Friday, 16 November 2012

The (Gerrymandering) Electoral Commission terminates in St Saviour – Senator Bailhache cracks a smile at mention of Barbados

The Electoral Commission held its final consultation meeting with the public on its Interim Report in St Saviour Parish Hall yesterday evening. The event had a more democratic tone and there was none of the baying “Keep-the-Constables” crowd that so marred the meeting in Grouville the previous night.

There was a moment of mirth and even a smile from Senator Bailhache, the chair of the meeting, when John Mills made a quip about his visit to Barbados and what he might have discovered there. In patrician style, Mr Mills praised the Interim Report as “pretty good” and remarked that “instinct tells me its time for the Constable to go”. What to do with them remained an issue and he suggested they be treated like Bishops in the House of Lords.

There were those that spoke in favour of retaining the Constables and for most speakers that was the limit of their contribution. Their reaction to the rest of the report was muted. There were also vocal critics of Constables too, including one elderly lady, whose voice would be familiar to all from the BBC phone-in programmes (when they existed) who managed to get in a cry of “they vote en bloc too often”. Her suggestion as to what should be done with them was like the Dean, to leave them in the States allowing them to speak but not vote. They presumably then could be living mummies of a distant glorious past.

“No housing estates in Trinity”

Whereas the meeting in Trinity last week had threatened immediate secession were the parish to be joined in a super constituency, one lone Trinity resident in attendance last night said he had no objection to his parish being twinned with St Saviour, provided, and here was the sting in the tail, the Constable was retained.

However, not all St Saviour residents were quite so happy and in particular the indomitable Nellie Pirouet, the mother of Deputy Jeremy Macon, smelt a rat. She noted “In the richer districts, more Establishment people get elected” and that there were “no housing estates in Trinity”. Although not directly expressed as such, here was sentiment that recognised the deep social divide that existed between those living in the islands wealthiest Northern Country parish and the urban South. The new District 4 would be sure to see the higher turnout in Trinity swamping the numerically superior but essentially abstaining St Saviour, resulting in the election of “Establishment” Deputies.

Peripatetic Democrats or “Hardy perennials who travel from Parish Hall to Parish Hall”

Nellie had a point; who would be left to represent the interest of the poor and the not so rich in the urban areas? So when my turn came round finally to speak from the floor (relegated to the tail end by the Chairman), I repeated the point I had been making throughout these series of meetings that “Option B” of the Interim Report, proposing the retention of Constables in the States, would perpetuate the country/urban divide, leaving the urban areas and St Helier in particular grossly under represented. St Helier with 26,860 eligible voters would have 11 representatives (10 Deputies and 1 Constable), whilst District 5 containing four Country parishes and half the eligible voters (11,100) of St Helier would have 9 representatives (5 Deputies and 4 Constables). Thus Country votes would be worth double those of a resident in St Helier.

Number of eligible voters per States representative:

District 1 and 2 (St Helier)                    - 2441
District 3 (St C, G, St M)                       - 1751
District 4 (St S, T)                                  - 1851
District 5 (St L, St J, St M, St O)          - 1233
District 6 (St B, St P)                             - 1800

We know that only 30% of the eligible electorate votes. Turnout in Country Parishes is much higher, almost double in some cases, that of the urban districts. When one factors in the social question to the electoral geometry there is a grave social injustice being perpetrated.


Neither Senator Bailhache nor Constable Gallichan would accept my point. They argued that the new districts would elect deputies and quite independently each parish would elect a Constable to the States.

What better way to ensure the interest of those living in the urban areas remained subordinate than retaining the Constables and pretend there was no injustice resulting. Gerrymandering one wonders?

The representative of the poor Sheitel of Havre des Pas

Media coverage of the series of meetings has been partial. The orchestration of a pro-Constables lobby was to be expected. The JEP carried in its reports photographs of parish grandees and notables all calling for the retention of Constables. Even unknown individuals would be shown provided they were asking the right question. Almost instinctively the photographer knew which questioner was about to make the vital point and up went the camera.

