Monday, 22 October 2012

Electoral Commission – SPEECHES – Interim Report and provisional recommendations – Town Hall, Monday 22nd October 2012 @10 a.m.

The campaign for Real Democracy in Jersey has entered a new phase. The outcome is uncertain and those committed to seeing democracy implemented must recognise the level of commitment this now demands from each. The movement around Reform Jersey will play its part in winning the arguments.


For those unable to attend this morning’s meeting announcing the Interim Report and provisional recommendations of the Electoral Commission, here are the speeches from the Chairman, Senator Sir Philip Bailhache and the Vice Chairman, Colin Storm, followed by a short question and answer session from States Members and a few members of the public.

The last question to be asked was mine concerning the Town/Country divide and over representation of the rural areas being perpetuated to the disadvantage of the urban areas were the Constable to be retained.

The media received advanced copy of the Interim Report last Friday, but States Members and the public had to wait until this morning for details from the Chairman of the Electoral Commission. That is why the JEP was able to print before lunchtime with the recommendations as the lead story. Clearly the inner circle of States Members already knew and the Council of Ministers will have been informed. The non magic circle of States Members were a little later in finding out and Deputy Pitman was only able to leak details late last night on his blog.

Retention of the Constables will be the most contentious issue as it remains central to the establishment of a democratic structure for the States Assembly. Opinion is heavily polarised precisely because both sides realise its importance in the exercise of power. Retention of the Constables defeats the potential democratic extension implied by the other reform proposals. The existence of one category of States Member is complementary to a single election day and new larger electoral districts. This is essentially the Guernsey model and one that appears to work well given their high levels of voter turnout in contrast to our abysmal 60% voter abstention.

The rearguard defence of Constables will be fought hard and may well succeed given the deferential nature of the States and media influence over public opinion. The Council of Ministers needs Constables to assure its dominance of the Assembly and unquestioning support of government policy.

Given the levels of political ignorance amongst the public it is unlikely there will be anything other than a modest turnout for any referendum. Copies of the Interim Report are to be delivered to all households this week and I can predict that most of those put through the boxes in the block of flats where I live will end up on the floor unread and unwanted. If there won’t be much public enthusiasm, it is certain that States Members will be even less interested in real democratic reform given their consistent rejection of Clothier for a decade.

As an aside, it should be noted that a significant vote for the retention of Constables in any referendum, will be used to deflect criticism of the proposal that may be met in the Privy Council when any Law comes forward for approval. It will be possible to point to public support for retention as evidence of legitimacy for Constables continuing to sit ex officio in the States, even though it does not fit well with modern democratic standards. It will also get round the international requirement that constituencies should be of equal size. Standards supposed to be essential to emerging democracies like Bosnia and Kosovo need not apply in St Ouen or St Mary for reasons of tradition, in the same way that the Seigneur still plays a role in the Chief Pleas of Sark, even though it is a semi-feudal title that can be bought and sold like any other commodity.

The public consultation meetings next month are all to be held in Parish Halls where we can predict a rallying of Parish loyalists. In St Brelade the venue will be the Parish Hall rather than Communicare, where the parking is so much easier and the building larger. Expect to see certain Constables turning these public meetings into parish events. Will questions be restricted to parishioners only as is so often the case, leading to the exclusion of opinion (dissenting of course) from townies and those living elsewhere that may have decided to turn up out of curiosity?


  1. Sir,

    I think you will find that Deputy Pitman, by his own admission, did not leak anything but simply took an educated guess.

    Had he had inside info he would surely have had the decency to tell all about the referendum for constables instead of stating that the recommendation would be to keep them.

    Deputy Pitman's blog (ironically called 'the bald truth) has done other interested parties a disservice by sparking a frenzy of cynical and inaccurate blogging activity.

    Your blog, and the excellent blog of Sam Mezec of Reform Jersey will go some way to repairing the damage and I hope that Reform Jersey will lead a mature, balanced, intelligent and lively debate in the coming months. One that addresses the real concerns of the pro-constable brigade rather than just ridiculing their views.

  2. I doubt if the public will get to hear the arguments for the kind of democratic reforms that are needed, including a single category of States Member, given the partisan nature of the media and the fact that the retention of Constables is de facto government policy. The Chief Minister has made clear his position.

    If Constables are retained, then St Helier remains grossly under represented and the Country Parishes over represented. The Town/Country divide is perpetuated. Take for example the new District 5 which is proposed as having 5 Deputies. In addition, voters in St Lawrence, St John, St Mary and St Ouen will also have 4 Constables in the States, making 9 representatives. District 3 has 5 Deputies and 3 Constables, making 8 representatives. Meanwhile each of the two St Helier Districts will have 5 Deputies and only half a Constable. Two categories of States Member merely creates insurmountable anomalies in terms of fairness and equality.

  3. We need to know the Referendum questions NOW.
    It's no good waiting until after the Parish "consultations".
    People attending these need a specific plan on the table to discuss.
    The Commission said at the outset that it would send a specific plan to the States and that would not be for discussion except insofar as the States would agree the terminology, arrangments and date etc for the Referendum.

    Unless there is a specific proposal there cannot be a Referendum otherwise it will merely be a question within a question.
    If question one is to agree to 6 Districts of 6 or 7 seats then that is not specific enough. Do not be decieved.
    Constables are not the ONLY next option.
    36 or 42 "Deputies" will not be sufficient to make a workable governemt.
    Is the Commission saying that "Senators" are emphatically dead even if Constables are rejected in a Referendum?
    If so what is more democratic in having 12 Constables rather than 12
    (or however many) Senators?

    The Commission was charged with producing a specicic proposal. It has not. Rather it has agreed to pass the other half of the puzzle back to the public to "determine". This is not possible. The Commission is misguided by we know who because it is obvious that the whole power of the establishment will be mobilised to promote the other half of the answer that fits the hardly hidden true agenda.
    Bailhache has already sold his 42 magic number to the public and now seeks to pass the "Constables IN" message as though it was the voters' own.
    Houdini could not do any better. This is pure magic but we should all realise that this is just make believe - it is not democracy in action.