My submission is quite long. If you prefer, you can view it in PDF format here.
SUBMISSION TO ELECTORAL COMMISSION
By Deputy Montfort Tadier
“A state without the means of some change
is without the means of its conservation.”
- Edmund Burke
“Change before you have to.”
- Jack Welch
We live in exciting times. Jersey faces challenges and opportunities on a local and international scale. It is important, I believe, that we have the right foundations, politically, to weather the storms that are to face us. However, we have a divided island when it comes to the issue of Reform, but not divided in the sense of Left, Right, Liberal and Conservative, but rather in terms of democrats and traditionalists; those who favour a modern democracy for the modern challenges we face and those who think little change is necessary.
I am in the former camp. And I am hopeful that Members of the Electoral Commission will propose far-reaching democratic reforms that will be a shining beacon of democracy at home and abroad. We have the chance to get this spectacularly right, but it will be necessary for us to put aside our pre-conceived ideas of what we want, in favour of fairness, democracy and logic.
So how do we get there?
Calls for Reform are not new and many of the same demands for a modern and more democratic model that were being made as far back as 1769 and 1948 are still being made today.
Rather than focusing on what we have now – the three rôles, and dissecting their pros and cons, it is more helpful to establish some basic principles which are generally accepted as being fair and sensible. This has been the approach of the local group Reform Jersey, and I think they are correct; They say that reform in Jersey should be guided by 3 basic principles:
1) Every electoral district should contain the same population
2) Every Voter should have the same number of votes
3) The system should be simple and user friendly
I would invite the Commission to consider these three points and say what is wrong with them. Indeed, it is my belief that if these three principles are followed – rather than working backwards from what we have now and deconstructing it – The Commission will not go far wrong in its recommendations.
You may recognise the first quote above. It was the one chosen by the Clothier Review Panel to preface its report of 20004. I quote it deliberately, because I think that the underlying principles of Clothier’s recommendations are sound.
It is sometimes said by detractors of the Clothier Panel’s recommendations, unfairly in my opinion, that because he was from the UK, he did not appreciate the Jersey context. This ignores the fact that the majority of the membership was local.
It is now widely accepted that the partial implementation of the panel’s recommendations has resulted in the worst of both worlds – a government with more concentration of power in the hands of the executive, but none of the necessary democratic reforms that went with it. Thus, 12 years on, we find ourselves with 4 Panels concurrently looking at (i) Standing Orders in the States; (ii) Machinery of Government; (iii) Voting and Elections Law and (iv) The Electoral Commission.
This is despite the warning of the Clothier Panel itself, which clearly stated:
‘The need for coherence and consistency in government, a requirement
we have already noted, leads us to emphasise that our arguments and
recommendations are all interlinked and interdependent and so must be
looked at as a package rather than a collection of isolated proposals. We
hope, therefore, that the temptation to pick out those of our ideas which
look simpler and easier to implement will be resisted.’
It will, of course, take humility for the Electoral Commission to come up with the same recommendations that Clothier made: It is not an easy thing to admit that a panel chaired by a non-Jerseyman 12 years ago may have come up with the best workable solution. Nonetheless, I invite the panel to reconsider the merits and again state what is wrong with the recommendations the panel made.
Single Class of States Member ‘Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitat5.’ –William of Ockham
It has been suggested that part of the block to reform in the past has been the protectionism of the three divisions of Membership for their own rôle. Whilst there have been some clear exceptions, I am sure this has been a contributing factor.
The appeal of a single class of States Member, as recommended by Reform Jersey and many others, is that it gets rid of the divisive nature of this ‘class system’. It also makes the system easier to understand for both States Members and the public alike – how often do we hear, even States Members, refer to each other by the incorrect titles?
‘Deputy Farnham… sorry, I mean Senator.’
‘Senator Norman… er, I mean, the Constable of St Clement.’
The (Dual) Rôle of the Constable
The current Chief Minister stated in his oral submission that the island is deeply divided over the automatic right of the Constables to sit as politicians in the States Chamber. He is correct. (Certainly for the politically conscious element of the populace – remember we have a majority of the island who don’t engage in politics). However, this is a false dichotomy. It need not be an ‘either/or’ question. There is actually a third way. Follow the French example where Le Maire may sit in the Assemblé Nationale as an elected député, but not automatically. After all, it would be an unreasonable individual who said a Constable should not be able to stand to be a States Member, if he and the electors of the district were in consent.
