Friday, 13 October 2017

"Honoured" to meet a random dictator

Being a politician is a pretty surreal experience on the best of days. It's never dull and even in Jersey we often find ourselves lucky enough to enjoy a political theatre that matches up to the excitement of other jurisdictions (or at least it does if you're a geek like me).

Today was strange.

Once again, our Chief Minister has gone abroad to represent the Island and meet representatives of other governments to promote Jersey. I have no problem with that.

Again, he has met with representatives of countries which have human rights records that are less than impressive. I also have no problem with that.

But what I can't get my head around is Senator Gorst's choice of words.

After meeting with Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa (the Finance Minister of Bahrain), he tweeted a picture of the two of them together with a caption saying he was "honoured" to meet him.


The Chief Minister has met some interesting people in his line of work. Whether they be Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, or even ordinary Jersey folk who have done extraordinary things. How does Sheikh Al-Khalifa match up to them?

He is not a democratic politician. He is a member of the ruling family of Bahrain which has been in charge for hundreds of years, ruling with an iron fist and having zero-tolerance for opposition.

Torture is widespread. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, a hundred dissidents have been murdered and thousands have been wounded. They even called in the Wahabist and ISIS-backing Saudi Arabian military to help them brutally put down these protests.

Basically, these people are really nasty.

Why is it an honour to meet someone like him? Why was this word necessary?

I get that part of diplomacy and politics means that you have to meet with people you disagree with. Sometimes it means meeting with nasty people if it's for the greater good. But what is the benefit of cosying up to people and inflating their ego by acting as if there isn't something fundamentally wrong with their agenda?

Sheikh Al-Khalifa and his tyrannical family have blood on their hands. It's not an honour to meet them. At best, it's just business.

But things got even stranger when States Members received an advance copy of a press release on this subject.

Here is the relevant bit -
The Chief Minister has also met with His Excellency Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, who has been Minister of Finance in the Kingdom of Bahrain since January 2005. Minister Al Khalifa is also a member of the Development Committee of the World Bank Group and IMF. 
Jersey and Bahrain have a long-standing relationship and the Chief Minister will be making an official visit to Bahrain later this year to enhance Jersey’s commercial and political links with the Kingdom. 
Senator Gorst commented: “We place great importance on the Island’s positive relationship with the Kingdom of Bahrain, and I was pleased to be able to meet with His Excellency to discuss future opportunities for partnership between our jurisdictions.”

Apparently Jersey has a long-standing relationship with Bahrain.

Did you know that? I didn't.

Jersey does not have any people from Bahrain living in Jersey at all, according to the last census. I doubt many Jersey people live in Bahrain.

We have a long-standing relationship with France. We don't have one with Bahrain. It's just silly to say we do.

These comments just aren't serious.

Is it too much to ask that our leaders speak plainly and cut this sort of unnecessary BS? It just looks a bit silly.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

An outrageous political intervention from William Bailhache

In September, the States Assembly will have it's first opportunity to vote on one of the recommendations of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry when it debates P.62/2017 lodged by Deputy Tadier to split the dual role of the Bailiff and allow the States to elect it's own Speaker.

In fact, not only will it be a chance to adopt a recommendation from the £23m ICJI, but also to adopt some of the recommendations of the Clothier Review and the Carswell Review, all of which have said that Jersey needs to introduce a Separation of Powers if it has any hope of meeting modern democratic standards.

The IJCI said that this had to be considered as part of a deliberate drive to eradicate the perception of the "Jersey Way" which has been prevalent in our community for decades, where many people distrust the Island's "establishment" and believe it acts only to perpetuate their own self interest at the expense of the vulnerable.

So, without a hint of irony, in the run up to this debate, the Bailiff William Bailhache, has written to the Chief Minister in an attempt to perpetuate his own self interest by trying to influence his conduct in this upcoming debate.

The full letter can be read from page 6 here -

The key paragraph reads -
"However, in the forthcoming debate, I should be grateful for your assurance that you will not take the line that the Care Enquiry's Recommendation 7 is a reason for supporting the proposition of Deputy Tadier, or indeed for re-visiting the issue of the Bailiff's role generally."

Let's put that in simple English - an unelected judge (and supposedly impartial Speaker) has written to an elected Chief Minister to instruct him to disregard the evidence and findings of a £23m Inquiry whilst pursuing his policies.

This is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy.

Of course William Bailhache is entitled to his opinion as an individual, but as our Speaker, he is not entitled to use his position to influence our elected politicians. In doing so, he has shown himself to be unfit to hold the office he does, and has shown how absolutely imperative it is that the States votes to relinquish him of these responsibilities.

