Friday, 8 November 2013

Clothier? Think Twice

Many of my politically interested friends are pleased to see that this week The States Of Jersey finally approved, in principle, a referendum on the revised electoral system proposed by the Clothier Commission. There is certainly a strong case for replacing the current mish-mash of accidents of history with a modern and coherently designed process. Nevertheless, despite those around me telling me how good Clothier is in theory, I have yet to see any explanation that actually convinces me it is the right way forward.

The Clothier scheme successfully addresses the equality questions that so many hold against the current complex voting system. Neither voters in their representation, nor politicians in their mandates, have any kind of equality from parish to parish and office to office. Clothier would have a single rank of members, all from similarly-sized constituencies. Job done.

However, I feel Clothier has provided the right answer to the wrong question. In general, equality is a better principle than inequality, but I disagree that it should take priority over effectiveness of representation. Before they started chipping at the current system, I had fourteen representatives, the Constable, a Deputy and twelve Senators. In the urban districts, despite their whinging about getting less than their share, the multi-Deputy districts had sixteen or seventeen representatives, including up to four of their own local ones. So, apart from uncontested elections, we all got to vote for or against over a quarter of our little parliament. That is actually pretty strong democracy, that most of the world would envy, despite the awkward structure benefiting the kind of candidates, that people who read blogs like this would not want. Now, cuts in Senators bring our shares down a little, but I can still look forward to ten votes at the next election. Even so, that is still almost a quarter, a real say in the make-up of the States.

What, in contrast would I have to look forward to on the first election day after an implementation of Clothier? Possibly, one single seat to vote on, and in my particular locality, if it were contested at all, there would still be only one potential winner. Thus, as an avid follower of politics and current affairs, I would find myself denied any significant power to contribute to the success of those I would like to see in government.

All around Jersey, others like me would find the same disengagement foisted upon them. Each district would put forward its popular local bigwig, with or without the bother of seeing off a no-hoper or two, and except in a handful of less predictable town seats, effective democracy would be wiped out. That prospect saddens and scares me.

A “Yes” vote for Clothier would certainly blast the present political establishment, but it would be a suicide bomb that takes our own hopes for better democracy with it. Don't do it!

1 comment:

Nick Le Cornu said...

Don’t worry, the States won’t be implementing any kind of reform, Clothier or otherwise, any time soon, unless it’s another variant of the Option B gerrymander. The Right got greedy wanting to not only entrench COM power with Constables perpetuated for another generation or so, but also cull the numbers to make management easier and marginalise dissent to irrelevance. That’s why Option B lost. They may try again.

The political class are paralysed – indecision rules. The electorate should be furious. Instead of long overdue change, we just get more ill-thought-out consultation on issues to which the rational answers are obvious. It’s further failure to modernise and further failure to democratise.

You, like the rest of the electorate, have no real choice. There is no policy choice available as there are no manifestos to which candidates can be held accountable. We know there are no political parties and that in itself is part of the backwardness, the denial of choice to the electorate. Parties are how democracies are structured. Jersey is in fact a one party state.

In addition to no policy choice, the electorate has no way of structuring the States. The decision about who is to be the Chief Minister is hived off to an electoral college, the States Assembly; one step away from the electorate. This is indirect democracy, it stinks of Aritocracy. Hence the popular demand to be able to choose the Chief Minister directly. That there is no mechanism to do so brings us back to the absence of parties. We are in the chamber of mirrors.

We need electoral reform so as to create a level playing field. It should not matter where one lives in the island, one’s vote should carry the same weight.

On BBC Radio Jersey on Thursday, the lunctime phone in had Russel Labey as its guest. He had been a supporter of Option C, but is clearly closer in spirit to the democratic principles underlying Option A. He made an astute observation to a caller: “Why do you think it is there is a fear of the voters in St Helier? Why is there reluctance not to give them fair votes? We want people to live in the Town, not everybody can live in the Country as there would be no country, yet we are not treating the people who live in the Town properly.”

The why is answered very simply. It’s the fear of the working classes, of the immigrant communities. The elite fear the masses in an island that has changed radically from a sociological perspective, from one of land owning peasants to a cosmopolitan and diverse society.

Sit at the top of Queen Street, take a coffee and watch the world go by. It is diverse and cosmopolitan, it is young and old, Poles, Romanians, Scousers and Beans. None of those things is the States. In other words the States is unrepresentative. The States is a bulwark of the past. It must change.