Similarly, it seems unreasonable to suggest that all Constables must also be a States Member (what if a potentially great candidate, stalwart of the parish, has no interest in being a States Member?!).
However, it does seem entirely reasonable, to a fair and rational mind, that a Constable and the electorate, should be given the option to stand for national government, but not forced to have a seat.
This position seems to have gained wider acceptance and I quote from two submissions to underline my point:
‘As a strong supporter of the parish and honorary system I agree that, if it is to work as effectively as most would wish it to do, the head (or leader or father) of the parish must make his/her parish responsibilities the priority. If, having discharged those duties satisfactorily, a Constable wishes to serve his/her parish in a wider context there should be no bar to him/her seeking election to the States. However, the election to one position should not automatically be election to the other.’ -John Henwood7
‘The Constable can decide whether to stand for the paid for position of Deputy, representing their area in Island decisions. and accepting the bigger workload of both Constable and Deputy.’- Ed Le Quesne8
It is interesting to note that both of these are (strong) supporters of the Parish System. Mr Henwood, by his own admission, and Mr Le Quesne, who himself serves with the Honorary Police. Neither of these subscribe to the view that the removal of the Constable’s ex officio seat in the Chamber would necessarily lead to a weakening of the parish system. This argument seems to be something of a ‘red herring’ and at any rate, the healthy functioning of the parish system should not be the driving force behind the Electoral Commissions deliberations.
Nonetheless, it is my belief that maintaining the automatic seat of the Constable will have an increasingly negative effect on the parish system. This view is summed up perfectly by no less than the serving Chef-de-Police of [anonymized] in his submission:
‘I have worked for nearly nine years in a senior honorary capacity within the parish system, and in my view and in my experience, the reality is that the presence of the Connétables in the States weakens the [Parish] system, not strengthens it .. Running a parish can be an onerous task, and I believe that the requirements and workload of modern government has meant that to ask a Connétable to do both means that one of them must suffer.’ – [Anonymized]
There seems to be a truth here which has been picked up by voters in the 2011 election, which saw two sitting Constables (one a Minister), lose their seats because they were perceived to have ‘lost touch’ with the parish. Ironically, both Constables were probably amongst the more ‘articulate and politically active’ of the Comité, suggesting that the balancing of the States/Parish workload, is indeed, not an easy task.
Again, the suggestion of Reform Jersey seems entirely sensible:
‘Constables who wanted to be States Members could still put themselves forward of election to the States, but ultimately it would be for the voter to decide whether they also wanted their Constable to be a States Member.’
Of course, there are other reasons for the removal of the three rôles, including that of Constables, other than pragmatics: most urgently, that of proportionality of representation. The Commission has noted itself, for example, that
‘The combined total population of the 8 most rural and semi-rural parishes is 2,556 less than the population of St. Helier alone,even though these 8 parishes are represented in the Assembly by 8 Connétables compared to St. Helier which is represented by just one.’
This alone is a good enough reason for the removal of the Constables. Lack of reform in this area risks exacerbating the Town/Country divide which is already becoming apparent, politically and socially, in this island.
A Second Chamber?
‘Illusions of grandeur are not the same as visions of greatness.‘ Edwin Louis Cole
Whilst I do not wish to offend anyone, it seems to me that this suggestion is a complete folly. A second chamber would create more problems than it would solve:
Would you have a selection process or an election process?
If members are appointed, that will surely be contentious, perceived as undemocratic, and anachronistic, at a time when Westminster are reforming their own House of Lords
If elected, which Chamber would have supremacy?
The creation of an additional tier of government, with all the administration and cost that goes with it, would only serve to increase government at a time when most are calling for smaller, more efficient government.
If the desire is genuinely to increase scrutiny of legislation, this can be done in two ways:
1) Use a fraction of the money you would spend on the second chamber to resource Scrutiny better; consider allowing the public, especially experts, to have greater input in scrutiny (as is the case with PAC)
2) Move to super-constituencies, encourage greater political engagement, and attract a better calibre of States Member.
If the idea is simply to save face for the Constables or the Senators, it is a spurious ground.
We should remember we are a small island, comparable to a small town elsewhere in Europe. Whilst it is correct that the States of Jersey is essentially our ‘national assembly’, we do have local representation in the parishes already. I cannot see how a third tier of administration could be anything other than divisive, wasteful and unnecessary.