He has epitomised the Jersey Way that Francis Oldham QC had criticised in the ICJI report.

If John Bercow (Speaker of the House of Commons) did something like this, he would be expelled by the afternoon.

The full letter is an illuminating read.

In the letter, Bailhache attempts to explain why there is no problem with the dual role of the Bailiff and makes an argument which is not only poor, but is just plain weird because of how illogical it is.

He says -
"The system which we have, for the record, does not come nearly as close to breaching the rules around the separation of powers as did that in the UK as recently as 2005. There, the Lord Chancellor was not only a member of the judiciary and the legislature, but also a member of the Cabinet with executive responsibilities."

Spot the problem with this argument?

He refers to a situation WHICH DOESN'T EXIST ANYMORE.

How on Earth does a Bailiff consider it a good argument to compare Jersey to a bad system which no longer exists and was deliberately changed by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, to split the multiple roles held by the Lord Chancellor?

2017 Jersey may well be better than pre-2005 UK. But the UK accepted this was wrong and now 2017 UK has a better system than 2017 Jersey. That surely is a demonstration that we are too slow to reform ourselves and that there is a problem with the current system.

He goes on with -
"Dicey, that great English constitutional lawyer of the 19th century did not regard that position with disfavour."

Now, every person who has studied law has heard of Dicey. He was no Lord Denning (#legend), but someone we were all taught about. His main work 'Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution' was published in 1885.

William Bailhache is arguing that the lack of separation of powers is okay because some bloke wrote 132 years ago that it wasn't a big deal.

In fact, not just some bloke. Dicey was a staunch anti-democrat.

He opposed every single proposal to offer Ireland more autonomy from the UK (and many have paid with their lives in the conflict which that attitude helped create) and he was a staunch opponent of women's suffrage.

I really don't think that it's a wise argument to reference what an anti-democrat wrote 132 years ago to justify the dual role of the Bailiff in 2017.

"It is right also to add that my own experience is that there are a number of very senior thinkers in the United Kingdom, including senior judges, who do not regard the constitutional changes of 2005 with favour."

Because judges are of course well known for being beacons of progressivism!

"They have led to a hard edged angularity which is unhelpful, as was witnessed by the failure of senior politicians there adequately to defend the judiciary against the disgraceful attack by some part of the media (describing the judges as "Enemies of the people") following the decision in the administrative court on the lawfulness of the government's proposed Brexit strategy."

Now, when he says "senior politicians", what he should mean is the hard-right, Brexiteer Tory MPs who are so hell bent on leaving the EU that they don't care what it does to the British economy or what impact it has on British democracy. Labour politicians were at the vanguard of defending the independence of the judiciary throughout that process, and they cannot be lumped in together with right-wing politicians who were blinded by their extreme agenda.

But the example of the Supreme Court ruling on the lawfulness of the government's Brexit strategy is actually a very helpful one for those who support the separation of powers.

The government led by Theresa May and packed full of hard Brexiteers like David Davis and Boris Johnson believed that they had the right to unilaterally trigger Article 50 and begin the process of withdrawing the UK from the European Union. A member of the public disagreed and challenged this in court, arguing that as Britain's parliament is supreme, Article 50 could only be lawfully triggered after a vote in both Houses of Parliament. The government challenged this view at every step along the way (costing the taxpayer a pretty penny in the process).

The British courts, including the most senior court of the land, ruled against the government and hugely embarrassed them by forcing the Prime Minister to tear up her plans and go down a different route instead.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom defended the principle of parliamentary sovereignty and upheld British constitutional law by stopping a government dead in their tracks and forcing them to change their illegal plans.

That was a true example of what an independent judiciary can do to a government which is abusing its position and acting ultra vires.

How does William Bailhache think that the pre-2005 courts could have possibly dealt with this situation any better, when they would have been headed up by a member of the government which was prepared to act illegally?

It is an argument which is so illogical and unnecessary, that it only seeks to highlight the importance of Jersey reforming its constitution to ensure that the public can be truly secure knowing that their judiciary exists to defend their rights and uphold the rule of law, no matter what the whims of a here today gone tomorrow government may be, and which will not be subjected to undue political interference, or vice versa.

I'm optimistic we will get there sooner rather than later and I am certain that the letter from William Bailhache will have the exact opposite effect he intended.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Why I can't take part in the Advisory Panel on implementing the IJCI recommendations

Following the publication of the report investigating child abuse in Jersey, the Chief Minister invited me to be a member of an advisory panel he has set up to advise him on implementing the recommendations of the report.

I thought long and hard about whether I could make a positive difference if I took up this role, but sadly have come to the conclusion that the Chief Minister is handling the aftermath of the report poorly and I am better placed to argue for positive change whilst being independent from any advisory panel.