There was no photographer last night to record the contribution from a bald headed, muscle bound and hoodie wearing man who raised the question about high voter abstention and the poor organisation of voter registration – too proletarian perhaps?. There was no photograph of me either, although I spoke at every meeting to carry the democratic message, but then when did a Pan ever listen to a sheitel Jew?

Has the penny dropped?

For those that have not quite grasped the point, the recent Roadshow was really a given opportunity for the Pro-Constable lobby to organise and then allow the media to selectively amplify the message, whilst systematically ignoring or sidelining the Reform camp and its critique.

The real issue for those among the political class will not be the rowdy crowd in Grouville, but certain ticklish issues concerning Human Rights, international standards of democracy and the ultimate opinion of the UK government. The lawyers amongst them understand that. Domestic opinion is irrelevant and can be managed given the high level of depoliticisation and ignorance about the way government actually works.

Elsewhere, it is fully recognised that in terms of formal structure the Channel Island governments are archaic relics and an embarrassment to democracy in Europe. It is also an issue for international investors concerned about the respectability of the jurisdictions in which they keep safe their wealth.

Given the UK ultimately has responsibility for good government in the island, will they accept a States Assembly that uses grossly unequal constituencies in terms of size and numbers and one that openly favours wealthy social groups, to elect representatives? Twelve Constables out of 42 representatives will be elected from constituencies that are unequal.

The answer is yes, provided it can be shown that the most peculiar and undemocratic aspects have popular support and legitimacy – hence the referendum. This is why the feudal Seigneur has survived as part of the structure of Sark’s modernised legislature. Four hundreds years of attachment to government is deemed sufficient for retention to be acceptable, albeit with much reduced formal powers.

It will be argued that the new super constituencies are the very model of an equal and modern structure for constituencies. Effectively there will be six mini Senators elections all hopefully discussing issues with an island wide flavour. The Senatorial elections tend to see the more capable elements of the political class elected and it is hoped this will be replicated in the six new Districts.

There will be no “riff raff” elected, persons with unkempt hair, individuals “who could never earn the same salary in the private sector” or “no hopers” – the stereotype bogeymen about which the political class loves to express disdain. Nor will there be candidates elected in small constituencies that are “ghettos” (read “inner St Helier”) or by large housing estates (read Les Quennevais in St Brelade or southern St Saviour).

Money will buy elections.

Large constituencies with 11,000 to 14,000 electors spread over a wide geographical area and variable terrain will require campaigns that are well organised and funded. Money will buy elections. Individual candidates without significant resources will struggle. Only those prepared to co-operate and stand a slate of candidates might stand a chance. Currently only the political class has those resources, organisation and money. Democratic forces by contrast are disorganised and divided.

The citadel of power

The referendum will be used to show that there is popular sentiment in favour of retention of Constables in spite of obvious and gross democratic anomalies. The political class needs them as loyal voters in the legislature for the policies of the Council of Ministers. Nine of twelve consistently vote with the executive. In a reduced Assembly of 42 that means certain political control and the marginalisation of dissent and opposition, however popular. Distance is placed between Executive and People. The walls grow higher and the moat deeper around the citadel of power.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Electoral Commission – Grouville – “Dead rude”

I have to say I was shocked and genuinely saddened by the ignorance and intolerance of the audience in Grouville this evening attending the Electoral Commission parish roadshow to discuss its Interim Report on reform of the States Assembly.

It was quite clear the audience did not understand the proposals and were visceral in their opposition to any form of change. With that realisation in mind, I saved my rhetoric and sought to make my own contribution from the floor a gentle combination of enlightenment and reassurance, but I ended up getting shouted down nonetheless. Not that I cared; it was water off the ducks back. One man left saying I had ruined his evening and I naturally wished him a pleasant night of what remained. Clearly the audience did not wish to listen to any opinion that was not in defence of the status quo and retention of Constables.


Whilst rudeness and intolerance abounded, the meeting had its moments of comedy as when one speaker described the Vice Chairman Colin Storm as being of “immigrant stock”, even though he had been born in the island. The Vice Chairman must be regretting the return to his island of birth and its evident madness.

