1) I number each paragraph within the following submission simply for ease of reference. The numbers do not in themselves in any way indicate any perceived degree of differing importance. Whilst I have largely adhered within the main part of the submission to the subject headings suggested I also wish to flag up within this introduction the following crucial points.
2) It is essential, in my view, that there should be three key aspects which drive and underlie all others in whatever the ‘Electoral Commission’ finally puts forward following its deliberations. I highlight them here simply because they should form the basis of all government wishing to call itself genuinely democratic. As a consequence these are what inform all of my own suggestions put forward later in the document.
3) Fairness: i.e. essentially ensuring that as far as humanly possible the vote of each and every person within the Island’s electorate has the same worth and weight; no matter where they live – country or town. This will obviously necessitate moving away from the current system where voting power, and with it political representation, is weighted very heavily in favour of the smaller country parishes. The parish boundaries are important but not important enough to negate this key principle.
4) Effectiveness: In government we often hear talk about the importance of maintaining ‘tradition’. Tradition – where this is positive – is admirable. However as I indicate above it cannot be allowed to become a block or veto to progressive change seeking to make government more effective. For example, we surely do not want a government with any more Members than the ideal to operate to the highest possible level. Yet we should surely equally not seek false economy by cutting numbers and functions simply due to cost: with the result that democracy and working effectiveness suffers.
5) Transparency: Within my successful propositions to make the votes for both Chief Minister and all other positions ‘transparent’ to public scrutiny I made use of a quote from Edward Teller: ‘The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.’ Without an open system of party politics a sad fact is that there is very little (in comparison) direct clear link between a person’s vote and what then happens in government. Thus whatever proposals come forward need to try and rectify this within our local ‘machinery of government’ as far as possible.
GENERAL BACKGROUND COMMENT
For anyone not interested in the reasoning underlying this submission, or perhaps just being lazy - simply skip to paragraphs 66 to 69 where my views on the Commission’s key headings are summarised.
6) A point that I will begin with - though really should not have to - is this. In my opinion there are good, decent and capable individuals to be found in all three of the current ‘classes’ of States Member – Senators, Deputies and Constables. Many of those will obviously hold very different political perspectives to those of my own. And this is fine – democracy thrives on differing perspectives. That I flag this up is only to help make quite clear that for my part the conclusions that I put forward below are simply in the interest of what I perceive to be enhancing the democratic principles indicated above.
7) I also feel that in making this submission I must still also reiterate my strong objection to what I sadly can only describe as the ‘hijacking’ of what was meant to be a fully independent Electoral Commission by local politicians. Given the waste of the well structured and wholly workable Clothier proposals some twelve years ago I believe that Jersey’s government really should have learnt its lesson: i.e. vested interests undermine both democracy and effectiveness.
8) The key aspect of this that I wish to comment upon, however, is simply this. Allowing the Commission to be Chaired by a politician who has repeatedly stated that in his view the Constables must remain in the Assembly; further still, have for its other political members both the Constable of the smallest and most over-represented parish in the Island; and a Deputy who happens to be the son of a former Constable has served only to further undermine public confidence in government consultation. It is disappointing enough that the last Assembly did not grasp the opportunity offered by Deputy Shona Pitman’s proposition seeking to put the Clothier proposals to the public in a referendum. This current hijacking has only reinforced this public view of some politicians wanting to ‘fix’ the result in favour of something that suits them – rather than what is best for democracy.
9) Indeed, as just one of 51 States Members I can also attest that I have personally encountered more than three dozen people who say that they would have made submissions to the Electoral Commission: but now feel there is no point. Their feelings in summation (rightly or wrongly) are that conclusions have already been drawn; decisions on proposals already been taken. Whatever one’s political leanings - left, right or otherwise – I suggest that this consequence can only be detrimental. We have ‘missed a trick’ by undermining faith in the motivation of the Commission even before its proposals are put to the electorate.
