31 August 2011

Jersey's Secret Party - Going Strong since 1948

Today I was interviewed by BBC radio Jersey as one of several political commentators on the 'various groupings' in the States and those contesting the elections. The interviews are due to be broadcast tomorrow morning. I do not know if the report will be an serious journalistic critique of the Jersey system and the covert parties or if it will be a collection of trite sound bites taken out of context, however, I was keen to impress on reporter Christie Tucker the need for analysis of Jersey's historical political context, especially since 1948.

The Elections of 1948 (put very simply)
The Jersey Elections of 1948 coincided with the biggest constitutional reforms that the States had seen since the foundation of the modern legislature in 1769. The jurats (who also sat in the Royal Court) were booted out of the States and replaced by 12 Senators, elected, then, for 9 year terms. They joined the 12 parish policemen (Constables) and the remainder of deputies. In that election there were two main parties contesting the election under the guise of the Jersey Democratic Movement and the Jersey Progressive Party. The Former was a leftist grouping and the latter representing a mixture of traditional conservatives and businessmen. At those elections, the JPP won an overwhelming majority, but when they seized power, the party was eventually disbanded and they all became 'independents'. 

However, the loyalty - to Capital - remained the unifying force. And it remains so to this day. (For a more in-depth and, no doubt, more accurate study of the elections see Tony's Musings)

How the Establishment Party Operate(d)
Since 1948 to the present day, the ruling elite of the island (commonly called 'the Establishment') have exploited the opaque nature of the Jersey system to their advantage. To the electorate there were two main problems with the system: (i) the fact that that not all seats were up for election at one time meant that a wholesale change of  government was impossible. Unpopular politicians could stay in power and managed to secure the tops jobs for themselves, whilst other candidates were running around fighting elections. This remains a problem still today, where since 2005 both Chief Ministers have been selected from those who have not been up for election. And both were arguably at the ebb of their already questionable popularity when they were selected. This looks set to be the case again for the next elections. (ii) The absence of political parties, and the hostility towards them which was in part manufactured and fueled by a complicit media (who make their revenue from the ads placed by the business community), meant that the public were and remain unable link their vote to any tangible policy direction. This suited the covert Establishment party who did not have to openly peddle their main  policies which revolved around running the island as a cosy club for the wealthy, at the expense of the working class - had they to do so they would never have succeeded. So it was that the Black and White Party were able to retain power for over six decades. 

Electoral Reform - 2010
In absolute terms, the electoral reforms of last year were anything but radical. However, the modest reforms - a single election day (this year for all-but- 6 senatorial seats and for ALL seats in 2014) was highly significant in breaking one of the electoral flaws that the Black and White Party managed to exploit so ruthlessly for decades. A general election was not good news. The counter-assault came by pouncing on the unpopular decision to 'reduce' the number of Senators from 12 to 8. If this happened, Jersey's perfect democratic model would collapse. Of course, the real reason they were so adamantly opposed to the move was that it would enable a real general election for the first time ever! in Jersey politics. However, they could not say this. So these States Members (Horsfall, Farnham, Cohen and Ozouf - to name a few), past and present - all fully signed up Party members - made last ditch attempts to reinstate the Senators (after all, for the poor country dwellers of Trinity and St Ouen, these were the only elections in which they got to vote!) reopening the debate not once, but twice and even petitioning the UK to stop the decision (dangerous territory) - all in the name of democracy. All now cried for the need for an electoral commission (not their idea) which could look at all these issues in a holistic way. What did not go unnoticed was that the same individuals did nothing to promote electoral reform. But the fight for Senators was not driven by a desire for democracy, but by the realisation that a general election would loosen their grip on power and bring the inevitability of formal party politics one step closer.

NEXT TIME - What the Black and White Party will do to 'get their boys in'.

29 August 2011

Political DNA -Part 2

Former Deputy Gary Matthews calls for Jersey's working class and 'ordinary people' to mobilise and vote for those who represent their own interest.

Here is the second part of the video filmed last Saturday, with myself and former Les Quennevais Deputy, Gary Matthews.

