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Friday, 13 January 2012

"Bailhache Makes Electoral Reform A Laughing Stock"

Electoral Reform fall-out

A Jersey Deputy is accusing Senator Sir Phillip Bailhache of trying to hijack a panel looking into electoral reform.

Trevor Pitman says the Electoral Commission should be made up of independent members - not those with a vested interest in the States.

States members originally agreed the Review would be independent - but now they will be asked to change the rules.


States reform?

We just can’t get it wrong again

There’s good news and there’s bad news about political reform in Jersey. The good news is that it’s being given priority, so that means – even in Jersey – something is likely to happen. The bad news is that we could get it wrong yet again. 

Certainly if we follow the views of the poll-topping Senator who is so keen on reform, I think we will get it wrong. We might even be swept along by his enthusiasm and his popularity and be persuaded to introduce changes that end up being worse than what we’ve got at present.

Indeed, many will no doubt be swayed by the fact that the good Senator topped the poll on a platform of reform, and therefore believe that what he wants is what the Island wants.
That is not necessarily the case. Many Islanders must have voted for the former Bailiff for many other reasons, not just his desire to push for changes in the way the Island is run. He was the best candidate in many ways. However, even those who voted for him just because he stood for reform may not support his solutions.

But perhaps I am worrying unnecessarily. After all, we’ve got a long way to go before we actually get to agree a new structure for the States.
Well, no we don’t actually. The aim is to get everything in place in time for the 2014 elections, so as the poll-topping Senator told this newspaper: ‘We’ve got to get cracking’.
Anyhow, at least there is the failsafe position that the electorate will have a chance to have its say in a referendum. Or maybe not. That’s by no means

I’m certainly not saying anyone is trying to bulldoze through reform, even if it was remotely possible that a bulldozer could push anything through the States. However, time constraints are such that we should try at least to start off on the right foot, and I don’t even thing we’ve been asking the right questions.
So far the debate has been about the number of Members in the States, what they are called and how they work together. All very interesting, of course, but I personally don’t think that makes a ha’p’orth of difference to how we are governed.

What we should be asking is what is wrong with the States as it is, and the answer is that it is a government that doesn’t connect with the people, and an electorate who believe that their votes don’t make a difference. It’s not about whether that nice old codger of a Constable should remain in the States.
Personally, I would be happy to see the Constables disappear tomorrow: it’s an anachronism that fulfils no useful purpose. Fine, the Constables have a job to run their parish, so let them get on with it. There is no reason why they should also have a vote in the States (although there’s no reason why they can’t if they also stand for election to the States).

The current system just messes up the value of a vote for electors which varies according to where they live. But not many in the establishment seem to worry about democratic principles and that end of the process: they are more concerned with maintaining a tradition.
Of course the situation could get even worse if the total composition of the States is reduced and the Constables remain. That’s giving a group of people who in some cases don’t even have to face a contested election a more powerful voice in the ‘national’ assembly.

Reducing the number of States Members appears to be a favourite solution among the reformers, but I must be missing something. I fail to see how having fewer States Members is going to improve anything. Sure, it may save money (but not much), debates will be shorter (so what?) and it may exclude some firebrands (hardly – we’ve had a few problems with poll-toppers who could still get elected to a smaller house).
On the other hand, more Members means more democracy (which some obviously believe is a bad thing), more talent from which to choose ministers and simply more brainpower to tackle the ever-increasing complexity of governing Jersey.

Most of all, it means that there are more Members able to connect with the public they serve.
But having said that, I would not be dogmatic about either excluding the Constables, making the Assembly smaller or even continuing the nonsense of three different types of States Member, with three different types of constituency and three different elections but exactly the same amount of power.
We can have all these things, just so long as reform changes what matters to me. That means being faced at the next election with a choice of candidates with clear policies that I can vote for in the knowledge that my vote might actually have a chance of shaping the government and the policies it follows.
However, the man who looks like leading the States reform efforts appears to have largely made up his mind already, and it doesn’t look good for me.

He wants the number of States Members reduced to 42, but the Constables to remain. These are only his provisional views, he says, but he adds: ‘The broad views I expressed during the Senatorial campaign seem to have been approved by most of the people in the Island.’
Unfortunately, it’s not going to be as easy as that. Perhaps large sections of the community don’t support his provisional views, and in any case it only takes a small part of the States to scupper things. So, I’m sorry to say, we’re probably still a long way from a consensus despite the impressive election result.
There has been a pretty impressive election result in another island community recently: in Gibraltar the government party was narrowly defeated by an alliance of opposition parties. The turn-out at the election was 82.5 per cent.

That’s the kind of turn-out that Jersey can only dream of – unless we can come up with some better ideas than are being bandied about at the moment.

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