10) The frustrating reality of this is that it is also entirely possible that just one of these people may have come up with a formula to reinvigorate our machinery of government that has eluded vested interest driven politicians for decades now. In essence a tragedy coming about solely because a small number of States Members cannot give up the reins of control for the greater good.
KEY SUBMISSION HEADINGS
I list these headings in no particular order of importance.
THE NUMBER OF STATES MEMBERS
11) Like many members of the public that I have spoken to I actually share the view that this particular issue has often been blown up out of all true importance in comparison with others. How is it, I ask, that for so many decades the Island had approximately the current number of States Members and yet this wasn’t then seen as a problem? Had this number, it should also be remembered, when the world and government was a far simpler – and no doubt better for it – place than the complicated world we live in now. The reality in this I suggest is that the real drive to reduce the number of Members is in fact being driven by the same vested interest of continued ‘elitism’ that also saw the hijacking of the Commission.
12) Simple analysis of comment arising from the smaller country parishes regularly gives the lie to this claimed contention of needing to reduce numbers. Whilst many country seats in terms of both Deputies and Constables are never contested; just as we saw again in 2011, candidates are instead persuaded to try to oust ‘progressives’ in the urban areas. A simple test that the Commission could and should have engaged in with the smaller, already over-represented country parishes would have been to ask: ‘you say that you would like the number of Deputies reduced. Do you then accept that this will obviously lead to your Deputy representation being reduced or possibly being completely removed?’ The response would be fascinating.
13) After all, St. Helier was significantly under-represented even before the 2011 census figures were released. Now it is even more so. Where, I ask the Commission; will this reduction in Deputies seats then come? Unless the Commission is willing to make sure that proposals are forthcoming to put an end to the highly offensive farce that sees some electors in the country having a vote worth around 1.5 times that of someone in St. Helier the whole exercise will be a sham.
14) I would enlarge upon this point further by highlighting that in wide canvassing I have not personally encountered a single person in my own town district that see the number of Members as a significant problem – probably because they know from figures such as that provided by the former Deputy of St. Mary that they are already under-represented. What people actually tell me they want is effectiveness; and a key part of this they state, is having the best people for any particular position being given that job.
15) Yet without a sea-change in the rather childish ‘exclusion politics’ approach of what I would call the current neo-Conservative majority ‘the Establishment party’ this will never happen. How can a government apparently without a ‘party political’ aspect over the years – or as is stressed so often, not wanting one – then find no place as Ministers for Members with the ability of an Alan Breckon, Geoff Southern, a Daniel Wimberley, Mike Higgins and many others? Yet somehow give ‘top jobs’ in hugely demanding departments to others who give the impression of finding it a real struggle to simply talk and answer questions without pre-prepared speeches written by the very civil servants these Ministers are meant to oversee?
16) An excellent example of this concern can also be observed by simply examining the appointment under ministerial government of Assistant Ministers. Whilst there are some very honourable exceptions the fact is that all too often those appointments are given not on ability or upon having any relevant experience - but simply as ‘sweeteners’ to help ensure these Members – who regularly emerge as doing and contributing very little - vote ‘the right’ way and don’t rock the boat. As with Ministers all of these roles should really, of course, be proposed and awarded on merit – not out of pure cronyism, ‘group think’ and ensuring the ‘majority’ for contentious votes.
17) I obviously acknowledge that this is a matter wholly outside of the control and remit of the Electoral Commission. It is, however, an issue that needs tackling urgently. Without a willingness and resolve to confront this quality of government will continue to suffer; and the sometimes acrimonious ‘them and us’ atmosphere which it has created will continue to grow. Spin about supporting the myth of ‘consensus’ government whilst actively working to ensure this cannot happen can achieve nothing positive whatsoever.
18) The ‘Troy rule’. Though some have recently tried to down play this I believe that the principle behind the so-called ‘Troy rule’ is actually highly important. We cannot afford a government that is nothing more than a ‘rubber stamp’ for whatever is put forward by the Council of Ministers. The ‘Troy rule’ needs to stay and with it the working division between the Executive and Scrutiny. Every good and effective democracy needs strong ‘opposition’ and whilst I certainly do not see Scrutiny as ‘organised’ opposition I believe that it has to be able to hold the Executive to account; and thus be detached from it. For this reason I do not support Assistant Ministers being able to sit on Scrutiny.
