At the end of my last blog, I said that even though I was not an enemy of the Parish system, I would inevitably be portrayed as one for trying to hold the system and those involved in it to account.
Oh how right I was! I seem to have struck one hell of a nerve!
It is a very long running tradition in Jersey that if you stick your head above the parapet or try to speak truth to power, the establishment types will do what they can to run you down and publicly disparage you, even if they're not able to use facts to do so. This is part of the "Jersey Way" that Francis Oldham rightly criticised in the report of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry. It is also symptomatic of the undemocratic nature in which Jersey is run. When you do not have a proper democratic culture, many do not know how to properly respond to democratic criticisms, so you get what I have faced over the last couple of weeks.
My full blog which made several observations and criticisms of how the Parishes administer themselves and contribute in the States Assembly can be read here - http://sammezec.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-parish-system-what-democracy.html
In short, my main criticisms centre on these points -
- The Constables routinely bring forward propositions in the States to reduce democratic participation.
- Many Parish meetings are held in private, with virtually no information put into the public domain about what happens at these meetings.
- Elections for Parish positions are not held in a transparent way
Treason! How dare I make these observations which are totally untrue, and how dare I speak when I am clearly so misinformed and ignorant!
Or at least that is the response from sections of the Parishes.
The first full response to my blog was published on Tony Bellow's blog, by someone called Adam Gardiner. It can be read here - http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-truth-about-parish-system.html
It is titled "The Truth About The Parish System" which is a pretty gutsy name, given there is not much truth in it.
Both myself and local blogger Gabriel Carter attempted to publish responses on this post, but for some reason Tony has not published any of them. Obviously when it comes to the Parishes, the debate is closed.
Mr Gardiner attempts to make 6 corrections, which were either demonstrably not true, failures at being pedantic, or not actually corrections at all, but a rather justification of the status quo.
You may wish to have both posts open in separate browsers to follow along, otherwise my commentary would look messy if I copied every reference point.
The first "correction" is that I am wrong to say that the Comité des Connétables recently brought a proposition to the States to reduce polling hours for elections for the position of Procureur de bien Public to 12pm to 8pm.
This is a bit of a weird correction given that what I said it just true. Like... it just is. It happened. The proposition was lodged (P.89/2019
) and the debate happened.
The Public Elections Law currently says that public elections must have polling hours from 8am to 8pm. The Comité wanted to change it to 12pm to 8pm. That's the fact. That's what happened. It's all on public record.
His "correction" centres on a pedantic point that the law used to state that polling hours for Procureur elections were reduced, but after an oversight in subsequent amendments to the law, this section fell away and the situation reverted to the full polling hours instead.
Well, sorry Mr Gardiner, but regardless of whether the law was expressly changed or simply fell away, both have the same effect. The law was changed, and the Comité tried to change it back.
His second correction revolves around my comments that the Constables wanted to move a proposed public referendum from a Saturday to a Wednesday, because holding it on a Saturday would be a "nuisance".
You see, it wouldn't be a nuisance, it would just be impractical...
It is bizarre reading a correction that isn't a correction, but actually reiterating the exact point I was making. It's not a nuisance, it's just impractical. Ummm... what's the difference?
Thirdly, I was wrong to say that the Constables increase the number of signatures required to call a Parish Assembly from 4 to 10, even though that is exactly what I did. But I'm wrong to say they did it, because they were right to have done it, apparently.
That isn't a correction, it's just a subjective justification for their actions.
Although he makes a fine dig at Reform Jersey for being ones to complain about signatories anyway. Again, this is another example of facts not mattering, because if Mr Gardiner had paid real attention to our nomination form debacle, he'd know that the Royal Court ruled that our nomination forms were valid and legal. But, whatever, facts don't matter!
I'm not sure the fourth "correction" needs addressing, given that it clearly isn't a correction. I made a justified criticism of the Parishes holding important public meetings at times that are inconvenient or unattractive for most Parishioners. I preferred to watch the England match in the World Cup, rather than going to my Parish Rates Assembly. But, hey, the 99% of us St Helier residents who prefer football to Parish Assemblies are wrong, and the 5 or so people who did turn up are right!
