Frank Walker has not been a great success as the first Chief Minister of the States of Jersey. He has managed to disappoint his natural constituency of hard-faced right-wingers, by his spineless inability to provide political direction to his civil servants, of whom some would be better described as civil masters, as well as disgusting everyone else with his cynical willingness to sell us all out. Fortunately, his term is almost at an end.
Only, Frank's departure is not going to solve much: Who is the potential successor who can get the job right? The chosen heir, who may or may not be confirmed by the new House, is of course the Treasury Minister, Terry le Sueur. I must admit that I voted for him, when he first stood for Senator, on the strength of his track record at the Social Security Department. However, I fear he simply took the credit for his civil servants' work there, because once he was moved to front another team, at the Treasury, his performance plummeted. It is Terry who carries the can for the disastrous Zero-Ten tax scheme, to slash the tax take from locally registered businesses, and the equally calamitous Goods and Services Tax, to recoup the shortfall from all the people who gain nothing from Zero-Ten. And his reward, for such services to his island, is due to be the top job. In addition to his fiscal cynicism or ineptitude (take your pick), he is sadly short of the dynamism and charisma that give a natural leader much of his authority. Even Frank projects a modicum of vigour, in a school-bully way. There is not really any hope of Jersey's government getting a grip under his charge.
But, if we could avoid getting stuck with Terry, who else could we have? The chosen succession would probably be Phil Ozouf and then Alan MacLean. Phil enthusiastically and energetically backs most of Jersey's most suicidal policies – economic growth through adding population, letting economic diversity wither, letting predatory outside business crowd out local firms from our own economy and on the list goes. This swivel-eyed maniac with a Saddam Hussein grin wields too much power already, and would be an unimaginable disaster as Chief Minister. Alan at least has personal charm instead of sinister creepiness. However, he is rather a lightweight, politically. Beyond being front-man for some of Phil's initiatives, he has not made much impact in his first term, except for breaking election promises, and it is unlikely that anyone would put their name to his nomination yet.
It would be nice if we could get a Chief Minister from outside the present ruling clique altogether. The catch to this is that there are very few with both the experience and the ability to be credible. Simon Crowcroft briefly threw his hat into the ring, but backed out again, unfortunately. I am not a huge admirer of the way he has run St Helier, but he has at least shown that he is up to the job, and he is certainly a lot more sensible than Young Swivel-Eyes. Len Norman is vastly experienced, but not very highly rated by those who have tried to reckon up his achievements, and is turning his thoughts to focussing on his parish.
As a JDA member, I suppose that I ought to suggest Geoff Southern, but despite his unequalled abilities to grasp issues and crunch numbers, he is fatally flawed: The job entails dealing with a shocking number of fools, and he simply does not suffer them gladly enough to build productive working relationships with them.
Stuart Syvret is another intellectual heavyweight, who despises the lightweights around him too bitterly to show them enough support or leadership to win their loyalty, although he is way ahead of Geoff at selling himself to the general public.
Ben Shenton could be a viable candidate; he has the requisite charisma, and although his maverick centre-ground politics do not fully fit with either the establishment or the anti-establishment wings, he would at least be acceptable.
If the coming elections bring a significant shift in balance towards anti-establishment members, then Alan Breckon might be the dark horse to come through. After fifteen years of assiduous back-bench work, he has a solid grasp of the issues and ample experience of how the States function. I am not sure that he has the ambition to put himself forward, but a majority of members seeking to make a break with “WOLSATA” may well ask him to front them as their best hope; less abrasive than Southern or Syvret, more reliable than Shenton, a better team player than Rob Duhamel.
The real problem is that when the States cherry-picked the Clothier report's recommendations on reform to subvert them to entrenching the status quo more firmly, they made the Chief Minister's Job too big. Jersey only has a five-figure population, and if you draw up a job description that only one in a million could properly cope with, over ninety percent of the time you can expect it to be filled by people who are not really up to it.
What it means is that once again, the States of Jersey need to look at their own make up, and this time, instead of a little tinkering that has only made matters worse, make some radical reforms to see Jersey into the 22nd Century or further without more fiddling about. Constitutional reform is a dull subject, even for a lot of politically interested people, but we cannot afford to keep shying away from tackling it.