19) As for the ideal number – in 2009/10 I proposed a one type of Member Assembly with a conservative reduction from the then 53 to 47. The Clothier proposals of having between 42 and 44 are, I believe, at the lower end about the absolute limit of reduction that would not completely undermine the democratic process protected by the ‘Troy rule’. To enlarge upon this, as I later make clear within discussing classes of States Member, in having just one type of ‘MP’ (call them what one will) I would remove the twelve Constables but then re-distribute a small number of their twelve seats in the new Assembly to achieve the Clothier figure of 44.
20) Finally, of course, what must also be borne in mind is that if there should be an enlargement of the number of Ministries (perhaps the ‘Foreign Minister’ becoming a proper, voted for position/department rather than a ‘job for the boys’ awarded with neither debate or vote?) this proposed number would then have to be completely re-thought. This is something for the Commission to keep firmly in mind within its deliberations.
CLASSES OF STATES MEMBER & THEIR CONSTITUENCIES
21) In adhering to the three principles I began with it is quite clear to me that there really is absolutely no longer any sustainable reason to have anything more than a single class or type of States Member. There is nothing ‘personal’ in my putting this forward. Tradition as I stated earlier cannot and should not be allowed to stay in place simply because ‘we have always had it’ or that it ‘maintains the status quo’. I will briefly explain why I think this way within the paragraphs below.
22) The fact is that in moving to a one class/type of member Assembly there is actually only two possible options. One is to have a completely Island-wide mandate such as the current Senators. The second is to have an entirely Deputy-based Assembly within a much fairer system of larger boundaries than we have at present: a so-called ‘super-constituency’ format which I discus further under a later heading.
23) The Island-wide format is, in my view, ruled out only because with a ‘general’ election it would prove completely unworkable due to the high numbers involved. For the likelihood is that in the course of an average election for say 44 seats we would consequently see upward of 120 candidates standing. Having myself stood for election when there was the current record number of 21 Senatorial candidates I can say, without fear of contradiction that such a huge number just could not work.
24) At even 21 candidates the hustings were a farce with around only 90 seconds being allowed (or possible) to answer three questions! The scope to answer anything in depth was consequently non-existent. The result was that a candidate could also conceal his or her lack of knowledge by bluffing their way to avoiding answering certain questions on subjects which in reality under a better system they would have been exposed as knowing little about. This resultant opportunity to bluff was something which I am not alone in believing contributed significantly to some of those individuals actually managing to get elected over better candidates. This cannot be good for the benefit of long-term, quality government and democracy.
25) Nevertheless, if a workable and efficient method of keeping a true ‘general election’ based around an entirely ‘Island-wide’ mandate could be found this would be one of the ways forward I would be happy to support. Given the number of intelligent and well-intentioned people who have tried over the years and failed to come up with such a system I’m afraid, however, that the evidence is that it cannot be achieved. I am happy to be proven wrong.
The best way forward – ‘super-constituencies
26) The best answer is, I suggest, consequently the ‘super-constituency’ model similar to those found in most democracies; even horror-of-horrors, in our neighbouring island of Guernsey! With a re-organised system of fairer, more equal boundaries this can deliver everything that we need to in order to preserve the better elements of the traditional parish system and the aforesaid much enhanced efficiency, transparency and fairness.
27) Larger constituencies so that no one is elected with just a couple of hundred votes.
28) Far more contested elections which can only improve both public interest and, I believe, the calibre of candidate.
29) A removal of the farcical, false and utterly negative ‘three tier’ class of Member system to encourage greater respect and understanding in the Assembly; and being far more easily understood almost certainly boosting turn out figures for elections: one type of Member; one type of similarly sized constituency; one vote. Simples!
