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.