Saturday, 3 March 2012

Jersey needs an Independent Electoral Commission

The impending States of Jersey debate on setting up an Electoral Commission must not be dismissed as arcane self-obsession by the rest of us.

The present situation, in which abstentions consistently top the polls, cannot be claimed as a healthy or successful democracy. Thus, we need to develop a political scene that does command widespread public confidence. To do so, we need to improve the process, to offer the hope that public engagement will influence outcomes for the better. And, the hardcore under the foundations must be that we choose very carefully whom we entrust the improvement to.

While the Clothier Commission's proposals were not entirely to my personal taste, and the hatchet job the States did on them still less so, I can only admit it was a convincingly authoritative body to make those proposals. We must have another such Commission this time.

Unfortunately, some of the latest ideas being floated for the make-up of the Commission would rob it of that convincing authority from the outset. I can see a weak argument for including States Members, on the grounds that they are elected and paid to show leadership and make decisions on political matters. However, every last one of them has too much of a vested interest in the results to be at all credible. Only a completely independent Commission could be considered trustworthy. As a matter of principle, serving and prospective politicians must be ineligible to serve on it.

Moving beyond the abstract principle, any States Members tempted to vote against keeping the Electoral Commission independent has to beware of the complication that the Member keenest to get onto the Commission is the turkey who actually wants to vote for Christmas. Any Deputy faced with the risk of opening the way to a potential Chairman with a pre-existing desire to cull their numbers is going to be making their choice under the burden of a massive conflict of interest, even if the Senators and Constables can honestly follow their consciences on principle.

So, this vote will matter to us all. We must pay close attention to how our representatives vote.