30) Just as important to many – a ‘super-constituency’ model can also help maintain the parish system even where this may involve ‘merging’ parts of two parishes just for electoral purposes. We could have ‘super-constituencies for voting but still keep the parish identity. It is not rocket science. And whilst it is not, of course, 100% perfect – such a system just does not exist.
31) A reality that also appears to be little understood – or perhaps is deliberately ignored or played down – by those with no experience of the role is that in the currently under-represented urban parishes, such as my own St. Helier, if one was to seek to further reduce the ratio of Deputies for example the consequence would be both a lessening of service to the public; and as a consequence a very significant increase in cost to the parishes.
32) This would come about simply because, as the Constable of St. John notes in his own submission, the Deputies are the ‘real workhorses’ of the system. In my experience of St. Helier the constituent case load is, for many of us, the equivalent of a full-time job in itself even without our other political responsibilities. Indeed, in line with observations made within research into ‘constituency’ MPs in the UK, the variety/complexity of work is huge.
33) To enlarge upon this point, over the past four years whilst my professional community-education background has stood me in good stead relating to social work type issues, I also could have done with being a lawyer; a medic; a mediator and even a psychiatrist! Not to mention the highly important, though exceptionally time consuming role of simply ‘being someone to talk to about concerns’ for many elderly constituents who do not see or talk to anyone else. Likewise to simply explain and help complete the plethora of over-complicated forms that we now seen to generate.
34) Many of these roles ideally should not have to be taken on by Deputies at all of course. Yet the reality of the situation is that if the ratio of ‘Deputorial’ representation was reduced it would be the parishes and/or central government coffers that would have to be used to fill the significant void. Why? Simply because with the reality of massive under-resourcing in these areas over many years someone has to do it. The Commission ignore this reality at its peril.
35) I would also suggest that such a ‘super-constituency’ system would also allow us in future – should the Assembly so choose – to more easily adopt such measures as transferable voting that some politicians and members of the public appear to strongly support.
36) The positives are thus evidently many; the negatives comparatively few. The reality is that as can now be seen with huge, complex departments/Ministries being awarded to not just Senators but Constables and Deputies; and even to Members who have not once even faced an election, the argument for maintaining three types/classes of politician are entirely without credibility. This simply cannot be denied. For as with the previous Assembly half of the current Senators do not hold a full Ministerial title.
37) Nevertheless, I think it is right that I should also explain why I believe that in moving to a one type of member Assembly one of the current roles should be removed all together.
Why I believe that the Constables should no longer sit in the States
38) Much is made about the Constables being the ‘Father or Mother’ of their Parish. Though I obviously do not believe that there is any need for them to sit in the States Assembly in the 21st Century I do think that the role itself is important and should be retained, just as we have the other ‘honorary’ positions outside of the States such as Centeniers; Constable’s officers etc.
39) I thus believe that the Constable role should be confined to ‘over-seeing’ the parishes. Certainly in the example of St. Helier this is a full-time job in itself. As such I also believe that it is the parishes that should pay these individuals for payment is clearly fully merited.
40) Supporters of the Constables remaining in the States argue, of course, that without them ‘the vital link’ between the parishes and government would wither and eventually die. I suggest that this view is groundless. If one looks no further back than Clothier – and my own experience of being in the States has certainly confirmed this – the reality is that, then as now, it is generally Parish Deputies who actually bring up far more parish issues in the Assembly generally than do the Constables.
41) Any problems in this area of ‘parish’ really should be able to be overcome by developing good and regular interaction/relationships between Constable and Deputies within the Parish to ensure any necessary matters are raised with the States as they become necessary.
42) Unfortunately, as was pointed out when the very learned Professor Adrian Lee visited Jersey it is jurisdictions with long-entrenched parochial systems of government that are most resistant to democratic reform – even when it is clearly needed. A key and very telling aspect of this is that desire to keep the Constables in the States Assembly subsequently skews all hope of fairness of political representation and boundaries. This cannot be acceptable. The hard truth is: you can either keep the Constables or you can have democracy. But you can’t have both. They just aren’t compatible.