'Those people who control the island and the finance industry are few in number. And they would not have the electoral ability to keep their majority if we could find the secret to getting the ordinary workers, ordinary people, ordinary families out to vote [for people who represent their interests].' - Gary Matthews

28 August 2011

Political DNA

Every day this week, I will be publishing a new blog as part of a series focusing on the idea of political DNA. In order for us to understand what is meant by 'political DNA' in the Jersey context, it is first necessary for us to understand the historical context of Jersey Politics and how it relates and still very much affects the set up (and struggles) we have today. Forthcoming blogs will, thus, look at the immediate post war elections; the creation and subsequent dismantling of political parties. We will also discuss the REAL reason that Ben Shenton is not standing for election and how it relates to his party allegiance, rather than anything else. And also why the Black and White Party have reverted to such desperate tactics as needing the former Bailiff to stand for election. The common theme will be - party politics DOES exist in Jersey - and the Establishment (who also very much exist) are exceptionally skilled at manipulating the Jersey public and the system to put their boys into power and keep them there. This will also involve a posting on why the machine was so against a reduction in Senators - but moreover what it entailed - a single election day, where the Chief Minister would have to face election will all other representatives.

To start the ball rolling, I am pleased to present the first part of a video kindly filmed by Tom Gruchy featuring former St Brelade No. 2 Deputy, Gary Matthews and the current Deputy (me). Gary was elected in 1993 and served one term as a deputy, elected with a small group of others from the 'Green Party.' In his short time in the States, Gary was an articulate and vocal States Member, who campaigned on many issues which were not 'popular' at the time, such as equality, anti-discrimination, women's rights, worker's rights and a whole variety of social and environmental issues, which were on few politicians' agenda at the time. Moreover, he attempted to uncover corruption and alleged malpractice relating to one senior politician who had (should I say allegedly?) used the States Chamber to bring forward unnecessary legislation, of no benefit to Jersey, which financially benefited his Law Firm and the City of London. As a result of speaking out on this an other issues, he was punished by the local media (who owned the JEP at the time?) and labelled an enemy of Jersey. All this happened at the same time that then Senator Stuart Syvret was also kicked out of the Chamber for making comments about Senator Reg Jeune's involvement in the Limited Liability Partnership fiasco . Fortunately for him, Stuart was not up for election at the time and later went on to top the poll when we was eventually kicked out.

So without further ado, I present the first video. I apologize if the quality is not great.  Also have the sun in my eyes and wind in my hair, so not ideal.... Enjoy.

08 August 2011

'It's Crisis time for Jersey' - Senator Syvret to join former Jersey 'Monarch' in Hollywood Election

You just could not make it up. Several months ago, there was a rumour going around that former Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache was going to stand for election in 2011. I and several others dismissed this as 'fanciful', the kind of thing you hear in the pub, which turns out to be nonsense. It was not that those who were saying it were not trustworthy, quite the opposite, rather that it seems the stuff of fairy tales. Certainly, it is possible - and it did happen - that one can start off being a deputy (or senator or constable), become a crown officer and then onto become Bailiff (we know that Philip Bailhache started his states career as a deputy for Grouville in 1972). However, any sensible mind might tend to think that there is an unwritten rule that it does not work the other way round (like a one way membrane) - not for any constitutional reason (though there are questions that should be asked about whether former Chief Justices should be eligible for election), but simply become it is unbecoming for a feudal lord, someone who has held the most senior post in the island, as Head of the Royal Court, Head of the States Assembly and Civic Head of the Island, to 'lower himself' to the role of a humble senator(ial candidate) - I add the parenthesis, because contrary to the inference of recent JEP reports, there is nothing inevitable about the election of the former Bailiff. 

However, we do not live in ordinary times. The decision of Mr P. Bailhache to seek election, is indicative of the desperation that the Establishment find themselves in (yes, there is an establishment in the island - for a good starting point look at page 6 of the phone book - and page 7 lists many of their strongest supporters). For you see, this is where the propaganda kicks in. For these, and many other reactionaries in the island, the fact that the last three years have seen 'divisions' in the States Assembly, long debates, more questions being asked (though not necessarily answered), policies being challenged, the validity of information being contested - these are all portrayed as 'bad things' by many establishment supporters, and their prime media tool, the Jersey Evening Post. Even the BBC have fallen into the trap of dismissing long debates and the concerted efforts for States Reform as politicians being 'self-indulgent', 'talking about themselves', rather than giving in depth political analysis, about what the underlying reasons are for the democratic deficit both in and out of the States. 

