Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Trinity For Unity?

With a year to Jersey's next election, the politically interested are once again turning their mind to the island's remarkable lack of formal political parties.

Eight years ago, the 2005 election saw a surge of interest in party politics. The Centre Party, who were actually staunchly right-wing, but just not of the Establishment, soon vanished, while the Jersey Democratic Alliance nearly settled into becoming a permanent institution, taking several years to fade away after an unsustainably vigorous start. The Establishment politicians, for their part, did not see the need to set up a formal party to promote their own side, but they made it clear that there was a considerable amount of teamwork between those who intended to be working together when elected or re-elected.

Several more years of drifting in the same direction have kept those who are content with it from wanting to be any more politically active than they were. However, those, who are are discontented with various aspects of Jersey's current government, are beginning to feel the lack of formal vehicles to express their grievances and, one day, possibly implement solutions.

To topple, or even constrain, the established clique of ethically challenged cynics will require all who are not positively with them to unite against them. Saying that much is facile, but the first challenge is in how to unite them in a manner that is both flexible enough to accommodate internal dissensions without schism, and strong enough to maintain a cohesive direction. The Jersey Democratic Alliance was initially founded with the intention to be a very broad group, hence the name of Alliance. However, the centre-right element soon found themselves uncomfortable with the dominance of more left-wing thinkers, by both work rate and intellectual power, and baled out. The centre-left element bled away more slowly over the next five years, and, since the left-wing remainder became, in effect, the Jersey Labour Party, it has done nothing, if it even continues to exist at all. If practical lessons can be learned and applied from the JDA experience, though, then it was not all in vain.

To form a party, there has to be a nucleus of people agreed on a series of policies that they either desire, or at least assent to for the sake of their colleagues' desires, and motivated to pursue them. They can then recruit the uncommittedly sympathetic as rank-and-file members, and market the policies to the relatively apolitical general public as something worth voting for, come election time. Now, it seems to me that there are more than one tenable set of policies that could be pursued, according to taste and conscience. Therefore, there should be different nuclei of supporters around the different visions. The consequence of that, in turn, is a multi-party system.

A multi-party system, though, does not in itself unite the opposition, so much as formalise its divisions. Thus, to actually achieve anything, the parties must form coalitions to implement the overlaps on their policy lists, which will probably be quite substantial. Many things that should be either done or undone remain good or bad in capitalist, social democratic and socialist societies alike, and the parties can agree to do that much together. In a simple two-party system, cross-party agreements do not happen as often as they should, as tactical gaming tends to displace political integrity, but, with four-plus parties, dirty players can just get frozen out and marginalised.

If Jersey is to succeed in achieving the degree of political health most comparable jurisdictions enjoy, we need more than a party. We need a diversity of parties, and we need formal inter-party structures in turn. I envisage something like this as the way forward:

Four to six smallish parties, perhaps representing left, centre-left, centre-right and right on the traditional socio-economic continuum, and maybe green and libertarian taking other priorities, would make the basis. Most people, who would be activists at all, could find something for them amongst that selection.

Pairs or trios of parties with substantially overlapping aims would then have coalition agreements to work together on these shared aims and co-operate electorally. Certainly there is scope and even need for such a coalition between a leftist party and any centre-left and green party that may also form, and other parties will probably want to make similar connections.

All parties would benefit from also having an association of Jersey political parties, strictly concerned with the general promotion and support of party politics, and neutral as to what its constituent parties' politics may be. This could be used to both make general recruitment drives to encourage the public to work for their political beliefs, whatever they may be, and as a lobby group, to discourage The States from further measures to restrict the formation and growth of political parties.

The detailed picture of what emerges would have to depend on how many people actually care enough about what policies. There is a threshold of 20 signatories required under Jersey Law to found a party in the first place, and, given our firmly entrenched tradition of political apathy, some of the parties that could have been might not find them.

Anyway, I see the way to mount an effective challenge to the Establishment clique as not a simple unity of opposition, but a trinity of such left-wingers as there are in Jersey in one party, non-socialist liberals like myself in another, and a formal joint project of the two parties to organise a coalition in pursuit of the two parties shared objectives.


Sam Mézec said...

A well written piece here and I endorse pretty much everything you say.

At the end of the day, all political parties themselves are coalitions. The Labour Party once had both George Galloway and Tony Blair as members, whilst the Tories have both Ken Clarke and Daniel Hannan, despite them being reasonably far apart on the political spectrum.

When I spoke to Tessa Jowell MP a few days ago (she was in Jersey to give a speech on encouraging more women into politics) I asked her just for a few words on starting a party for people like me who have what are essentially Labour Party values, but know that this island is dominated by people who don't share those values.

She gave me two pieces of advice -

1. Don't call a new party the "Labour Party".

2. Keep it as broad as possible whilst still being able to maintain unity. Just because you might be a socialist, don't exclude liberals or social democrats with whom you have enough in common with to work towards a common agenda.

For me, the biggest block to Jersey having a proper democracy is not the electoral system (although that is important) it is the political culture of the ordinary Jersey person.

