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!