live in glass houses.

Believing that the tax burden should be spread fairly, believing that government should get good value for money and believing in a population policy that works for people who are already in Jersey is not far-left, it's mainstream.

We also produced a leaflet in Portuguese which we went into their cafes, food festival and Church to hand out.

The reason that progressives have historically not done as well in elections as they should have done is because the people who would benefit most from their policies tend not to vote. But in this election we managed to get many of them out. That will be the key to our success in future is to keep these people inspired and mobilise them to become regular voters.

But the second part of that is to convert people who always vote, but would not usually vote for people like us.

In this election I had the opportunity to go round to the country Parishes and meet and speak to people who have only ever heard of us through unsympathetic forums like the JEP or word of mouth from Council of Ministers acolytes.

When they heard the word from the horses mouth instead, they realised that we are not the extremists some have tried to portray us as, and that we actually have a lot of positive things to contribute. The hustings were a useful platform to get this message across and I spoke to swathes of people who left impressed by our message. I came second in Grouville and St Ouen, two historically very conservative Parishes, which shocked many people.

Practical Recommendations for the Future

There are however some very important lessons to learn from this election based on some of the negative experiences.

The first and most pressing is how bloody awkward voting can be.

It is absolutely absurd in the 21st Century that you can't register to vote online. The amount of people I encountered who wanted to vote for us but couldn't because they weren't registered and had missed the deadline made this very frustrating.

Guernsey has online registration. It's not difficult. Just get on with it. Bureaucracy should not get in the way of people taking part in democracy.

There is also no reason why the current arrangement with polling stations continues to exist.

The technology exists and we have more than enough skilled computer software programmers resident in the Island who could write the software in a matter of weeks to create a system where electoral roll information is shared in real-time with all polling stations so that voters could vote at any station which is most convenient for them, without the capacity to then walk to another station and attempt to vote again. Again, just get on with it.

Also, many polling stations are not in convenient locations. Having one polling station per constituency in an arbitrary location is nonsensical.

Take St Clement as an example. Their polling station is at the Parish Hall which is at the wrong end of the Parish. Most people won't pass it on their way to and from work or dropping the kids off at school. If it were at Samarez School or the Good Companion's Club, you'd get hundreds more people there voting.

Another example, voters in Hue Court live closer to the Town Hall than almost everybody who lives in St Helier No. 1 district, yet they are technically in St Helier No. 2 district, so have to go to vote at Springfield Stadium instead.

I suggest we open more polling stations in more convenient locations where voters can vote, regardless of where they live.

Schools are perfect because many people are going to them anyway.

Finally, I fully support online voting being introduced. I am assured by those in the know that it is not as simple as the other recommendations I have made and will take more time to implement and (crucially) test so will not be implemented for the next election.

That is a shame, but I'll do what I can to keep up the pressure so it is in place as soon as possible.

Where now for Jersey democracy?

There has been much talk of the way that "no-hopers" detracted from the process and left the public unable to delve further into the politics of the candidates who actually stood a chance of winning.

I agree with this to some extent.

I stood in this election because I believed I stood a chance of winning. Some candidates stood despite knowing they stood no chance of winning at all, but they just like the sound of their own voices. One candidate even included the fact he was going to lose the election in his press release announcing he was standing as a candidate (I'm not making that up).

If you are standing for any reason other than to win and try to make Jersey a better place for it's people, then you're not standing for the right reasons and should not be there.

Some have proposed election deposits as a way of fixing this.

It may well help for some elections, but for others it will make things much worse.

We have Senatorial elections which are over-contested and Constables and sometimes Deputies elections which are often uncontested or at least under-contested.

As it stands, election deposits would simply discourage poorer, but just as credible, candidates from standing and potentially increase our already unacceptable levels of uncontested elections.

There are two better ways to resolve this -

  1. Party politics.

Party candidates make the best candidates.

It is no coincidence that the three candidates who did best in this election were the ones who had the best organised teams behind them. Those who did the worst were the ones who tried to do it all themselves with little funding and barely any volunteers.

We already have covert party politics. Once it is officially out in the open it will be clear what candidates stand for, whose club they are in and where they'll sit on the big issues if elected.

This will naturally put off no-hopers, or they'll instead join parties which will give them training and experience which will one day help make them a credible candidate.

     2. A fair electoral system.

Our electoral system is too complicated and it puts people off voting. But it also forces candidates to think more about where they stand and stops them challenging what they perceive as "safe seats" and instead go for other seats which end up over-contested.

Guernsey has one type of elected member in equal sized multi-member constituencies. They had no uncontested elections last time and all voters had a healthy, yet not overbearing, choice of candidates.

But unlike Guernsey, the reform of our electoral system should include moving to the Alternative Vote and Single Transferable Vote systems, where voters rank their candidates in order of preference to ensure that the most popular candidate gets elected.

It is wrong that Sarah Ferguson could get elected with 70% of voters having chosen someone else (and I'd still say that if it was me who had won).

We need to professionalise our democratic system if we want to see higher standards in it.

All other suggestions either hark back to some nostalgic past which never really existed, or seek to push a square peg through a round hole. It's not rocket science. A fair electoral system and party politics will improve our elections.

A call to all progressives

If there is one thing that comes out of this election, I hope it is a recognition that Reform Jersey is the best vehicle by which progressives can play a positive role in Jersey politics.

Others who stood on an independent progressive platform did appallingly and only helped to contribute to somebody who holds some very regressive views being elected.

In future they are far better off working with Reform Jersey rather than attempting to be a lone voice. The people of Jersey do not benefit from politics being led by egos. Teamwork is the only thing which will see the changes made to improve their lives. Those on the progressive wing of the political spectrum should recognise this and come on-board with us so that we can work together to deliver this change.

Since the by-election our membership has shot up. We will have candidates in more constituencies next time round and will certainly make gains. We are an open club and people are allowed to join it if they share our values. We aren't a sect and we certainly aren't tribal.

The public don't need here-today gone-tomorrow politicians. They need a movement with the strength to persevere for years to make their lives better. If you claim to be a progressive but won't work with that movement, then you're part of the problem.

