Few understand today what is meant by the historic Town/Country divide that has been a feature of political life in Jersey history for centuries. Even fewer will have read the seminal work by Dr John Kelleher “The Triumph of the Country”, that records the victory of the rural and conservative interest over the commercial and Liberal interest of St Helier in 19th Century Jersey.
Even the radicalisation of Jersey society after the shock of Occupation and Liberation failed to break the mould. We live with the legacy today and it explains why so many of the island’s institutions remain only partially modernised and democratised. It explains why we have two Police forces, a Paid Police and an Honorary Police; twelve rubbish collection services all ending up in one incinerator in St Helier, and 60% voter abstention in elections, the highest in Europe; GST rather than progressive income tax; and 51 turkeys in an utterly despised States Assembly.
The division between the Country and Town and the unfairness it embodies is personifed in the 24th April Referendum in the form of Option “B”. It explains why proposed District 5 with its four rural Parishes of 11,000 electors gets 9 representatives whilst St Helier has 10 Deputies and a Constable for 27, 000 eligible electors.
It really has ever been thus, and, it was ironic today to stumble across the following petition in the Public Library.
“Pétition Solicitant une Augmenation du nombre des Députés pour la Paroisse de St. Hélier”
In 1886 the Town Constable, its 3 Deputies, various ratepayers and a Vice Admiral, submitted to the Privy Council a Petition calling for an increase in the number of Deputies for the Parish of St Helier. The arguments are all too sadly familiar. The Petition reads:
“To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council…“….THAT it is important to the well-being and good government of Your Majesty’s subjects in the said Island, that the number of the members of the States representing St Helier’s should be to a great degree proportionate to its relative importance and to the number of its inhabitants.THAT according to the official Census on 1881, St Helier contained 28,020 inhabitants, whilst the eleven rural Parishes together only reached the figure of 24,425.THAT the houses in St. Helier’s number 4,961, and those in the eleven rurul parishes 4,523; the houses and land in St Helier’s being valued by sworn Appraisers at £2,700,000, and the houses and land in the eleven rural Parishes at £4, 100, 000.THAT the trade of the Port of St Helier’s averages from 300,000 to 320,000 tons annually.THAT St Helier contributes over 50 per cent of the total revenues levied upon the inhabitants of the whole Island.THAT on the 20th day of December, 1856 Your Majesty in Council sanctioned an Act of the States, by virtue of which fourteen members were added to that body as “Deputies” to be also chosen triennially by the electors of the said Parishes, three Deputies being given to St Helier and one to each of the eleven rural parishes.THAT the 24,425 inhabitants of the rural districts are now represented in the said Assembly of the States by eleven Rectors, eleven Connetables and eleven Deputies; that is to say, by 33 members; whilst the 28,020 of the district of St Helier’s have only five representatives, the Rector, the Connetable and the three Deputies.THAT your Petitioners cannot but express their sincere belief that the interests of the Town, and, as a consequence, those of the whole Island, continually suffer when, in the opinion of the country members, Town Interests clash with their own.”…..
It goes without saying that the Town never got its additional Deputies when the Petition came up for debate in a States dominated by “the rural interest”.
It should be pointed out that this bit of special pleading by the gentlemen of St Helier was somewhat disingenuous, since working men without property did not have the right to vote in an election and nor did women, none of whom signed that Petition.
Perhaps some readers will now understand what is meant by the great mensonge that is “the Parish link”, of which we will be hearing ad nausiam for the next 8 weeks.
Plus ça change (plus c'est la même chose). What a difference 127 years fails to make. The Triumph of the Country seems to run and run.
If any of this is to change, then Option "A" must triumph in the first count of the Referendum on 24th April. Island Democrats need to make it happen in an historic political campaign; that campaign has begun.