Dear Ian,

I have considered your invitation for me to take part in an Advisory Panel to help you respond to the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry's recommendations and have decided that I cannot take part.

I wholeheartedly support the recommendations made by the Inquiry and I will vote for any proposition which I believe takes the Island forward in getting these recommendations implemented. However, I believe that I can make a more positive contribution by offering advice across the floor of the Chamber and by continuing to work in Scrutiny.

The Inquiry's report emphasises the importance of independent scrutiny. You currently have plans to bring forward a proposal to take the independence away from the States Scrutiny Panels by allowing and encouraging Assistant Ministers to sit on Scrutiny. This is being opposed by Scrutiny and the Privileges and Procedures Committee, yet you have confirmed in States question time since the publication of the report that you have no intention to abandon these changes. I believe this is a huge error which will undermine our system of government and further embed the principles of the 'Jersey Way' where those in power have influence into many areas and will be able to stifle criticism, rather than allow those who have no obligation to support a here today, gone tomorrow government to take an objective approach as an independent and critical friend.

Whatever noble intentions the government may have in its attempts to implement the recommendations, innocent mistakes may be made along the way which I would be complicit in if I take up a role in advising the government. It is vital that there remain members who are not compromised by this process, who are able to speak out and oppose potential mistakes when they arise.

You have shown that you are not prepared to exercise your whip as leader of the government to make implementing the Inquiry's recommendations a red line in government policy. That is your choice. But it is wrong to then rely on Scrutiny and Opposition members to get the support you need. Just as I believe it is important for there to be a separation between the Judiciary and the Legislature, I also believe that the Executive must not be allowed to capture the Legislature. I believe that your approach so far is taking the Island in the wrong direction.

Were I in your position, I would seek to get the support of the Council of Ministers and then allow Opposition and Scrutiny to act independently to hold us to account.

As I do not have confidence in the process you have suggested, I cannot take part in it.

Kind regards,

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Poverty in Jersey and the lies of the Council of Ministers

In November 2015, the States of Jersey Statistics Unit published their Income Distribution Survey, which shed some light on the shocking rates of relative poverty in Jersey.

In the 5 years since the previous survey, income inequality in Jersey shot through the roof and we became a more unequal society than the UK. A third of pensioners, a third of children and over half of single parent families live in relative poverty. The spending power of the poorest 10th of Islanders went down by 36%

These statistics are shameful for a rich Island and drastic action needs to be taken to make Jersey a fairer society where everyone is able to have a decent standard of living.

In the States sitting on the 14th March, Deputy Mike Higgins asked the Chief Minister for an update on inequality since that survey came out.

The Chief Minister said "relative low income is reducing".

In the States sitting on the 28th March, the Chief Minister and his assistant minister (Senator Paul Routier) were subjected to a barrage of questions on how they have reached this conclusion and what statistical evidence they have to back up such a claim.

The video above shows a politician who realises he has dug himself into a hole, and would prefer to keep digging rather than apologise for getting something wrong.

There is of course no tangible evidence whatsoever to back up the claim that relative low income is reducing in Jersey.

No real evidence exists either way (until the next Income Distribution Survey is produced in 2020), however it is clear that many of the government cutbacks to support provided to pensioners, disabled people and single parent families is likely to have exacerbated the current statistics we already have.

Following the false statements made in the States Assembly, Reform Jersey's vice-chairman Deputy Geoff Southern wrote an open letter to the Chief Minister ask him to withdraw that statement and apologise for misleading the States/ public.

After a contribution to the same effect from Deputy Richard Renouf of St Ouen, the Chief Minister responded as follows -

"Dear Geoff and Richard, 
Thank you for your emails. 
Income inequality did reduce when our economy was performing well before the financial crisis, but deteriorated as incomes fell and as low interest rates cut mortgage costs for some but did not benefit everyone. 
Now our economy is improving: average earnings have risen by more than inflation for the last four years; unemployment is at a six-year low and employment is at an all-time high. We saw economic growth of 5% in 2014 and a further 2.2% in 2015, more than double the forecast. The economy is clearly moving in the right direction, however I accept that until we have the next income distribution survey, we cannot be definitive about these complex interacting factors 
The next such survey is due in 2020 but I am working to bring it forward as it seems to me that this is an important piece of work. I hope this statement of intent is an indication of the importance I place on this issue 
Kind regards
Senator Ian Gorst
Chief Minister of Jersey"

You'll note that this response does not go quite as far as to overtly say that the statement "relative low income is reducing" is false, and it certainly isn't an apology for misleading the States/ public. I have responded to the Chief Minister asking for clarification on that specific point and we will see if he will apologise.