For me, of course I will be a candidate in the next election. For what office is now up for discussion. I'd appreciate any comments my supporters may have on that question!

Thank you to:

- My dad for all the hard work he put in with posters, leafleting and chauffeuring.
- My mum, sisters, grandad, and all other relatives for all their support.
- Deputies Montfort Tadier and Geoff Southern for working their backsides off to help run my campaign and giving up a huge amount of their time.
- All of my volunteers, friends and supporters who helped prepare and put up posters, leafleted, canvassed on the doorstep etc.
- My designer for producing my posters and leaflets (I've always thought he does a smashing job).
- Unite the Union and the Communication Workers Union for their endorsements and support.
- Kit Ashton for his fantastic election videos he produced. Mèrcie bein des fais!
- All of those who volunteered on election day to make the process run smoothly.
- The staff at the States Greffe who did a brilliant job with
- The other candidates for what was generally a very clean campaign.
- Everyone who voted for me!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

John McNichol - Proposing me for Senator

I'm here to nominate Sam Mézec of Reform Jersey for the candidacy of Senator.

Well here we are. A mid term by- election has been thrust upon us, and now gives us a golden opportunity to deliver a verdict on the government of our island.

And what a damning verdict we can now deliver.

Let's make no bones about it ladies and gentlemen. The public of this Island have been taken for a ride.

Ministers stood at the last election, in the full knowledge of the impending fiscal deficit that was looming over us, a deficit of their own making.

Did anyone of them have the honesty or integrity to stand up at the time and warn us?


Not one of them.

We were duped.

Duped into believing everything was fine, our finances were the envy of the world.

Turns out the truth is a whole other ball game.

We are now facing tax rises, health charges, swingeing cuts to our public services, vicious cuts in support for the sick and vulnerable, and wholesale job losses and privatisations.

The medium term financial plan is a veritable smorgasbord of pain for the average Islander, while the wealthy are once again given preferential dispensation and exemption.

Its time for a change.

A real transformative change.

And there is literally only one choice that can deliver that transformation.

Sam Mézec and Reform Jersey.

Anything else will send a clear message that its business as usual, and the last thing this Island needs now is business as usual.

Sam Mézec represents the future, his track record speaks for itself.

He has consistently opposed the regressive policies of this Council of Ministers, taking them on and calling them out at every opportunity.

His live debates with ministers have been brilliant examples of how to deconstruct official narratives and expose them for what they really are.

We need Sam Mézec and Reform more than ever.

We need somebody to win who is clearly standing on a platform of opposing the regressive policies of this Council of Ministers, who has a proven track record of standing up to them and who also has a proven ability to work with others to achieve positive changes.

Sam and his Reform colleagues have been tireless campaigners for the voiceless and the vulnerable.

They have brought proposition after proposition to the assembly to attempt to hold ministers in check.

For example:

  • Equal marriage
  • Nursery funding
  • Free bus passes for the disabled
  • Minimum housing standards
  • Stopping lower minimum wage for the under 25s
  • Online voting.

We need to send a clear, unequivocal message to the government - they must change direction.

Sam Mezec will deliver that message.

We reject the Medium Term Financial Plan

Reform will lodge amendments and a vote for Sam is a vote to endorse those amendments.

Sam Mézec will stand in the assembly and say the public have given him a mandate to reject their plan.

He will pledge to

  • Stop the stealth taxes
  • End the civil service gravy train and golf jollies
  • Protect vital front-line public services that so many rely on
  • Reconfigure our tax model into a more progressive one that actually delivers for all Islanders and not just those at the top.
  • And to deliver meaningful electoral reform that produces real democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most out of touch and unaccountable government Jersey has had in decades.

We need a government that works in the interests of our whole community, not just those at the top.

Electing Sam Mézec as a Senator would be just the political earthquake this Island needs and would force the States of Jersey to change the way they do politics.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Please vote Sam Mézec for Senator - 7th September

I'm running for election as Senator in the by-election on the 7th September!

I have proudly represented the people of St Helier No. 2 as their Deputy for two and a half years. In that time I've worked hard to put their interests at the forefront of everything I do in politics and I have kept to every single one of my manifesto pledges.

But now I want to stand before the electorate of the whole Island to get a mandate for an alternative vision to the one being pursued by the Ian Gorst-led government.

The Council of Ministers has cut support for the poorest and most vulnerable Islanders, seen poverty drastically increase and is now proposing introducing stealth taxes which nobody voted for.

I want to make this election a chance for voters to cast a verdict on the Council of Ministers.

Only a vote for me is a vote for change which will send a strong message to the government that they must change direction.

No matter where you live in the Island, you will be able to vote on 7th September. I hope you'll consider voting for me as your Reform Jersey candidate!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Outsourcing - Broken promises and shabby excuses

On the 17th May, a Parish Assembly was held in St Helier to consider the following proposition -
to consider the merits of the proposition of Deputy Geoff Southern (P.29/2016 - Outsourcing) and to decide whether or not to express support for this projet and advise the Connétable, the ten Deputies and the eight Senators accordingly;
Around 100 members of the public came, with 52 ballots handed to St Helier residents in attendance, 51 of which were returned in favour of the proposition, with the remaining one ballot not being cast.

This unanimous vote was communicated by letter to all of the St Helier Deputies and Senators the next day.

Reform Jersey and Unite the Union called the Parish Assembly, evoking the Loi au sujet des Assemblées Paroissiales from 1804, to force St Helier to hold this meeting.

The next morning I went live on BBC Radio Jersey with the Minister for Infrastructure Deputy Eddie Noel to go head to head on the government's plans to privatise huge swathes of public services and make hundreds of workers redundant.

On a couple of occasions I was forced to use the word "lie" to describe what Deputy Noel was saying.

I consider it to be a huge shame that I have to do this, but there is no other word I can use when Deputy Noel chooses to mislead the public in the way he does. Since I would be expelled from the States Assembly by the unelected Bailiff if I used that word during a debate, I feel it is my duty to speak the truth outside the assembly where no such rules exist.

I want to go through some of the statements made by Deputy Noel in this BBC interview and demonstrate how they can be refuted. I did attempt to interject several times during the interview, however my microphone was turned down and it is difficult to hear the points I made.