The petty parochialism came out in the great fear that the new super constituency of which the parish would form a part, along with St Martin and St Clement, could be represented by Deputies living entirely in a parish other than Grouville. Worse, without a restriction on residential requirements to stand in the new super constituency, there might be Deputies elected that lived in St Ouen.  On this point it was noticeable that Commission member James Baker remained silent about the fact that he lived in St Martin yet was Deputy for my own beloved District No.1 St Helier. His silence continued when a speaker from the floor alleged that the present proposals resulted in over representation of St Helier. He made no attempt to correct the man who clearly had no grasp of the statistics that were before him in the Interim Report leaflet he held in his hand during the speech.

Overall it was an evening of futility. The audience had made no effort to understand why change was necessary and were intolerant towards any suggestion otherwise.

There appeared to be little main stream media presence. The JEP photographer turned up late as did its journalist. One suspects the focus of attention in the newspaper report will be on St Mary, the parish where the other half of the Electoral Commission was presenting that evening. Since nothing intelligible came out of the meeting in Grouville, one has to hope there was more sense and sanity expressed in the smallest parish.

The Commission will have to mug up on the Single Transferable Vote as none of the three members present tonight could explain how it worked when asked from the floor.

Quote of the evening has to be the one suggesting that without Constables “Jersey won't be Jersey, it will be Hampshire”. That presumably is a fate on a par with being represented in the States by a Deputy living in St Ouen.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Electoral Commission – Redneck ambush in St Peter

This evening the Electoral Commission reached St Peter and, as I predicted, the Constable of the Parish, John Refaut, sought to keep control even though the meeting was not a parish event. Quite why the Vice Chairman, Colin Storm, allowed this is not clear. Being upstaged and loosing control of a meeting is not the sort of chairing one might expect of a veteran director of UK Plc’s. The Constable stood up throughout the meeting and tried to direct who was allowed to speak, including pointing out parishioners and the order in which they spoke. He even had the audacity to tell me to cut short my address and question from the floor; a suggestion duly ignored. His own contribution was delivered at the end of the meeting, not from the floor with a hand held microphone like everyone else, rather at a podium that had been used by the two Commission members to introduce their Interim Report.

Clearly all this was an attempt to repeat the tactics used to discredit the Clothier Report a decade ago when the pro-Constable lobby organised meetings in each parish. There were a number of well prepared interventions by speakers from the floor in favour of the retention of the Constables in the States.

One fairly long written speech sought to recite all the arguments being mustered in justification of retention. The absence of contested elections was presented as a veritable virtue and positive evidence of enduring legitimacy. The loss of Constables would lead to the downfall of the honorary system together with the ultimate fate of Jersey as an “offshore English Island” (it was from 1204 until the Union with Scotland in 1704 when it became presumably a “British” offshore island) and forced to elect an MP to Westminster (an offer made by Oliver Cromwell but never taken up).

The speaker ended by attributing all island woes to a handful of “financially illiterate” Deputies, none of whom would ever command a commensurate salary in the private sector. There was no intended irony as presumably he meant “the usual suspects” elected in St Helier, rather than the present Treasury Minister and his colleagues in the Council of Ministers, who actually form the government and decide the fateful policies of which he complained.

Sleeping Constables

Former long serving Deputy Tommy Du Feu, summed up the present proposals for reform as an “attempt to put the Constables to sleep once and for all”. He continued by suggesting the union of parishes into new constituencies might lead to Deputies being elected entirely with votes from one or other parish and possibly all Deputies living in one parish and not the other. I pointed out later that none of the Deputies currently elected in District No.1 St Helier actually lived in St Helier and historically the parish had been used as a means of getting elected by aspiring politicians at the start of their careers, who might never have any empathy with the people and social issues arising there given the 75% voter abstention.

The Town- Country divide.

Commission member Constable Juliette Gallichan would not accept that keeping Constables in any way led to the over-representation of the Northern Country Parishes. I pointed out that the new super constituency Number 5, comprising St Lawrence, St John, St Mary and St Ouen would have nine representatives (5 Deputies and 4 Constables) were “Option B” adopted, perpetuating the under representation of St Helier and the urban areas. This contrasted with the new District 2 in St Helier, in which I would live, having 5 Deputies and half a Constable. Which half of the St Helier Constable I could lay claim to was uncertain and raised a laugh. However, she remained adamant that the new super constituency simply elected 5 Deputies and each parish its Constable.