Politics isn't something that most people get in Jersey. It's not like the UK where many people know from a young age that they are part of a "Labour family" or a "Tory family" and so every 5 years it's just a given that you will go out and back your party. They're also taught at school from a young age about movements like the Suffragettes and how their people-power and democratic principles triumphed.

We don't have that in Jersey and that is what needs to change more than anything.

I suggest that a party or group should be formed for the next elections with a manifesto of commitments that will only be achieved if enough people are elected who sing off of the same hymn sheet.

The 5 policy areas I am suggesting are -

1. Unemployment
2. Cost of living
3. Population
4. Environment
5. Reform

It's clear that these are issues that come round at every election and no progress is being made because there are 51 people with different manifestos and opinions rather than a block of coherent policy to resolve each problem.

I like the idea of a multi-party system in which parties can campaign for their own issues, but also work together on a case by case basis on issues that overlap. But I think that should be a long term aim rather than something to immediately strive for.

As you say, getting 20 people to sign up for something (and pay a membership fee!) isn't totally easy. So to start there should be a single party with a specifically progressive program. I think it's foolish to try and have one party with people on the left and right in because they are just too diametrically opposed on too many issues. But Liberals, Socialists, Social Democrats, Greens etc are more than capable of getting together. So long as the socialists aren't calling for mass nationalisation etc or the others trying to curb trade union rights etc.

Once a group is officially formed, the party can start setting the agenda and building up confidence on a variety of issues that people feel let down by the current government on. Then the impetus is on those that aren't part of the progressive movement to start a proper conservative movement (I know that's an oxymoron, but you know what I mean!).

The challenge will be to get enough of us working together and able to feel comfortable having compromised on certain issues for the sake of unity. But it's a challenge I relish!

Anonymous said...

You need to recall that getting more than ten people in a room to discuss politics in Jersey is an achievement. Then, there will be division between those who want to grow organic potatoes, others who wish to put up barricades and the remainder who would rather wait to see if anything changes before doing something, anything in fact.

Remember, Jersey is a one party state and the name of that party is Finance.

Anonymous said...

Party Politics is dead in Jersey since the JDA imploded and seeing as the same faces try to resurrect this old chestnut every 3 years it will go just the same as before.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

It will not be all the same faces, though, and those who have been there before will have lessons to pass on to the others.

Sam Mézec said...

It's very weird how someone can claim party politics is dead after the implosion of the JDA.

The existence of one party is not a "party political system".

So how someone can claim it is dead before it has even been tried is very strange. Perhaps a clairvoyant?

Anonymous said...

Carry on dreaming.
Its always the same faces involved, I've been watching it for 12 years and they never know when to give up.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

Ok, there are some committed proponents of party politics who will keep on trying until they get it right. But there is always fresh blood in every initiative, too. For instance, Sam on this thread was a toddler when we launched the Rainbow Alliance, and now he is a prime mover in the latest project.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect Sam has already annoyed a lot of people on Facebook so is hardly everybody's cup of tea.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

With less than due respect, you mean. The people whom Sam annoys tend to be the people who wouldn't touch any kind of progressive party with a long pole, whoever was in it. He has intelligence, integrity and articulacy, and, what makes him a better man than you, he has the balls to stand up for things in his own name. I could work with him, and you would not be up for working with anyone to build a new party, so your opinion of him doesn't count for much on this.

Anonymous said...

I think what your commenter was trying to express was that Sam can, on occasion, come across as quite rude and condascending to people who don't share hs views, and for this reason he tends to polarise opinions on his politics and himself. This might be a good or bad thing, as there are probably as many people who will support him because of his conduct, as will be turned off by it. The real question is whether his approach is likely to attract swing voters, which is ultimately what increasing progressive representation is reliant upon.

By the way, I think resorting to calling somebody 'less of a man' is also an excellent example of ths polarising behaviour. Please, for all of our sakes, try and think before posting rubbish like that.

Anonymous said...

There is noting intelligent about insulting others online.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Sam's five policy areas do not include the economy. This is why few people warm to left wing parties in Jersey. Most people in Jersey are doing OK and like the way Jersey is run. That's why the so called establishment do so well in the polls. Unless the progressives come up with better policies than 'tax the rich' I don't think we will see party politics in Jersey for a long long time.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

Unemployment and Cost Of Living seem like economic issues to me.

Sam Mézec said...

If these detractors on here are the best we are up against, I'm more optimistic than I was before!

Nick Le Cornu said...

I think we need to start talking about the sort of policies that will attract the 60% of the island that do not vote.

Obsession with personalities gets us collectively nowhere.

The detractors here are anonymous, but we know the type of course - cynics to a man.

The idea of the collective is to organise the majority - the 99% against the interest of the 1%.

The disconnect between government and people has never been greater. That is precisely why 60-70% do not engage directly in the political process. Their abstention is bad for democracy and allows a very narrow secional interest to dominate.

That they are a minority was shown in the Referendum on electoral reform. All that option B could muster was 8000 votes and that in spite of all the stops being pulled out.