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.
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?