The meeting closed with Constable Refaut wishing all a safe drive home, meanwhile behind me sat two existing States Members who kept muttering "Its outrageous; he's electioneering, he's electioneering." So he was, presumably as one of the Deputies in the newly formed super constituency Number 6 of St Brelade and St Peter - or is that prejudging the Final Report, Referendum and ultimate structure of the States Assembly in 2014?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Electoral Commission – Muted REACTION in St Brelade

St Brelade has grown old and even the die hards that I remember from standing for election in 1996 have realised that defence of the status quo is no longer tenable. Reform is in the air, even if acceptance is reluctant. Conservatives have unconsciously realised the import of the old paradox “for things to remain the same, things must change”.


Hanging on to Constables may no longer be the way to retain power for the group around the Council of Ministers. Sacrifices may have to be made and Constables will be the ones to go, given their retention makes the system unworkable and unacceptable in terms of appearance. Whatever scheme is devised, it has to pass muster with the British Government through the Privy Council. Jersey remains a British possession and the UK government is ultimately responsible for good government. No one wants a repetition of the Sark fiasco with reluctant feudalists being dragged into 21st century standards of democratic government. Reduction in the numbers of Deputies, to a States of 42, will ensure the Center Right “trouble makers” are confined to a few in St Helier.

The Last Hurrah

The Parish Hall in St Brelade was reasonably full on Tuesday evening with the usual suspects. Most were elderly save for a few of the guilded youth, smart in their business coats acknowledging each other as they took their seats. Red poppies announced their membership of the club. The Old-Guard were there as well, but clearly age has tempered their ardor.

The Constable of St Brelade was ill with flu and could not introduce the meeting which was left to Deputy Power. That absence had significance. It was symbolic that the Constables cannot orchestrate the response to this Electoral Commission’s proposals, in the same way that they were able to organise parish roadshows to head off Clothier’s recommendations a decade ago.

That change in temperament was apparent when Enid Quenault, former Deputy of St Brelade and twelve years Constable of the Parish, sought an opportunity to address the meeting. We knew what she was going to say, that was inevitable, an unapologetic defence of Constables in the States and the Parish system. Despite persistent efforts she could not raise her arm sufficiently high to attract the attention of the Chairman of the Commission, Senator Bailhache, seated in the other corner of the room. Only following gesticulation by her entourage and pointing fingers did they catch the Senator’s eye.  He knew who she was of course and introduced her formally as “Mrs Quenault”. That frailty may not have been noticed by others, but it was a sign of political weakness; that an era was passing. What has changed? Why has the old order lost its confidence? Mrs Quenault’s speech appears below and is a tribute to what was once. As it was delivered, few will have realised that it represented the last hurrah of the old order.

The video is cut short for technical reasons and apologies are offered in advance.

My own 5 minutes of infamy

Tonight the Electoral Commission are in the parishes of Trinity and St Helier. It should be lively in the Town Hall this evening. The meeting starts at 7pm.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

We all need a pay rise and that includes States Members – 2% a “modest increase in basic pay of States Members” yet Chief Minister seeks 40% hike!

The issue with the present economic crisis is that demand is being sucked out of the economy through unemployment and stagnant wages. For that reason alone States Members should set an example and accept the modest 2% increase in salary. In doing so the government should also meet the wage demands of its civil service and other States employees. This might give encouragement to those in the private sector to demand pay rises.

“SMRRB” – States Members’ Remuneration Review Body

How the media and political class handled the proposed 2% increase suggested by the States Members’ Remuneration Review Body this week reflects a confused set of values and priorities.

Few will have been bothered to read the Report and recommendations. What we discover is that member’s basic pay increased by 4.6% since 2008 at a time when inflation over the period was 2.5%, so salaries stayed ahead of inflation. This amounted to an annual increase of around 1.1% and the current recommendation of 2% is, as they state, modest.