43) For as has been pointed out by former Deputy Daniel Wimberley and others, it is a fact that whilst St. Helier with over a third of the Island’s population has just one Constable to represent them; the eight smallest parishes have a smaller total population yet have a seven-fold advantage in voting upon States issues. This is simply not tenable within a modern democracy. And, just to top this farce off we then get a submission of utter drivel from the likes of the Constable of St. Peter who apparently thinks St. Helier - with nearly 34,000 people – should have just one Deputy the same as St. Mary with 1,700! And this man is allegedly a ‘politician’!!!
44) At the risk of finally being accused of being ‘personal’ I must also say that in my four years in the States I’m afraid that it is the Constables who have revealed themselves to be the worst group, along with most Ministers, for displaying contempt to other Members; this by disappearing for long periods into the coffee room to chat and playing little part in many debates. Regularly, from my observations, not even having the courtesy to listen to arguments being made by ‘progressives’ within debates - yet time and again then hurrying back just to vote ‘contre’.
45) This does not apply to all the Constables, of course, the current Constable of St. Lawrence being a very good example of someone who does listen intently (and often contribute too) to most debates. Referring back to my observations on the ‘childish’ attitude of so many on the political ‘Right’ this probably explains why in her doing this, and being willing to vote as I do myself on the merit of the proposals alone, this Constable was in the past daubed by many of her right-wing colleagues on the Constables benches as ‘the JDA Constable’. A pathetic attitude.
46) Much as it also annoys the Constables and they try desperately hard to deny the fact, it is also a reality that the Constables largely do vote ‘en bloc’. Usually at a ratio of about eight to ten (the former Deputy of St Martin did some revealing research into this fact) in support of whatever the Council of Ministers put forward; or against anything a ‘progressive’ puts forward.
47) The ‘ex-officio’ status of the Constables is also something that never should have been allowed to develop in fairness to both the individuals who hold that role and the States generally. It is entirely unsustainable within a democracy of the 21st Century and must be abolished. One is either elected directly into the States or one is not. The present system is a fudge without any benefits whatsoever.
48) Some people attempt to make a big issue of what would happen if a person who wanted to be a Constable also wanted to be an ‘MP’ within the Assembly. This is actually, I suggest, a non issue. If such a person was confident that he or she could make time to do both; and would have the backing of the public to do so then let them stand. Because one or even two Constables did so, however, does not in any way mean that every parish should have to follow that route?
50) Lastly, but very importantly, another point which links strongly with paragraph 44. The Electoral Commission was asked quite reasonably by a significant number of members of the public to investigate which type/class of States Member contributed most to putting work into propositions on developing policy; asking questions to hold the Executive to account etc; and contributing to debates generally. That it refused do so is both a shame and only gives further concern to so many of the public who actually want their representatives – all of their representatives – to play a full role given the decent salary we are paid.
51) Research would have shown that the group who contribute the least in these important areas by a very long margin is the Constables. The group who contribute the most is the Deputies. This should not be concealed from the wider public in the course of the Commission’s findings. Because if we are talking ‘value for money’ then in these very important areas of democracy the majority of the Constables simply do not deliver. Not a personal attack – just fact.
MEMBERS’ TERMS OF OFFICE
52) In my view this really does require very little debate – especially if we hopefully do take the key step forward of finally moving to one type or ‘class’ of States Member. I said on the hustings when I first stood for election as Senator that six years was too long a period of office; and that three years is too short. Now with the benefit of being into my second term of office I can honestly say that nothing has transpired to cause me to alter my views.
53) Six years is far too long a term within a system with no means of voting out a ‘party’ en masse if the public are unhappy with their performance. Equally, and this is especially true for new, first time Members, it probably takes the best part of a year to properly learn the ropes of a new role with a variety of aspects. Thus I believe that a four year term for all States Members – hopefully eventually with a spring election date - is in the best interests of both politician and public alike.