I believe it is important that the Commission give serious consideration to changing our first past the post voting system to one of preferential voting. This is especially important if we move to a system with multiple-seat constituencies, but also valid in single seat elections. The arguments for this are well known, and I will not bore the Commission unnecessarily with repeating what others have already said.
However, I will offer the following for your consideration:
1) In the hearing of 16th July, Mr Sam Mézec was asked by one of the Commissioners whether change should be more ‘evolutionary’ or ‘radical’. Mr Mézec responded quite wisely, ‘I hope that the Commission puts forward something that is good enough to work first time around.’ Arguments are sometimes made that too much change in one go would overwhelm the public, however, I would suggest that it better to make recommendations that don’t have to be revisited again in the near future.
2) In the case on the 2011 Deputies elections in St Brelade no.2, there were a total of 3 candidates contesting 2 seats. This meant that, purely statistically, there was a 2/3 chance of each candidate being elected. The results are recorded below:
Mervyn Le Masurier:
These results highlight some interesting facts. All candidates managed to achieve more than 50% of the vote. This is of course not that surprising. There was the option of 2 votes for each voter, and the majority would have used both votes. Nonetheless, these results are unusual. Normally, someone who achieved more than half of the vote would
have a reasonable expectation of being elected. In contrast, many were elected elsewhere with much less than 50% of the vote.
The trouble is here, and elsewhere, it was not possible for voters to weight their vote, and the results are often disproportionate or meaningless as a result.
To put it simply, the first-past-the-post system is only fair is when there are two candidates for one seat. In all other situations a STV or MTV should be used. The work has already been done by previous incarnations of the PPC and should finally be put into action.
3) There may be a temptation for the Commission to say that Voting Systems fall outside of its remit, however, I would suggest that the ‘catch all’
’ -and all other issues arising in the course of the work of the Commission which are relevant to the needs stated above.’
is relevant here. It fact it is inconceivable that one might look at revising boundaries, ensuring fairness in results and distribution of seats, without considering the voting systems that produce the end results.
Election of Chairman for the States
Similarly, I believe that the Electoral Commission should give consideration to formally recommending that Bailiff cease to be the Chair of States Assembly, and the Assembly have an elected speaker from within its ranks. Again, the arguments are clearly laid out in the Machinery of Government review of 2000. It seems to make sense that if the dual rôle of the Constables is to cease, then so also should the dual rôle of the Bailiff. In time the rôle of Speaker would develop its own prestige and Jersey would have a modern democracy in keeping with its growing status on the international stage.
Redistribution of Seats
The redistribution of seats must be carried out by an Independent Boundary Commission to ensure fairness and to act as a safeguard against any gerrymandering or the accusation thereof. And why would the States and PPC wish to open themselves up unnecessary criticism from potential detractors (who criticise rightly or wrongly)? Of course, the Commission should make a recommendation to the I.B.C. based on submissions and what is workable.
It appears to me that there are two workable options: either many single seat constituencies, or several large(r) constituencies.
I believe that single seat constituencies would catalyse formal party politics in Jersey. This would be positive from my perspective. Also, ‘one (wo)man, one seat’ would make the lines of responsibility and accountability much clearer.
However, the negatives of single seat constituencies seem to outweigh the positives. Uncontested elections would become more common, especially in the absence of a revised voting system. Entrenchment would follow and disenchantment, abstentionism would increase.
In the absence of a party political system, which is ultimately what is needed for mature and effective government in this island, a series of multi-member constituencies should be seen as preferable. The exact size and number will be dictated by a mixture of geography, demography and mathematics.
This said, I would not object to a series of 40+ constituencies each electing one member, provided a preferential voting system were to be used. This would safeguard against unpopular representatives being elected/returned on minority votes.
I would also urge that the single election day be kept with all members elected on the same day, irrespective of class of membership. This allows the public to vote to potentially change or endorse its government, at least theoretically. It also prevents election fatigue.
There is a belief in some quarters that the electoral Commission has been ‘politically stacked’ with the aim of delivering a prescribed political outcome. There is also an expectation that the Commission will inevitably opt to keep the automatic dual role of the Constable in the States Assembly, even though this is not universally supported and, perhaps, despite a majority of submissions to the contrary; and not achieve proportional and fair representation for islanders.
I hope this does not happen. I hope that the Commission manages to unite the island, notwithstanding valid political differences and come up with a system which provides simple, but effective modernisation which will work for years to come