At 2:57, on what consultations with the workers has taken place, Deputy Noel says -  "I have spoken to many people since my tenure at the Department of Infrastructure and prior to that when it was TTS. I do quarterly visits throughout Infrastructure. Deputy Mézec mentions that there hasn't been any consultation, but that simply isn't true."

A nice way of dodging the question. The BBC attempted to get a better answer from him and he reveals that his officers were in contact with the workers and you can hear me saying something in the background.

I was saying that Deputy Eddie Noel had not met with these workers' representatives once. That is a fact. It is confirmed in this written question I asked in the States -

He then lists the times that the DfI officers have met with the workers to "consult" with them.

Of course, because the Minister was not there these were not consultations in the true sense of the word. They have been described by the workers and union shop-stewards as being a complete sham. No discussion was taking place on the principle of outsourcing as only the Minister has the power to determine policy. It was the condemned being offered which method of execution they would prefer. Hardly a real consultation.

At 3:50 he says "we had this debate back in September last year when we had the first round of the MTFP".

Of course, this is not true. The MTFP decided the parameters of spending for each States department but (and the Council of Ministers were criticised heavily for this at the time) they contained no specific details on the substance of those cuts and which jobs and services would be outsourced.

There has been no States debate to endorse the Minister's outsourcing programme. To imply anything else is a straightforward lie.

At 4;00 he explains the make up of Jersey's deficit and this £145m blackhole. He says that an amount of this is for "investment" in public services.

Let's be clear, this investment is either a) covering for decades of neglect by previous ministers/ presidents who refused to spend money keeping our social housing, schools, hospital and other bits of infrastructure up to date because they didn't have the foresight to spend properly at the time, b) covering demographic changes because the Council of Ministers has an out of control population policy and we have larger numbers of children at school and people being treated in hospital than they had planned for, or c) is being paid for by cuts to support for pensioners and the disabled and cannot be described as being an improvement on those people's circumstances.

At 4:50 the BBC ask him if he made an election promise to protect jobs and he says "no I didn't make that promise to protect jobs".

Another straightforward lie.

The following quote is taken from the transcript of the election for Transport and Technical Services Minister on the 6th November 2014 where he was directly asked by Deputy Southern about redundancies -

Deputy G.P. Southern: Can I ask the specific question then? By how much does he expect to reduce his 500 workforce?
Deputy E.J. Noel: I do not intend to reduce that 500 workforce at all; in fact it is going to increase because I am going to put Property Holdings staff in with T.T.S. 

He couldn't have been clearer.

At 5:15 Deputy Noel explains why he believes it would be irresponsible to subject every outsourcing initiative to a States debate where workers would find out their fate potentially on the radio or on the news.

In the background you can hear me mutter "or an advert in the JEP".

This was a reference to the advert his department put in the Jersey Evening Post in February this year in which he put out an Opportunity to Tender for these exact jobs, before telling the workers themselves that their jobs were going to be put on the line.

Although I do have to enjoy the irony of Deputy Noel accusing Reform Jersey of being irresponsible towards these workers when we ourselves have consulted with them far more than he has and we had their overt support for this public meeting and proposition.

At 6:45 Deputy Noel (being caught with the quote from his broken election promise) backtracks with the epic "but since then, Deputy Mézec, the world has changed".

Nothing changed.

The public spending deficit (which was generated during Deputy Noel's time as Assistant Treasury Minister) was what it was both before and after Deputy Noel's election.

This is just a cover phrase to pretend that he change his mind when he saw the figures.

He just said what he thought he had to say to get the votes, with no intention of ever taking it into account.

So I lay this challenge to him - if it is true that he believed in keeping his promise but was forced to change by his ministerial colleagues once more figures came to light, then publish the minutes that demonstrate this.

At 8:13 he is asked why he wasn't at the Parish Assembly and he responds "it was a Parish meeting, it wasn't a public meeting".

Anybody was allowed to attend.

There were a good 60+ people in attendance who were not St Helier residents.

At 10:43 I handed Deputy Noel a piece of paper with the phone number of the union regional officer representing the workers and challenged him to call him to arrange a face to face meeting, something he had failed to do so far.

I am glad to say that as a result of me embarrassing him, he has agreed to meet the union representatives and hopefully progress can be made to avert strike action and protect workers' jobs.

This whole process has been poisoned from the start.

If you do not treat your workers with respect, you cannot expect to be treated with respect yourself.

Deputy Noel made an election promise he had no intention of keeping, he knew the state of our public finances at the time (because he'd been assistant minister for several years at that point) and refused to meet the workers face to face to discuss moving forward.

Their vote for strike action is therefore entirely justified.

I hope that tomorrow the States Assembly votes to accept the will of those who came to the Parish Assembly and approve our proposition to stop Deputy Noel from outsourcing services without a full impact assessment and vote in the States.

Episodes like this are what destroys the public's faith in politics. The sooner we are rid of ministers who behave this way, the better.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

How to grind the Gravy Train to a halt - Civil Servants business class flights

The latest scandal to hit the headlines in the past week has been the not-so-shocking revelations that over the past 5 years almost £400,000 was spent on business class flights for top level civil servants.

This information came to light because of a written question I lodged in the States Assembly, the breakdown of which can be viewed HERE.

This of course follows the specific scandal of Mike King (CEO of the Economic Development Department) and Wayne Gallichan (Director at Locate Jersey quango) spending £13,000 on a single trip to South Africa, on the basis that they needed to be comfortable as they flew over as they would be working from the moment they arrived, only later to admit that they played golf on arrival.

There has been a lot of commentary about this and what can be done in future to secure better value for money for taxpayers.

My view is that virtually all of this commentary has missed the point so I want to make my contribution to the debate here.

But let's be clear about this from the outset - 

It is morally repugnant to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a civil service gravy train when cuts are being forced on the poorest and most vulnerable people on the Island.

We all pay tax, we are all part of Jersey society and we are all entitled to enjoy the security that the state is meant to provide for it's citizens. This means that the government has a responsibility to ensure that our money is spent properly and that the needs of society as a whole come before the 'nice-to-haves' for a small minority of people who are already paid incredibly well as it is.