But what I find disturbing in this response (and the other responses given in the States) is that he is determined to pursue a narrative on their performance in government which is so flawed that you have to either question their honesty or credibility (or both).

They are attempting to make three claims -

  1. The economy is improving
  2. They have reduced the tax burden on low earners
  3. They are helping the poor by investing in health and education
Each of these can be demonstrated to be fatuous. So let's go through them.

1. The economy is improving

No it is not.

The Council of Minister claim that 5% growth in 2014 and 2.2% growth in 2015 is a sign that the economy is improving.

On the face of it, it appears to be good news, but only if you have no understand of economics and choose not to dig a little deeper into these stats.

In 2014, most of Jersey's industries did not grow, and the over all figure of 5% growth was driven by growth in the finance industry. The government's own Fiscal Policy Panel told them that this growth was not part of a trend of growth, but was due to several large firms in the Island undertaking one-off restructures which changed the numbers on paper and made the productivity figures for the sector look greater than it actually was.

In 2015, many of Jersey's industries did grow, but finance shrank! Basically the opposite of the year before.

There is no positive trend to take out of this and there is no evidence that we are facing sustained periods of growth which can be relied upon to see Islander's standard of living going up.

The government also claim that employment is at a record high.

Well, yes, this is true. We do have a record number of people in work... because we have a record high population!

In actual fact, the absolute number of unemployed in Jersey has only gone down by 140 in this term of office. The vast majority of new jobs have gone to people arriving into the Island. This is a ponzi scheme.

It is also a fact that half of the new jobs created have been zero-hours contracts, which will do little to help those working in those jobs out of poverty.

2. They have reduced the tax burden on low earners

Again, false and here is the evidence -

This is taken from the Oxera report on the changes to Jersey's tax system over the last decade.

For the lowest earners in every household type examined, tax went up.

The report even finally admits that GST is a regressive tax which disproportionately affects the poorest Islanders.

The government also introduced the LTC charge, which is regressive also.

There isn't much more to be said on it. It is just a simple lie to say that low earners have been protected by the Council of Minister's tax policies. They just haven't and the independent report shows it.

3. They are helping the poor by investing in health and education

This is a bit of a bizarre one.

How does a healthy working age adult who lives in relative low income benefit from a better health and education service? They don't. They might if they get sick, but just because you are poor doesn't mean you aren't naturally healthy.

But in any event, poverty is not measured by your access to public services. It is measured by the money you have to live off. A better funded education or health service does not put more money in your pocket.

In fact, in Jersey's case the opposite is true. because of how the government has chosen to fund it's "investment" (in inverted commas because it doesn't really exist, but I'll let that one slide for this blog!).

The government is funding extra spending in those areas by cutting the Social Security budget by £10m.

They have chosen to cut the Income Support disregards for disability benefits and pension income, as well as abolishing the Single Parent component of Income Support.

I have met people who already live in poverty who have seen their incomes drop by £600 per year as a result of these cuts.

The Single Parent component was £40 a week, so that cut will see some families (56% of whom already live in relative low income) £2,080 a year worse off.

The policies of the Council of Minister quite clearly are going to have the inevitable impact of pushing more people into poverty and making inequality in Jersey even worse.

Despite all their bluster and slogans, the fact is that the government has chosen this week to lie to the public to hide the disgraceful impact their policies are having on the poorest people in Jersey.

The public deserve so much better than this.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Jersey Aircraft Registry - a Soaring Success from the Jersey Government

I'm not going to lie, today was pretty irritating!

Myself and someone I know had been doing a bit of digging lately, trying to uncover what we thought might be a political scandal. We were on the verge of being ready to go public and, lo and behold, the media somehow managed to beat us to it!

I am of course talking about the story today that the States has spent £860k on setting up and running the Jersey Aircraft Registry, and only two aircraft have actually signed up to it.

Just a few hours after this story hits the headlines, my written question for the States sitting tomorrow was published, so I've missed the chance to get involved. Oh well! -

There will be more documentation being published at our initiative soon to reveal a few more details.

The Isle of Man Aircraft Registry has almost 1,000 aircraft registered to it, and Guernsey's paradoxically named "Channel Islands Aircraft Registry" has 160 registered. We have two. That's £430k per aircraft, with only £11k in registration fees made to offset that. Pretty embarrassing, by all accounts.

I think that most Islanders will rightly feel aggrieved that, once again, a venture headed by the Economic Development Department has led to a huge amount of taxpayers money being squandered.