Being a States Member is a job, just like any other job and it deserves to be appropriately remunerated with the hope that those who get elected will perform. In stating that principle one has to overlook that the electorate continues to elect the undeserving, the incapable and a lot of dead wood.


The media concentrated on the £818 increase rather than the rather less dramatic 2% that the increase from £41,182 to £42,000 represents. Was the use of a figure rather than percentage mere populism to whip up public feeling? I am aware that employees in the private sector are not receiving pay rises or very modest ones and that new starters are facing lower pay. Meanwhile, government has imposed its own form of austerity on the civil servants through no increases in pay. Teachers and manual workers are readying themselves for industrial action over the issue. It is convenient therefore to blame the evil politicians who say one thing and do another.

The issue of States Members pay is divisive for the political class. In the public sector it seems certain employees will be taking industrial action and this is what frightens government. To damp down employee pay claims it is convenient to argue that States Members should not accept their recommended increase. To that end Constable Sadie Renard and Deputy John Le Bail, were wheeled out by the JEP and BBC Radio Jersey respectively to denounce the proposals.

Le Bail, interviewed by the BBC, was a mass of contradictions. The interviewer directed him and ensured he followed the script, coming out with a raft of shallow arguments designed to confuse the listener and play on prejudices. Le Bail gave the game away as to his true purpose when he said any pay rise would set a poor precedent for States employees whose salary demands the States Employment Board, on which he sat, was seeking to prevent. He personally was not going to accept any increase and would vote against it, albeit the decision is not within the power of the States. He then went on to support the idea of substantially higher differential pay for Ministers. They deserved such pay because they work he said "from 7am to 7pm" (and others dont?). The Chief Minister and Treasury Minister deserved double the salary as they could earn "triple in the private sector". Some salaries should be cut he suggested to the average wage in Jersey of £33,000 simply because these individuals are professional politicians "and do nothing but" (in other words commitment deserved to be penalised).


There are traditionalists and backwoodsmen who view States Members pay from the ideological mind set of honorary service. They hark back to the times 30 years ago and more when there was no remuneration and only those with sufficient rentier income or business activities, could contemplate election.

Excluding representatives of lower social groups and restricting membership of the States to a propertied elite was best achieved by the absence of a salary or other remuneration. There were individuals that slipped though in the post war period and survived against great adversity. Men like Norman Le Brocq had to seek 5s and half a crown donations from supporters in order to supplement a workers wage.

These conservatives like to blame the presence in the chamber of all those lower middle class types with a grudge and an increase in perceived “conflict” on the existence of a salary. That it is simply an ideological position since the gentlemen are gone with private fortunes willing and capable of performing a job that no longer consumes just a few days a week. Constables are supposed to personify this type, but even they do not conform, being entitled to a salary by virtue of being members of the States, that most if not all claim. If parishioners had to set the pay of a Constable in the States, one wonders if many would receive anything and what impact this might have on social background and personal wealth of those who entered the States as our representatives?


Then there is the managerial group among the political class that resent the idea of civil servants being paid considerably more than their political masters and aspires to a salary that reflects their status as a member of the executive as distinct from a simple member of the legislature. This has additional appeal to those seeking “independence” for Jersey as “the small island state”. They believe anyone forming the government should be appropriately rewarded in terms of status and money if they are to rub shoulders with representatives of other countries.

Inequality and Patronage

Whilst limiting pay rises for States Members may be government policy, this has not in any way diminished the appetite to introduce differential salaries for Ministers and other member of the Executive. Higher salaries would be a form of patronage that could easily be used to command loyalty around the government block and reprimand the disloyal.

Suggested salaries for Ministers have been mooted before at around £75,000. On Wednesday, BBC Radio Jersey invited Pierre Horsfall, a former Chief Minister as head of the Policy & Resources Committee of the day, to argue the case along with St Helier Deputy and government supporter, Rod Bryans. Although there was no salary in Horsfall's time and only a very modest form of income support for those without private incomes, no mention was made of remuneration through directorships, including one famous one with Bank Cantrade, that came as a result of holding political office.

Would any of the current States Members be prepared to do the job for a workers wage?