54) Whilst I recall the former Chief Minister trying to argue the case that ‘staggered’ elections helped ensure ‘stability’ I would suggest that what he really meant was that such a process helped maintain the status quo i.e. the maintenance of the ‘rightist’ majority that has led us to the sheer folly of becoming a financial monoculture entirely at the mercy of much larger, and changeable external global attitudes.. Our recent step toward a one day election now needs to make the second crucial step – moving to a true ‘general election’ with just one class of States Member. Do this and I believe that at last political apathy and disengagement can begin to be halted.
OTHER RELATED FACTORS
55) The issues I briefly touch on below are, I accept, outside of the current mandate of this Electoral Commission. I nevertheless suggest that they are worth flagging up as they are both related and do need urgent action. A couple of these I am aware are already in the process of being tackled by individual ‘backbenchers’.
56) A way to enhance the link between the electorates’ vote and the individual who subsequently becomes Chief Minister. Even without a party political system a very workable improvement on the present situation was suggested by Deputy Shona Pitman prior to the 2008 elections. This should be looked at again.
57) The ‘Establishment Party’ can no longer be allowed to get away with putting off the starkly clear need to separate the non-Human Rights compliant ‘dual role’ of the Bailiff as head of both legislature and Judiciary. If PPC do not take this on board then a vote of no confidence needs to be brought in the Committee. I also believe that the public should be given the opportunity to have their say on within the intended referendum. Does the Commission have the political backbone?
58) In line with the above an independent ‘Speaker’ to be selected by the Assembly.
59) With no way at present for the electorate to express its dissatisfaction with a Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers (in the event of them failing to deliver election promises) by ousting them ‘en masse’ I believe that this must be addressed. As such I will shortly be lodging a proposition seeking to adopt a so-called ‘recall referendum’ mechanism; similar to those used by various democracies including Venezuela and certain states within the USA and Canada.
60) New legislation to be drawn up to ensure Scrutiny finally has the ‘teeth’ to enable it to hold the Executive to account as was originally intended. Thus also making it worthwhile to participate in – as opposed to being seen by the Executive as something to keep the rest of us ‘tied up’ and ‘quiet’ whilst they run the island like a private club for the rich.
61) Having personally tried to increase the States quorum to 35 to put an end to some Members playing little or no active part in States debates; with the consequence that the Assembly regularly becomes ‘in quorate’ whilst some members drink coffee and chat I continue to believe that this still needs urgent action.
62) In line with the above point it also remains quite clear that PPC need to come up with a way to penalize ‘part-time’ politicians. By this I mean the sort who talk a lot publicly about ‘value for money’ and ‘effective government’ but actually spend most of their time as politicians working at their private business whilst the taxpayer pays them. I believe that a system of fines or withholding a part of salary is the way to go.
63) Also related to the above two points. States Members should continue to have absolutely no say in the final rate of payment that is recommended. The reason for this is obvious as became apparent in the last Assembly. This being the opportunity for certain wealthy Members who actually did very little of political substance or quality, and for whom politics was likely no more than an ‘ego-stroking hobby’ to try and score populist points.
64) Similarly, whatever salary is agreed upon it should be the same across the board in order that ‘increased scales of pay’ cannot come to be abused as is the present system of awarding Assistant Minister positions as ‘sweeteners’ to help secure voting support for the Council of Ministers.
65) There is obviously a great deal more that could be included for the Commission’s consideration. Nevertheless, given that much of this is probably better considered by either the ‘machinery of government’ PPC sub-committee; or, in the instance of serious issues relating to Crown Officers, Jurats and the Judiciary by various concerned ‘backbenchers’ I will leave my submission at this. For the lazy, however, as promised I summarise the key four points relating to the Commission’s headings below.
SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
66) The number of States Members: 44
67) Classes/types of States Members: One. Merging of Senators & Deputies; removal of Constables.
68) Constituencies and mandates: ‘Super-constituencies’ to be based on equally balanced districts ensuring that all votes – country and urban – are of approximately the same value.
69) Term of office: 4 years
70) Chance of it all happening under this Electoral Commission: Zero. Though I really hope that I am proven wrong!
Deputy Trevor Mark Pitman