Fifth, I said that there is no information online whatsoever on when the Parish Roads Committee election are.
Mr Gardiner says I am wrong.
Perhaps he can have a quick check of www.parish.gov.je
and tell me where there are any details of when the next elections are. If not the exact date, at least the month or year.
Of course, they are no where to be found.
He says that all Parish Assemblies are advertised in the Gazette. This is true. They are advertised with a few days notice.
It is also quite amusing that when I point out that St Ouen did not have even the names of their Roads Committee members on their website, Mr Gardiner attempts to pin it on me for not letting St Ouen know they had not done this. But, I suppose everything is my fault.
Sixth, I said that (at the time of writing) there was virtually no information online about the upcoming Procureur nomination meetings, so prospective candidates or Islanders who were interested could be aware of them. He said I was wrong to say this, even though the record shows that what I said was accurate. I don't even know why Mr Gardiner bothers taking this stance when it's just nothing more than naysaying.
He says that vote.je was set up for general elections, not parish elections. Unfortunately for him, that isn't the relevant distinction. The law in Jersey defines elections as either Public Elections or Parish Assembly Elections. The former is a full public ballot, the latter is a meeting in the Parish where the vote is taken then and there. Procureur elections are Public Elections, exactly the same as Senators, Deputies and Constables. Vote.je was set up to cover Public Elections and has in the past covered Procureur elections, but did not do so this time.
My whole argument is that putting this information online is not difficult when there already exists the right forum to do it.
Lastly, the final point isn't even an attempt at a correction, but just a last ditch attempt to condescend to someone from behind a computer screen.
He says "SM chose to go into politics and needs to understand that not all agree with him."
This is just condescending and patronising. It's also illogical. If I believed everyone agreed with me, why would I have published a blog which overtly said at the start that there is not just one perspective on how the Parishes are run? If I thought everyone had the same opinion as me, I'd have kept quiet because I'd have had nothing to write about.
He then says "debate and consensus is the way to achieve change and is called democracy - whereas peddling misinformation on a website is not!". I couldn't agree more, but maybe this pot should leave the kettle alone.
Here's my take on it - If you're going to throw your toys out of the pram because you don't like what someone stands for, use facts and reason. Don't claim someone is pedalling misinformation, when actually you are the one who has got pretty much everything wrong.
The second batch of criticism came from the newly elected Constable of St Ouen, Richard Buchanan. This can be read in the JEP here - https://jerseyeveningpost.com/news/2018/08/14/criticism-of-parish-system-on-ministers-blog-rejected/
First things first, I like Richard. He's a sensible guy and has made some good contributions early on in this term. We have different perspectives on politics, but we both care about the Island and I've enjoyed working with him so far. We can have our banter with no hard feelings.
But he does use words like "misinformed" and "lack of understanding" without really elaborating to show what exactly it is that I've got wrong.
The central point he takes issue with is when I said that the Parishes (except St Helier) hold their Roads Committee meetings in private. He says that no one has ever asked to attend a St Ouen's Roads Committee meeting, and he probably wouldn't say no if someone did ask.
The problem though is that there is virtually nothing online that says what the St Ouen's Roads Committee does, when it meets, what the agendas are and the records of the minutes. If I wanted to go observe discussion on something, I don't have that information accessible, and this is part of the problem.
In fact, until just a few days ago, there was no record on the St Ouen website that they even have a Roads Committee! The names of the members were not even published.
In all fairness to Constable Buchanan, when I pointed this out to him he immediately corrected it and it is now one of the most detailed pages on the Parish website.
But much more needs to be done to improve access to information and therefore engagement with the system, and that is a discussion we need to have.
Just one final development to report on -
Since I published my blog which criticised the lack of information on the nomination meetings for Procureur de bien Public, 7 Parishes have held their nomination meetings. Apart from St Helier, the rest have not published anything on their websites to let their Parishioners know what the results of those nominations were and if there is a contested election.
When they have published the nomination meeting details in the Gazette, some have done so with just 5 or 6 days notice.
I stand by every word when I say that the Parishes are awful at promoting these elections.
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