Yes, sometimes politicians and civil servants will have to travel outside of the Island from time to time to make the case for Jersey and to drum up business. Yes, the States should be a good employer and ensure that it's workers are treated fairly and are comfortable whilst they are working. And yes, sometimes that means forking out money to make sure these people are able to do what we need them to do.

But we have been told time and time again by the right-wing Council of Ministers that their entire political ethos is based around the idea of "small government" and making the States more efficient, yet we find out that right under Ian Gorst's nose for these past years that the civil servants he works closest with have been robbing the public blind at the same time as urging him to follow a political line which sees cuts to support for the disabled and pensioners as well as raising new taxes on middle earners which will see them potentially thousands of pounds a year worse off.

There is an entirely legitimate argument which could be put to me, as a politician from the social democratic side of the political spectrum, that this is a relatively small amount of money in comparison to some of the major cuts and projects on the horizon and it would be a better use of my time to focus on the bigger picture.

I partially agree with that, which is why I believe the debate on this should focus on the context and the political causes of these scandals, rather than looking at it as a single issue.

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee Deputy Andrew Lewis has been in the media stating that they are going to look at the procedures and rules which are in place that have allowed these costs to spiral out of control and make recommendations for reform. The media has put the question to me several times about whether I think that this will work or not.

My answer is that it will help, but it ignores the central issue. Here is that central issue -

The reason that this civil service gravy train exists is because the top civil servants and senior politicians are far too cosy with each other, and their own careers depend upon them looking out for one another and bailing them out when they are in trouble.

In most civilised jurisdictions around the world the public have the ability at an election to throw out a government and replace it with an entirely new one.

That new government will normally turn up to the office on day one with a comprehensive manifesto which they have just received a mandate from the public for, which they will present to their civil servants who are instructed to turn that manifesto into action.

The fact that this democratic mechanism exists means that the civil service of these jurisdictions have official procedures in place to cope with a wholesale change in government administration, so that if a government is replaced with a new one, they are able to deal with the upheaval and get to work on whatever it is they are instructed to do, without prejudice to that new government nor favour to the outgoing one. Basically, they must always be on their toes because they know that their way of doing things and the projects they involve themselves in could be overhauled by the democratic will of the people who they ultimately serve.

In Jersey however the situation is completely different.

Voters are offered a false choice at elections where candidates come forward, denying any connections either personally or in philosophy with the other candidates, and ask you to vote for them based on their smile, who their dad was and who can come up with the most interesting (but ultimately vacuous) statements on their leaflets.

The same government remains, with a minor alteration of the faces which represent it.

For the civil service, it is always business as usual. They probably don't even notice that elections even happen.

Those new faces in government are elected with no policies.

Most of those who end up as ministers take up a portfolio which they have virtually no plan for and usually little more than a few sentences in their leaflets or at their hustings about what they would actually do with that power.

Some of them even end up in a particular office that they didn't even want. Take Anne Pryke for example. She actually stood for election saying she wanted to continue on as Health Minister, only to be told by Ian Gorst that it was Andrew Green's turn so she had to go to Housing instead.

Because of this fact, the ministers are utterly dependent on their civil servants (who to their credit know their departments inside out) to actually explain to them how things run and what changes could feasibly be made.

A huge amount of time and money is spent on civil servants actually creating the minister's policies for them. In some departments there is even a routine and systematic privatisation of policy making to quangos instead.

But all this means is that the success of a minister is predicated on the quality of advice they receive from their civil servants. Basically, their re-election and careers depends on those who they are actually meant to be holding to account.

Likewise, those top civil servants (who are paid incredibly well and have an inordinate amount of security in their jobs) depend upon having lightweight politicians take those ministerial roles and keeping them as ignorant as possible about what is really going on so that their position is never seen as anything other than absolutely essential to them.

There is an unbreakable cycle and this is where the poison sets in.

When they spend all this time together, they become too cosy with one another and become incapable of holding each other to account.

How can any of us therefore find it surprising that some of these people end up taking the Mickey with their own public spending on themselves?

They believe they can get away with it, so they push the boundaries and the perks become seen as an entitlement, regardless of the standards they uphold.

This inevitably means we waste huge amounts of money and the ministers are none the wiser because the perpetrators are those whose advice they seek to ask how to make their departments more efficient.

Instead, they say sack frontline workers. They say means-test this or that service. They say outsource or privatise this function. They never say ask them and their mates to do more for less like they know they are capable of doing.

By a bizarre twist of fate, the person who has been my greatest ally in demonstrating this fact to be true is actually Senator Philip Ozouf.

Philip (whom I actually get on with really well, even though we disagree on a huge number of things politically) wrote a blog a few days ago to comment on this very subject and jump to the defence of some of those named by the media. His blog can be read HERE.

In this post he defends Colin Powell and Joe Moynihan as being wonderful ambassadors for the Island who have contributed hugely to our success in recent years.

That may well be totally true. In the case of Colin Powell, my own private conversations with him lead me to believe that he believes in the principles of what a good civil servant should be and I believe that he would probably agree with the points I made above about the civil service always being prepared for alternative governments with alternative agendas.

But Senator Ozouf spectacularly misses the point.

This isn't about who these people are and how good they may or may not have been for the Island.

The personalities are irrelevant.

This is about a system that allows so much waste in the public sector, led by people who are unaccountable and have made themselves so indispensable that they end up leaving people like Senator Ozouf feeling like he has no choice but to stick his head above the parapet and defend the indefensible.

It is the job of a politician is to lead, to construct a positive and credible vision for the future and to have the ability to manage his or her staff to deliver on that vision. It isn't the job of those behind the scenes to lead.

Many of those who work in our civil service may well be incredible people who work hard and are committed to their Island. But that should never ever be an excuse for not holding them to account when they make mistakes. If the politicians see it as their job to protect these people no matter what, then we are truly in a mess.

I believe that there is only one way the grind this gravy train to a halt and that is to demonstrate to the civil service that there is no such thing as "business as usual" for them any more and to elect an entire new government who can show up on day one and say that Jersey has become a true democracy with a true government system which is fit for purpose to deliver for it's people what they desire as a community.