Whether it is the business class golf jollies around the world, the failed Innovation Fund or now the failed Aircraft Registry, there is a legacy of embarrassment haunting this department.

Whenever questions are raised about what the department are doing and the legitimacy of any of their activities, we get normally a rebuttal from the minister, Senator Farnham, which usually is missing any actual answer but instead contains a bit of hot air about how "this government is a success because the economy is growing and you lot just hate success".

This is incredibly worrying that Farnham thinks this is acceptable answer and, in my view, shows that he either doesn't really understand how economics works, or that he does but is just awful at bluster to hide his failures.

In a nutshell -

Jersey has had some economic growth over the last two years, but it has been erratic and doesn't reflect a positive trend. In one year growth was driven by the finance industry where several large firms undertook one-off restructuring, but all other industries shrank. The next year, finance shrank and growth was driven by the other industries. Nobody can really take anything genuinely positive out of that, especially when a large proportion of that growth was driven by the fact our population is massively increasing every year (which is ultimately a Ponzi scheme).

So, having noted some of this bluster and been unable to find any evidence that government policies were having any positive tangible effect on our economy, I thought I'd just ask a simple written question asking the minister to list everything he has done which he thinks has helped develop the economy.

Here is his answer -

To sum it up in one word, this list is - pathetic.

The first one on the list is the regulations to extend pub opening hours for the Queen's birthday (which by the way was actually my idea! But anyway...), as if this is a true success story for our economy. Unbelievable.

Others include the raising of various fees charged by the States. As if increasing the cost of business helps grow the economy.

But, most amusingly, a whole seven items on this list are to do with the Aircraft Registry!

In a parliamentary question to a States Member about measures which have had a tangible effect on economic growth, Senator Farnham chose to boast about a scheme which has seen a deficit in States finances of £849k.

You could not make this stuff up.

If his department had any proof that their actions had actually done anything to help businesses in the Island, cut unnecessary red tape or improve the regulatory framework for those busy employers in the Island, then I'm sure they would be shouting them from the rooftop. But instead we get pub opening hours on one weekend and the Aircraft Registry.

When I stood for election last year, I was asked at one hustings what I would do to create jobs in the Island. I said a combination of three things -

1) Cut Social Security Contributions for the self-employed (ironically the opposite of what the "pro-business" Tories in the UK are now doing), so they have more security in their lives, can afford to invest more and employ more people. 
2) Form a joint review group of employers and trade unions to work together at finding the laws and regulations which no longer suit the needs of either workers or bosses and consolidate, update and simplify those laws. 
3) Push forward with the eGovernment programme to cut down on bureaucracy and red tape that businesses have to contend with when dealing government.

I think these policies aren't too bad for a left-winger. Yet instead, the pinnacle of our government's creativity is the creation of an Aircraft Registry.

Lord help us!

So, is Senator Farnham our most useless Minister? It's a tough one. Leave your thoughts in the comment box below!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Consultation, Consultation, Consultation.

If there is one thing the States of Jersey loves, it's a good ol' consultation.

Today States Members were sent an email to let us know that the Housing Minister is launching a consultation on the regulation of Jersey's letting market. They want to know what problems tenants, landlords and letting agents have with the current regulations and want to hear the public's views on how the market could be improved to provide fairness.

This wasn't too much of a surprise as I have twice asked questions in the States Assembly about what measures the Housing Minister was going to take to protect tenants from many of the unfair fees that are being imposed on them for no good reason by letting agents, and twice the minister had said that something like this was on the cards.

There is, I think, a widespread feeling amongst many members of the public that the States spends far too much time consulting and that ministers and senior civil servants use them as an exercise to absolve themselves of taking any responsibility on a particular issue.

There is certainly truth in this, but I think there is something a bit deeper that should be examined too.

Currently there are three main consultations going on -

1. Letting market

2. Family Friendly laws

3. Social Security contributions

On every single one of these subjects, both government ministers and Reform Jersey have publicly committed to particular changes we both agree on.

In the States Assembly I asked if the Housing Minister was prepared to follow the lead of the Tory government in the UK and abolish letting fees for tenants, instead making it a fee exclusively charged to landlords. She said "yes".

On several occasions the Social Security Minister and the Home Affairs Minister (who, for some reason, is in charge of initiatives connected to the '1,001 Days Manifesto') have publicly said that they support increasing the statutory maternity leave provisions in Jersey.

The Chief Minister said in his 500 word statement when he was proposed for a second term as Chief Minister that he supported introducing progressive rates of Social Security Contributions for the self-employed.

On all of these issues, Reform Jersey wholeheartedly agrees with the words of the government.

So why do we have to have these expensive consultations when the answers are staring us in the face?!

