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'.