So why is the Former Bailiff lowering himself to seek election as Senator? Clearly, there must be something at stake. 'Jersey' - in his terms and the terms of the neo-liberals, of Sen. Ozouf, Maclean, Cohen and their predecessors, Walker, Horsfall, Jeune etc - is first and foremost a business. It is a portal through which Billions of pounds worth of transactions flow every year, and some people do very well from it. For these people, it is important that the Jersey model is protected at all costs. Even if that means independence. That Jersey model is not our 'way of life' - our Jersey cow, the preservation of our coastal beauty and countryside (no, those are dispensable - look at the desecration of Portelet, in the name of Capital) - it is the ability for foreign capital and business interests to use Jersey for its own ends, whilst making a few local residents (Partners of law firms, Directors of Trust Companies, Senior Advocates, Real Estate Agents, Accountants and Property Developpers) very, very wealthy. 

However, there is an inconvenience. When these 'colonialists' came to the island, they noticed there was an indigenous population that needed to be subjugated. So, a facade was created which loosely resembled democracy. You would be able to 'choose' your oppressors - the ones who make you pay more tax - direct and indirect - whilst reducing taxes to (foreign) corporations and the super-wealthy. Political parties would be discouraged, to stop any meaningful policies and their effective delivery by an organised grouping. The system itself would be difficult to understand - three types of member, elected at different times, for different periods, in different areas of differing sizes. Because you cannot vote for policy direction and you cannot vote for all seats, there would be effectively little link between your vote and what you got in government. Moreover, because the Ministers and Chief Minister are then appointed from 'in house' - you, the elector, are removed even further from the decision making process. A Minister can get elected on 'false promises', but because one is a Senator, he does not need to face election with the rest. He then goes on to stand for Chief Minister, even though many feel he has lied and cheated them. The consequence to all this? > Disillusionment > Voter apathy > Abstentionism. But it is not because the public does not care; it is because they realise that the system is against them.

Now back to the former Bailiff: when he declared, he must have thought he was a dead cert. He would not risk this, if there was a significant chance of failure. He would have been aware of the political analysis described above - where the 40% or so who vote for Senators, represent a large majority of the 'conservative, country' vote.  This is surely in his favour. 

But now there is another twist: what was looking like being a fairly bland Senatorial election for 4 seats in October, has just got a whole lot more interesting, with former Senator Syvret declaring just this afternoon, that he will also be standing for election. No doubt the thought of going head to head with his arch-nemisis, Sir Philip, who the former Senator no-doubt thinks is the embodiment of all that is wrong, politically, with the island, was too good an opportunity to miss. 

This, combined with a 'general election' (except for 6 senators seats) could make the outcome unpleasantly uncertain. It will certainly make the 14 or so hustings a lot more interesting. There will, perhaps for the first time, be a level playing field between Mr Syvret and Mr Bailhache. In the past, the power base was always skewed - either as Bailiff of States vs naughty elected Senator (who dared answer back) or Judge/defendant (not that former necessarily ever presided over any of Mr Syvret's cases). 

But the hustings are a great leveller. We know that Mr Syvret is an equal match for the former Bailiff, in terms of intellect and oratory. The 'Sir' title, will mean little when it comes to hustings in St Helier, St Saviour and St Brelade. 

But before we get fixated on two candidates for 4 seats, let's put these whole elections into perspective:

1)There will of course be other candidates - all of whom may be equally or better suited to be in the States than these two. That will be for the electorate to decide. 

2) And most importantly - the next Government will be made up in the vast majority by those (re)elected as deputy and constable. Whilst the media hype will no doubt focus on these 4 seats, the real battles and political gains/losses stand to made in the districts and parishes. In coming weeks, I will be working with other bloggers to highlight some of the choices that need to be made in key constituencies, and giving my take on the candidates. It is important that voters make informed choices, based on policy rather than personality or superficial factors. Moreover, it is simply important that we vote.