If you agree that letting agent fees to tenants should be banned, then ban them.

If you believe statutory maternity leave needs to be extended, then extend it.

If you believe that self-employed Social Security Contribution rates should be cut, then cut them.

Instead, we have policies which have been in the government's own programme since it's earliest days, that they have not delivered on after two and a half years in office, and are now putting those questions out to consultation rather than just getting on with them.

Obviously there is a legitimate place for consultation and I'm not knocking them on every single occasion. The consultation on the new Les Quennevais School was clearly a useful exercise and helped produce a good proposal (although it's up in the air at the moment, so maybe not a great example).

But when there are some relatively small measures that are clear on principle and which will clearly have a tangible benefit to people's lives, why not just get on with it? If there is a bigger picture, it can be dealt with separately, but the smaller measures can often be isolated.

Here's my theory -

It's all about re-election.

What do all of these consultations have in common? The results are all going to be released in the run up to an election, without enough time to have them implemented beforehand.

This means the candidates for the effective Jersey Tory Party can stand for (re)election with their policies already constructed for them. They will stand with a commitment to deliver the recommendations of these reviews and consultations. These policies will be paid for by Jersey taxpayers, rather than made by the membership of a party through a democratic process.

It is essentially establishment politicians feathering their own nests, with the connivance of senior civil servants who get to sit back whilst this happens, knowing that they won't be to blame for anything that could go wrong.

This is, I believe, a symptom of a broken democratic system in Jersey that leads to us taking years and years to make decisions which could be made much quicker, we spend so much money arriving at those decisions and the ordinary people of this Island have to contend with poor regulations and public service provisions whilst those politicians enjoy the view from the top of Cyril Le Marquand House.

So I say - cancel these consultations, stop hiring spin doctors and start hiring some law draftsmen to get these policies enacted as soon as possible, so you can then move on to the other important issues facing the Island.

Reform Jersey intends to stand for election in 2018 with a series of tangible policies set out that could be implemented in relatively quick succession.

Whether we win or lose that election, I hope we can set a standard of what the public should expect from election candidates. Politicians in Jersey lack credibility, and this barrage of consultations offers nothing to the public to help them regain confidence in those who lead them.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

'State of Democracy' tour of the Channel Islands

Press Release - For immediate release
Jersey political party leader to hold ‘democracy’ events across the Channel Islands

Jersey’s Deputy Sam Mézec, leader of the Island’s only political party, Reform Jersey, is announcing that he is to hold public meetings in each of the Channel Islands to discuss the state of local democracy.

This follows a speech Deputy Mézec gave in the States of Jersey Assembly at the end of last year in which he made scathing criticisms of the attitude and competence of the government of Jersey, which quickly went viral on social media, with over 100,000 views so far.

He said -
“After my speech went viral I was contacted by a lot of people in the other Channel Islandswho said that they felt that the problems I had highlighted in Jersey were equally true in their Islands too.

In Jersey, there is a widespread feeling that the government does not work for ordinary Islanders, is completely out of touch with the public and too beholden to vested interests. I know that many people in Guernsey, Alderney and Sark feel that their governments are the same and many Channel Islanders are crying out for change, but it’s falling on deaf ears from our current political leaders.”

I don’t believe that any of our Islandgovernments are demonstrating a proper commitment to true democracy and I want to encourage all Channel Islanders to get politically active and demand much better from our governments

The people of Alderney showed at their last election that you can achieve change if you engage with the political process and are prepared to punish failing politicians at the ballot box. I hope that these meetings will inspire more Islanders to get involved in political campaigns, form political parties and start working towards the change our Islands so desperately need.

Each meeting will begin with a speech on the state of democracy in the Channel Islands by Deputy Mézec, followed by the floor being opened to the public to either contribute or ask questions. Debate is encouraged!
Guernsey’s event is being held from 7:30pm on Wednesday 25th January at the Wicked Wolf (formerly the Carlton Hotel) in St Martin.
Alderney’s event is being held from 7:30pm on Thursday 26th January at the Island Hall.
Sark’s event will take place at some point in February, with a date and venue to be confirmed.

All members of the public, media and politicians welcome.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Our last hope for democratic change in 2018

P.133 - A small step forward for democracy in Jersey

Here are the facts:

- Jersey's electoral system is an undemocratic mess.
- It needs to change.
- So far every attempt to change it has been a disaster.

Following so far?

Our system is over-complicated, with three categories of elected MP, each elected in different constituency types but who do exactly the same job as MPs, with one doing an extra job of running a Parish. Our system is unfair in that different parts of the Island receive different levels of representation. Our system produces huge numbers of uncontested elections (17 out of 49 last time), many constituencies do not attract very high caliber candidates and election turnouts are some of the poorest in Europe.

