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'.


  1. There is still a non-sequitur in trying to link the holding of a proper general election with partially stripping us of our main way of influencing the makeup of the States by our votes. Reducing my vote from nominally 14 and effectively 12 Members to 10 and 8 does not enhance my democratic rights or political engagement in the slightest. Admittedly, this time around I can't find even 4 of the candidates declared so far whom I am keen on voting for, but that should not affect the principle. If the non-establishment candidates are of insufficient quality or quantity to fill the seats, then it is functional democracy for the other lot to get back in.

  2. after all, for the poor country dwellers of Trinity and St Ouen, these were the only elections in which they got to vote!

    It's no better in St Saviour No. 3, which is hardly "country"!

  3. The more serious issue with the Senatorial election is not the numbers , but the fact we elect en block with no concept of PR. The winner takes it all mechanism means a small majority in the voting electorate can multiply up to give a disproportionate number of votes in the assembly.

  4. Hang on, you are missing the first most basic principle of party politics... that the party members (and I don't mean MP's, I mean grass roots) decide the policy.

    Admittedly this does not happen now, but neither did it happen with the JDA. Geoff Southern I am afraid simply did not represent anywhere near a majority of people and continued to extol his personal views on other people, rather than saying 'here is the results of our survey/referendum, this is what the majority of people in Jersey want'.

    That is much harder to oppose, even for the establishment, than one man saying this is what I think.

    First you have to have a mechanism to measure public opinion in place, (treating the entire island as one political party)... then individuals can see whether their views are represented by that process or if they are usually in the minority.

    At the moment no one is really represented under the current system and so as everyone is in the same boat, the first step is to ensure that people are represented.

    Once that process is in place (and I hasten to say that my own proposition for implementing this one which I will seek election is not the only one, but I could not arrive at a better one) then certain sections of the island will find that they are always in the minority and are thus not represented and will want to form a breakaway party.

    However the breakaway party has to retain the whole 'public representation' aspect, albeit perhaps coming from a different direction.

    To suggest that their is an 'establishment' is correct, to suggest that there is an 'establishment party' is not correct. They have no interest in what the people outside the inner circle think.

    Real opposition to the establishment has to be based on the areas that they consider to be their strengths...

    The Finance industry, which is not being looked after as is in fact being drowned in regulation.

    The Economy, they are wasting too much money pursuing a Keynesian/Socialist approach of high taxation and high spending which is destroying business.

    Their supposed strengths are actually their weaknesses.

  5. Moan as much as you like but the sad fact is the lack of genuinly "progressive" candidates and a cohesive, shared mandate for voters to believe in.
    The pursuit of profit is a very simple policy that unites the "establishment" and is easily understood by the electorate.
    The progressives have a much harder task but have failed miserably election after election, to get organised.

    With all the open goals of the past 3 years, defeating the establishment "for profit party" should be almost easy. In fact it will be a struggle even to maintain the status quo on elected numbers of "progressives" on 19 October and this is our first ever "general election."

    Vote? What for?

    Tom Gruchy asks

  6. Going strong since 1948, gone by 2018.

  7. Every day this week, I will be publishing a new blog as part of a series focusing on the idea of political DNA.

    You posted that on 29th August, what happened to 1st and 2nd of septembers blogs, i was enjoying reading them.

  8. Anon, sorry for the delay. Unforeseen circumstances resulted in a busy than expected couple of weeks. Back up and running now!