If that cannot be recognised, then we better get used to millions of pounds of taxpayers money continuing to be wasted forever.

Friday, 1 April 2016

A Squalid Compromise to Please No-one - The Dual Role of the Bailiff

Today the media has reported Chief Minister Ian Gorst's latest bright idea.

Jersey is one of only two places in the world (Guernsey being the other) where an unelected judge also acts as presiding officer of the elected parliament, with the power to deny democratically elected members permission to lodge propositions and the power to instruct them on what they are not allowed to say. We have had two independent reports recommending we abolish the dual role, all of the government's legal advice has said that we may one day open ourselves up to human rights legal challenges if we do not change it and our sister island Sark was forced to change their formerly identical system after the Barclay brothers won a legal challenge against the UK government.

Ian Gorst may have most aspects of his political agenda completely wrong, but he knows that the writing is on the wall for the dual role of the Bailiff and that the Island's reputation is at risk if we persist with an out of date and undemocratic system. Not to mention that when we're £145m in the red, a potential human rights legal challenge is something we can scarcely afford when the solution is right in front of us.

The last time that the prospect of splitting the dual role came up in the States, Ian Gorst lodged comments which were absolute dynamite. If you're into that sort of thing, I recommend giving them a read. They are impossible to argue against -

However he has a big problem - he can't convince all of his ministers.

For some bizarre reason, there are a quite a few States Members whose misinformed understanding of Jersey's traditions leads them to oppose any sort of modernisation to improve Jersey's government system.

Personally, I cannot fathom why politicians who claim to support Jersey's finance industry (an industry which is incredibly modern, forward thinking and which requires constant attention to make sure our regulatory framework matches international expectations) are not prepared to support a government system which matches those expectations.

Senators Gorst and Ozouf get it, but the others are stuck in the 18th Century unfortunately.

So in an attempt to move forward, he has suggested that many of the worries concerning the dual role of the Bailiff could be resolved by simply not allowing the Bailiff to preside over the States when we are debating legislation.

The "logic" behind this is that the fundamental problem with the dual role is that it is wrong for somebody who is involved in the law making process to then be involved in the business of applying the law.

Let's be clear - this proposal suggests moving from a situation where a significant group of States Members are unhappy, some are happy and we defy the internationally accepted fundamental democratic principle of the separation of powers to a situation were all States Members are unhappy and we still defy the principle of separation of powers!

A sensible compromise? Hardly!

For those who believe in the principle of the separation of powers (which in a democratic society should be all of us) this will never be enough. We want Jersey to abide by this principle and this compromise barely moves us an inch in the right direction.

It also doesn't really do what it is meant to do.

The States Assembly actually spends very little time debating pure legislation. Most of our time is spent either in question time where we hold the executive to account, or it is spent debating propositions which are usually in-principle debates which will lead to legislation which tends to go through very quickly (which may actually be a bad thing, but that's a debate for another day).

In practice this would mean the Bailiff presiding over the States for the vast majority of the time and sometimes leaving the chamber for it to be presided over for as little as 10 minutes of business at the end of the session as members merely nod through something uncontroversial.

Which begs the question, what is the point? It would be a lot of effort for virtually no difference.

I also think it is wrong to suggest that the legislation is the key part which causes the problem.

The legislation may be the fine print which actually comes into force, but it usually reflects the principles which are debated in propositions beforehand and sometimes even thrashed out during question time as members question ministers' intentions to draft legislation.

The whole of States Assembly proceedings is part of the legislative process, right from the very beginning. The substantial bit is rarely the actual moment where the final piece is voted through.

But ultimately, the compromise which is being suggested is a waste of time for the simple reason that if a proposition is brought to the States to achieve it, all it will take is one States Member to lodge an amendment to go the whole way and have an elected Speaker (and is no shortage of members who will be prepared to do that) and it will instead become a debate on that, not Ian Gorst's compromise.

So it has no mileage whatsoever and Ian Gorst should just forget about it right now.

I believe that Ian Gorst is showing an appalling lack of leadership over this issue and I know that his refusal to get to grips with it is causing discontent amongst some members who are prepared to simply bypass him and make their own attempt to push forward. This attempt would be doomed to fail, but that failure would be the responsibility of the Chief Minister for not taking action himself.

The Chief Minister's department has already done the work to construct the necessary report to accompany a proposition to split the dual role of the Bailiff and it is even one of the very few political topics that Ian Gorst had a clear policy on when he stood for election.

Ian Gorst should lodge his own proposition to establish an elected Speaker and he should tell his Council of Ministers to back him like he would expect them to over any other issue he had been so forthright about during his election.

Who would choose to resign from his cabinet over such an issue? Most ministers, when push comes to shove, would stay put.

There is of course one exception - Senator Philip Bailhache.

Senator Bailhache wrecked the last attempt to have a debate on the dual role of the Bailiff by lodging an amendment to turn it into a debate on having a referendum on splitting the dual role, rather than splitting the dual role outright.

He is the brother of the current Bailiff and his resignation would be interpreted by the vast majority of observers not as some sort of grand defence of Jersey tradition, but as a defence of his brother and his job. It will simply be too much of a coincidence for many people to come to any other conclusion, whether it is true or not.

On that basis, he is expendable.

Over the past few months, the incumbents have been acting in a way which is so counterproductive to their intention to hold on to this undeserved privilege as long as possible that for people like me it has sometimes almost felt like winning the lottery.

There is scarcely a single Islander who believes that William Bailhache made the right decision in expelling Deputy Tadier from the States for referring to Jesus in a rhetorical way during a debate on stopping cuts to support for disabled people.

When I have explained what happened to both visiting political campaigners/ journalists and even to school children, they have all burst out laughing at how absurd it was.

A few weeks ago I stated during question time that I believe that the way the Infrastructure Minister is handling his outsourcing programme (which is seeing working people facing a prolonged period of uncertainty over their future) is immoral. The Bailiff asked me twice to withdraw that allegation. I refused and said it was an opinion I was perfectly entitled to hold, it was not unparliamentary and I was not prepared to withdraw it. He caved in, but everybody who was listening thought it was wrong for him to have even considered it appropriate to wade in on what was blatantly a political point.