Still following? I don't blame you if your eyes are glazing over already.

If you've been paying attention to Jersey politics for any reasonable length of time, you will be well familiar with all of this and probably be sick and tired of talking about it.

We are the victim of our circumstance. Our democratic system has evolved over hundreds of years without any real democratic revolution which has forced our constitution to be underpinned by clear principles of objective democracy, and it's proven so difficult to overhaul the system to one which actually works on behalf of the people of Jersey, rather than the people in government in Jersey.

It isn't rocket science to build a proper democratic system. You just need to make sure it complies with two basic principles -

1) The system must be simple and user-friendly so any citizen can easily engage with it if they choose to.
2) The value of everyone's vote should be equal, so that the system is fair.

This isn't difficult. It isn't controversial. It certainly isn't radical. It's just basic democracy.

My policy is that Jersey should have one category of States Member, elected in equal sized constituencies where every voter has the same number of votes. Party politics would provide further accountability where people would see a direct connection between how they vote and what they get, plus it would provide a framework for ordinary Islanders to still be able to get involved in politics even if they don't aspire to stand for election.

That is what I believe in and what I will fight for.

But there is one thing getting in the way - Reality.

My preferred system just isn't going to happen any time soon. I wish it was imminent, but it's not and that is the sad fact of the matter. Anybody who does not start by accepting this clear fact is living in delusion.

For any proposal which changes how States Members are elected to be successfully implemented, it needs 25 States Members to vote for it in the Assembly. The number of us who will vote for equal votes and a simple system is probably in single digits.

The political reality is that my ideal system will not be implemented by this Assembly for the 2018 elections, and so if I want to see any improvements at all, I have to be prepared to support measures which, in my view, don't go far enough, but which represent at least a small bit of progress.

We have a choice. We can be pragmatic, accept the reality of the situation and work constructively to deliver improvements, or we can stay dogmatically tied to an idealistic ambition which stands no chance of being achieved. If you fall in the latter camp, you serve no positive purpose to politics and actually provide an unhelpful and counterproductive distraction.

Only one thing matters in Jersey politics - improving people's lives.

Politics isn't a game and it should not be a nice cosy club for those elected to stand on a soapbox and claim £800 a week for the privilege.

To waste time devoted to something which is not going to be achieved and which actually reduces the chances of more modest reforms being accepted, is a self-indulgence that I will not be involved in.

My last manifesto said - "We will support any proposal which makes our system fairer."

I have a duty to my electorate to obey that promise, and so I will vote for any proposal which makes our system fairer, even if it doesn't totally represent what I want in an ideal world.

Why does our system need change?

Nobody is satisfied with our system. When 70% of the public don’t vote, yet all polls show 70% of the public are dissatisfied and want change, it doesn’t take a genius to spot the correlation there.

With greater participation in our elections we would get better quality governments.

If elections are made tougher, only the highest calibre candidates will get elected and they will be forced to produce much more comprehensive manifestos with tangible objectives which they can be measured against at the next election.

To quote Spiderman's Uncle Ben - "with great power comes great responsibility". When the electorate begin to feel the direct consequences in society from how they voted at elections, they will treat their vote more carefully and be prepared to be far more pragmatic in their expectations and more willing to treat those in power with respect so long as they maintain their integrity, and that partnership between the people and the government will be far stronger and more constructive.

Basically, more democratic societies get better outcomes, especially in smaller jurisdictions where it's tougher to fund big projects.

Why has it been so difficult to change is thus far?

Two words - self interest.

Too many States Members over the past few decades have been prepared to implement a system that they can't be certain they'll still get elected in, or which could accidentally weaken the power of the right-wing establishment in Jersey.

Basically, they're scared that if we had a fairer voting system, they'd actually have to work harder to democratically defeat progressives at the ballot box, because when we stand on equal platforms, most Jersey people would actually find the progressives more convincing. Jersey is not as conservative a society as people often say it is. The establishment know this and know that unless they rig the system, there is a very real chance that they could lose power fairly quickly and then it will be down to the people of Jersey to determine who governs the Island.

We have a dodgy history of States Members spending days debating various hodgepodge propositions to alter the system, some representing small progress, some actually making things worse. Mainly just paying lipservice to the subject because they know they can't really keep a straight face and say "what are you talking about? The system we have works fine!"

In 2000 Sir Cecil Clothier headed a panel of locals and experts to make recommendations to reform the entire government system. The establishment of the day decided to implement all the recommendations which consolidated their power, but to ignore all of those that gave more power to the public.

