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.