The Deputy Bailiff rarely even attempts to conceal his bias when he presides over the States. He allows ministers (who until recently he acted as their legal adviser) pretty much free reign over what they can say and how long they take to say it, yet will immediately shut down any member who attempts to challenge a minister by prefixing their question with some context. If you are prefixing a question without challenging the minister, he will allow you to say what you want and wait until the end before suggesting that the member could be a little bit more concise in their questions, maybe, if they felt like it.

This has meant session after session where elected members have been denied their right to challenge ministers with supplementary questions on important topics.

As every single States sitting goes by, the breaking point gets closer and closer, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next occasion these people dig their own graves a little bit deeper.

Disillusionment in Jersey politics has never been higher. It was 70% when I was first elected and it's now 84% (no connection, I swear!) But that disillusionment is not just directed at the government, but also at the States Assembly too (according to the poll).

I believe that part of this stems from the fact we have an apolitical culture in the Island (partially as a result of not having a long history of entrenched party politics like most countries) and our parliament does not have a rich history as an institution of democratic virtue and principle.

The role of the Speaker is not to just be impartial in the chair, but it is to be overtly partisan outside of the chair in support of the institution of the parliament, it's purpose and it's rights and privileges.

We need somebody who represents the traditions and purpose of our Island parliament and goes out into the community to make the case for the institution and to advocate and educate what it is we do and how the public have the power to force us to do it better.

The Bailiff can never perform this role.

When we are a proper democracy, we will begin to rebuild trust with the public in our ability to function as a parliament for the people.

This change is inevitable. So let's get on with it.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Post-People's Park Reflections

I had expected Tuesday to be a fairly ordinary day in the States Assembly. Okay, we had a pretty controversial item on the agenda for debate, but I suspected the vote wouldn't happen until the next day after hours of painful debate, which happens from time to time.

Question time was pretty standard, but quite enjoyable too. I was on fire (if I do say so myself) having researched the night before for parts of hansard which showed the Treasury and Infrastructure Ministers having either U-turned on their policies since the election or, worse, having outright lied about those policies in the first place. The Health Minister clearly got rattled by one of my questions which he refused to answer, claiming it was a hypothetical question, despite the presiding officer confirming that the question was perfectly in order.

Whilst getting stuck into the ministers I barely even noticed that there were prolonged periods of time where the senators benches was more or less empty as all the ministers left the chamber. I guess I just assumed that they had drunk a few too many cups of tea during their pre-States meeting/ prayer/ meditation (or whatever it is they get up to beforehand) and had synchronised their comfort breaks.

Little did I know that the Council of Ministers was having emergency meetings as they knew they were dealing with a mutiny on their hands.

Just as the debate on People's Park was due to begin and hundreds of Islanders were gathering in the Royal Square the Health Minister Senator Andrew green stood up (looking damn miserable it has to be said) and announced that the government had decided to take People's Park off the shortlist of potential sites for the new hospital.

Victory for the people, victory for democracy and victory for Jersey!

I didn't stick around to hear the rest of his statement. I ran straight outside to the square and got the crowds attention for Deputy Hilton to announce the decision to the public.

Huge cheers, hundreds of hugs and handshakes and I'm pretty sure I saw a few tears too.

On the 150th anniversary of Francois Godfrey gifting People's Park to the people of St Helier, we won the battle to keep the park free for the people to enjoy for generations to come.

There has been a lot of analysis of this move over the past few days and pretty much all of it has been totally wrong, so I'm going to try to set the record straight.

The first myth to debunk is that "the government finally listened to the people."

It would be nice to believe this, but it simply isn't true.

The hansard for question time will show that the Council of Ministers was determined to go ahead opposing the campaign to save People's Park right up until the last minute.

By the time the States was in session all of the lobbying from the public was finished. They were continuing to justify their position throughout the morning.

What provoked them to change their stance was a series of emails from various States Members informing the ministers that they had changed their minds and decided to back the campaign.

The Council of Ministers themselves ignored the public. The only people they listened to were the members who were usually loyal. They did the maths and realised they were going to lose the vote.

Better to back down rather than face the embarrassment of losing.

The evidence of this is the sheer indignation in every nuance of Andrew Green's manner since this happened. He hasn't backed down with dignity in my view. He deserves the credit for taking the right decision in the end, but his leadership is damaged irreparably.

The government did not listen to the public. It was the backbenchers, a handful of Constables and a handful of assistant ministers who listened to the public and forced the government to change their position.

The next myth is one which is paradoxically being propagated by the mainstream media and it is that "a vocal minority has denied a choice the silent majority."

I mean, honestly, get real.

This campaign was representative of the public and all the evidence both statistical and anecdotal proves it.

Yes, I'm sure there are some people who disagreed. That's fine and that's democracy. But they were a tiny minority.

5,000 signatures for our petition is more than they'll get responses to the public consultation, I'm absolutely certain of that.

But how strange it is for the media to have turned so quickly after a few weeks of them being so supportive! You could always count on them to turn a huge victory for democracy into something to be negative and cynical about.

Lessons to be learnt

The key thing I have taken from this experience is that every single person who told us along the way "you're wasting your time", "it won't make a difference" or "they never listen anyway" was absolutely wrong.

The campaign made a huge difference and organised the most effective lobbying on a political for a very long time.

It was the emails, the phone calls and the conversations in the street that swung enough States Members to change their position that achieved this.

Those people who told us they agreed with us but wouldn't support us because they thought it was a waste of time were essentially the greatest allies the Council of Ministers could have hoped for. Our victory was despite these people and would have come quicker if they hadn't taken this totally counterproductive attitude.

This campaign showed what can be done when people come together (whatever side of the political spectrum they are on) to positively push forward on something that matters to people.

It worked and it can work again in the future.

I can only hope that this victory will have energised people and swept away the cynicism that plagues our political discourse.

Next time we ask for the public to get behind a new campaign for an important cause and we're told "what's the point, they never listen" we can say "they listened on People's Park".