In 2012 the States decided to set up an independent Electoral Commission to produce proposals for reform to be put to a referendum in 2013. At the last minute the States decided that the commission should not be independent and should actually be headed by States Members. It was hijacked by Senator Philip Bailhache who used it as a vehicle to propose the system he really wanted the whole time where more power would be concentrated in the areas the establishment do best and less in the urban and more progressive areas.

He proposed reducing the States to 42 members, with 30 Deputies elected in super-constituencies based on the Parishes, plus the 12 Parish Constables remaining as members. The effect of keeping the Constables meant that the conservative countryside remained hugely over-represented in the States. This system was non-compliant with the international guidelines on fair electoral systems (the Venice Commission).

A referendum was held and, by a very slim margin on a low turnout, what became known as “Option B” won, with that system being resoundly rejected in the parts of the Island which would suffer under that unfair system, but being outvoted by the countryside.

Then, amazingly, the States went on to reject the referendum result and refuse to implement it anyway!

Proposals came forward to ask the public to vote in a referendum on election day in 2014 on proposals for one type of States Member distributed fairly across the Parishes. The proposal was wrecked by an amendment to turn it purely into a referendum on the Constables in the States.

Since that referendum I have worked on a sub-committee of the Privileges and Procedures Committee to see if there is a way forward for reform, to make positive changes, bearing in mind that referendum result and the desires of States Members.

There isn't.

Simple as that. Two years work and it has amounted to nothing because there just isn't a system that stands the faintest chance of being accepted by the States which could improve things.

There is no dishonour in admitting defeat when you've worked hard but circumstance is against you.

What can we do now to achieve change?

There is one final chance. It's called P.133.

Deputy Andrew Lewis has lodged a proposition to have the States redebate the winning "Option B" from the 2013 referendum, however with a small change to increase representation in St Helier to undo the unfairness which helped seal Option B's initial defeat.

The States would be made up of 44 members, including the 12 Parish Constables and 32 Senators elected in large districts with 5 members each, except the St Helier districts which would have 6 members.

Here is the breakdown -

The map at the top of this blog post shows what the Island will look like.

The addition of two extra members for St Helier is a significant improvement for voter equity in contrast to the original Option B which left St Helier underrepresented -

Under the current electoral system, St Helier represents just 22% of the Assembly despite making up 34% of the population. Under this Option B+ system, St Helier will make up 30% of the Assembly. That is significant progress.

The proposal is still not compliant with the Venice Commission, but it is more proportionate than the current system.

Residents per S + C
St Brelade + St Peter
St Ouen + St Mary + St John + St Lawrence
St Helier North
St Helier South
St Saviour + Trinity
St Clement + Grouville + St Martin
Total members

Let me be clear - this proposition does not represent what I want in an ideal world.

If I wanted this proposition to be perfect, I would remove the 12 Constables and have every district elect 7 Senators. That would provide complete equality.

But here are it's virtues -

- It provides more proportionate representation than the current system

- It is far simpler than the current system, with 32 members elected equally and 12 in Parishes, rather than 3 types of member, only 8 elected equally.

- It reduces the number of States Members, with the countryside taking most of this burden.

- It gives voters a much more equal number of votes, either 6 or 7, rather than the current system where some have one vote for Deputy, some with 4.

- It will require all candidates to knock on doors if they want to get elected and reduce their reliance on the mainstream media.

- The 32 active members will be elected in tough elections on an equal basis, so will each have a mandate for their policies.

- It broadly reflects the result of the 2013 referendum, with a nice concession to those who voted against it, and might restore a bit of faith in politicians for listening second time round.

But most importantly - it actually stands a chance of winning in the States.

Many sitting States Members campaigned and voted for Option B in 2013 and voted for it when it came to the States. Many Option A campaigners were against it then, but are now of the view that this slight alteration does represent progress and could be tolerated. If any proposition stands a chance of succeeding, it is only this one. No other one will and successful amendments will weaken it's viability.

I also believe that the exercise of overhauling the electoral system once will show the public that there is nothing to be feared from change and will make us all more tolerant to the idea of the electoral system not being set in stone and subject to regular review. I believe that soon enough there would be a successful proposal to move to one type of member in equal constituencies, with a majority of States Members prepared to accept it.

I promised I would vote for progress. This is progress. I have to vote for it.

I want much more and will not settle for this as a final solution. But if it's a choice of no progress, or this small step in the right direction, the answer is obvious. Progress must prevail.

This is exciting and we should be prepared to grasp the opportunity with both hands. If we don't, we face going into the 2018 election with the same system and the same inevitable outcome. That is not acceptable.

Please lobby your States Members to vote for progress and support P.133.