Friday, 5 February 2016

Owen Jones and the 'Politics of Hope'

Last week the Guardian columnist, author and activist Owen Jones came to Jersey to give a talk at the Arts Centre on 'the Politics of Hope'.

The event was sold out with many people disappointed to not get tickets, and once Owen got into his stride it became very clear why.

Aside from being incredibly likeable and articulate, the message which Owen was here to spread is one which the people of Jersey have desperately needed to hear for a long time.

Jersey is a wonderful place with a beautiful environment and strong community spirit, yet we have been plagued by bad governments which have seen so much of our potential squandered.

Despite being one of the richest places in the world, we have rampant relative poverty. One third of pensioners live in relative low income, as do 58% of single-parent families. Over the past 5 years the poorest 1/5 of Islanders have seen their standard of living drop 17%. 

Financially, our government situation is a complete mess. We are facing a budget deficit of £145m because of government after government failing to make investments in education and health when they were needed, our social housing stock has been privatised after decades of neglect and, despite promises to the contrary, ordinary families are about to see their tax bill rise by between £1,000 to £2,000 (I'd like to be more specific on that figure, but even the government don't know what they're doing yet).

All of this happens whilst 70% of the electorate do not take part in the democratic process, boycotting elections and repeating the same old line "why bother voting, it won't change anything".

The Politics of Hope is about believing that we can do much better than this and that if you can tap into discontent and concentrate it's power into enthusiasm for a positive programme for change, then anything is possible.

It's about saying that one of the richest places in the world with some of the most sophisticated expertise and talent does not have to accept poverty as an inevitability and that we can and should look out for one another using the government as a positive tool to help create an environment in which anyone is able to achieve their potential, uninhibited by the circumstances of their birth and where we can together pursue our aspirations as a community.

Owen made the point that the current political status quo puts off ordinary people. Most people don't think in terms of left or right, they care about issues and how it affects their lives. Few politicians have been able to articulate their case in a way which genuinely inspires people.

This is how Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in America have been able to inspire so many people who were previously apolitical to get involved, because their authenticity and values count for so much more than what mainstream politics has considered normal for too long,

That is why Reform Jersey does not define itself as left-wing.

After all, what's left-wing about wanting everyone to pay a fair rate of tax? What's left-wing about saying people who do an honest day's work should be paid a fair wage? What's left-wing about saying our democratic process should be open and fair, allowing everyone to have an equal say on the future of their community?

Reform Jersey represents a progressive vision for an Island run on principles of fairness.

The real extremists in Jersey politics are the Council of Ministers.

They are pursuing an economic strategy which has been shown to be a total failure in literally every single example of it being used since the 1920s. That is utter madness. They have cut £10m from the budget which is ring-fenced to protect the most vulnerable people in society. They are threatening to sack hundreds of public sector workers described by their own £650 a day advisor to be the "best value for money" out of all of our workers, whilst creating new £120,000 a year management jobs.

As every month goes past and we receive more news about how the government is trying to shaft the public, whether it's the outrageous theft of People's Park (the clue is in the name for goodness sake!!), the cuts to support for pensioners or the sleaze which is now associated with collective responsibility, we are gaining more members and finding more people who have not been turned off by politics but who have been spurred in to fight even harder.

We may now have the most right-wing government we have ever had, but I firmly believe that it is also the most right-wing government we will ever have, because the next election will see a democratic upsurge against the status quo by those who have never voted before and by those who have been fooled for too long.

There is hope. We can and will change things.

Thank you so much to Owen Jones for his support and his inspirational words last week.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Raise the minimum wage! - My speech from the States debate

Last week I brought forward a proposition to the States Assembly to raise the minimum wage in line with the latest increase for the UK's new "National Living Wage", set to be £7.20ph from the 1st April, meaning our own minimum wage will have fallen behind theirs for the first time.

Just 10 States Members supported this part of the proposition, however I won part B in a tight 25-23 vote to hold a review into the possibility of a significant rise in the minimum wage in the near future.

A small victory, but one which I'm proud of.

Here is my speech proposing this measure -

As I sat down to write this speech yesterday evening, the news headline that I could see on my computer screen read: “Wealth of the world. Richest 1 per cent now equal to other 99 per cent.” 

This was the calculation that Oxfam has made using the data they acquired from Credit Suisse for the report which they released recently entitled An Economy for the 1 per cent. They also found that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population combined. Now just 5 years ago it would have taken 388 individuals to have had the same wealth as the bottom 50 per cent, so much worse has income inequality become in such a short space of time. 

It is because I believe in equality and social justice that I find these figures to be absolutely grotesque. I believe wholeheartedly that it is the Government’s responsibility to do what it can to create a more equal and fair society and I believe that in Jersey, the picture is no different. 

The Income Distribution Survey which was released at the end of last year has shown that inequality in Jersey has now become worse than in the United Kingdom when the previous survey 5 years ago showed then we were doing better than them. The average standard of living for the poorest 20 per cent in Jersey has reduced by 17 per cent over the past 5 years; 56 per cent of single-parent households are now living on a relative low income and so are a third of pensioners. 

All of this has happened, as a Freedom of Information request has shown, that in the past decade the number of people in Jersey earning above £1 million a year has quadrupled. 

I believe that, sadly, things are probably going to get worse from here on in. The Government, which is pursuing what some of us consider to be an ideologically-driven austerity agenda, has already decided to cut £10 million worth of support to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Jersey: that is the pensioners, single-parent families and disabled Islanders. 

Now the world is becoming a more unfair and unequal place and it is getting worse because of complacent governments who, let us be perfectly honest here, are beholden to the interests of a small minority group in whose interests they serve, despite not having any real democratic mandate to do so, and despite any evidence whatsoever that this economic strategy will produce any long- term or widespread benefits for the population as a whole. In fact, all the evidence from the O.E.C.D. (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the I.M.F. (International Monetary Fund) shows that the exact opposite is true and it is the more equal societies which have better prospects for economic growth and happier societies as well. 

Now Oxfam made several recommendations on how they think governments can reverse this trend and begin to make a tangible difference to ordinary people’s lives and to the economy. They made suggestions like ending the gender pay gap, reducing the price of health care, taxing wealth rather than consumption and using progressive public spending to tackle inequality, which is pretty much basically the Reform Jersey manifesto. 

But one of the fundamental suggestions they made was to introduce a living wage so this is what my proposition today is about moving towards. 

Now the Chief Minister said about a year ago that he was going to make reducing poverty one of his Government priorities. Then we saw a few months later the publication of the Strategic Priorities document in which the word “poverty” did not appear once and instead it laid down the foundations for a fiscal plan over the next 3 years which is probably going to make conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable people in Jersey much worse. 

At the time I challenged the Chief Minister and said, when he made that statement at the time, to support Reform Jersey’s then proposition which was being brought forward by Deputy Southern to raise the minimum wage to demonstrate his commitment to reducing poverty, which he declined to do so then, and has indicated that he will be doing the same this time round. 

Now at the time ... well there was a time previously when people like me could have just dismissed that and said: “Well, yes, it is just what you expect. It is the same old Tories ideologically attached to a broken economic model which serves the few above the many just like they always do.” But, no, not this time. Because even the Conservative Party in the U.K. is surpassing everybody’s expectations and increasing the minimum wage and setting out a path to a £9 an hour national living wage by the end of the current Parliament in 2020, not only outdoing what the Labour Party was suggesting they would do if they got into Government, but also leaving Jersey’s Government even more isolated in this political context. 

So I say if Reform Jersey can plagiarise George Osborne’s policies, surely it is not too much to ask the Council of Ministers to do it just this once as well. 

So, as my report says, if you take the current trends we have seen in the nominal increases in the minimum wage since it was introduced, it is going to take Jersey an entire decade before we reach the U.K.’s level of £9 an hour. We are not going to get there until 2030. Now surely that cannot be right to say that we are going to allow the situation to develop where we are an entire decade behind the U.K. on how we pay the lowest-paid workers in Jersey. 

So the question I ask to States Members is this, is it acceptable for Jersey to have a minimum wage which is a decade behind the U.K.’s? I do not believe that there will be Members of this Assembly who seriously believe that that is a tolerable situation. If you accept that it is not tolerable, as I suspect most Members do, then surely the position, the automatic position, is to support at least part (b) of this proposition because we all accept hopefully that there is a problem with the minimum wage which is going to have to be addressed in some form or another. 

Because the fact is that the campaign for a decent living wage is not going to disappear any time soon. The principles of it are becoming more mainstream every single day and more and more Governments of all political persuasions, politicians, businesses and economists are understanding the value of the concept and working towards putting it into practice. 

So, the minimum wage is never going to go down; it is only ever going to go up. The question is by how much and how fast? 

That question of speed is a fair question and it is one which is alluded to in the Council of Ministers’ comments. 

They talk about giving appropriate notice for businesses and they also refer to the legitimate worries which were expressed by the Chamber of Commerce about getting it right with sensible increases rather than big jumps. Of course, I completely agree with what they say in this area as, to be honest, I often do. 

But the fact is, because we are set to be a decade behind the U.K. unless we take action, and the timetable that is given in the Council of Ministers’ comments shows that we might not make any meaningful progress until 2018, that means that we would end up with just 2 years to catch up or we would fall behind, neither of which, to be perfectly honest, is an acceptable situation. So this proposition means that we would have double the length of time to spread out these increases which would surely make it easier for businesses to cope with it. So I do not particularly buy that argument being pursued by the Council of Ministers. 

So I know when I sit down and the debate begins we will hear, I presume, from the Minister for Social Security, who will lay out the position of herself, her department and the wider position of the Government, and I want to ask Members when she speaks, or when the Chief Minister speaks, to listen to the words being used and, in your head, work out what is being argued. Is it an argument against the proposition or is it an argument against the living wage altogether? I think we are likely to see that most of it will be an underlying distrust of the idea that paying our lowest workers a bit more would be good for the economy. 

So the comments which were lodged by the Council of Ministers at the last minute - which seems to be what they do as a matter of standard practice now - a couple of times it refers to businesses offsetting the increased wages with job losses which, to be frank, is the same old tired line that has always been used about the minimum wage. It was said before the minimum wage was first introduced that it would cause mass unemployment, and the same Doomsday predictions are made when it is suggested that it is raised, and every single time they are proven to be either complete nonsense or fantastically simplistic. 

The evidence shows that when unemployment is able to be attributed to a rise in the minimum wage it is usually offset by the employment that is created by the extra economic growth, which is inevitable when the lowest-paid workers get more disposable income. So the idea that it creates unemployment simply cannot be demonstrated to be true in any way which is not a simplistic, overly-simplistic, and therefore inaccurate way of looking at the situation. 

I find it strange that when the Government proposes its own increases to the minimum wage, which it does more or less every year, that this argument does not seem to be raised. It is only when we talk about doing further rises to it that that somehow comes forward as an argument which shows to me that the position is held disingenuously. 

So, this proposition, part (a) of which is to agree that from 1st April next year we are not going to let Jersey’s minimum wage fall behind what will be the effective minimum wage in the U.K. Okay, they are not calling it a minimum wage, it is the national living wage, which is a title that they have been criticised for giving it because it is misleading at the end of the day, but it is essentially what the minimum wage will be for the vast majority of workers in the U.K. It is about saying: “We are not going to let an Island which has a cost of living which is much higher than the U.K. fall behind.” I think that is an entirely sensible position and that is what part (a) is about. 

Part (b) is about saying: “Right, well, we know what the future of the effective minimum wage in the U.K. is going to be. We know it is going to be £9 an hour by 2020.” It is about saying: “Right, knowing that that is the context that we find ourselves in, we need to look at ours because we cannot have the situation where we end up falling 10 years behind it.” So that is what this proposition does. It gives the States an opportunity to debate that and consider those points. I hope that at least one part of the proposition can be seen as acceptable and therefore adopted. From my point of view, I am doing it to show my support for Jersey’s lowest-paid workers who are struggling more than ever to make ends meet.

I hope that Members are not too ideologically aligned to an economic ideology which is being shown all around the world to be a complete failure. I hope Members will demonstrate on this argument to be on the right side and to support our lowest-paid workers.