A St Helier Parish Assembly voted 80% in favour of ‘Option A’ on Tuesday evening. This may auger well for the ‘A’ campaign on Referendum Day Wednesday 24th April.
Whilst a bold and dramatic headline, to say that 80% of Tuesday’s St Helier Parish Assembly supported ‘Option A’ in a vote, needs a degree of qualification and context.
This is not to minimise the result. It was a definite success. Parish Assemblies are notoriously poorly attended in all Parishes, so that in St Helier could not really expect to be otherwise. That said, meetings held in the Town Hall to discuss matters of Island importance often have their biggest turnouts in St Helier precisely because that is where the prestige lies.
Civic Pride in St Helier
Some may be smirking that St Helier has prestige. I suspect those who live in St Helier are reticent in expressing civic pride about the “The Town”. We need to be more assertive; were we to be St Helier might have more respect instead of being the dump for all the things other Parishes consciously don’t want. Therein lies the Town/Country divide of which we have seen in action, but heard very little in terms of intellectual debate.
Even the Town Deputies do not speak with one voice for St Helier. Were it so St Helier would have a stronger voice as an entity. Issues of political persuasion and social class tend to divide. Many Deputies vote with the Council of Ministers and can be considered government loyalists. In St Helier District 1 Deputy James Baker is an example, having been parachuted into St Helier (he lives in St Martin) by the Ozoufite Nouveau Riche electoral machine, otherwise know as the ‘The Party of Cocktails’.
By contrast, what is disparagingly described as ‘inner St Helier’ elects those that tend to act as the opposition to the Executive, albeit in a hesitant fashion. The expression ‘inner St Helier’ (that is inside the Town ring road) is shorthand for the issue of social class.
Loi (1804) au sujet des assemblées paroissiales
The Parish Assembly on Tuesday 16th April was requisitioned under the Loi (1804) au sujet des assemblées paroissiales by 4 parishioners for two important reasons. Firstly, to demonstrate that Parish Democracy was not dead. Secondly, it provided an opportunity for a conscious demonstration by those that live in St Helier that our voice should count in the “National” debate about the Referendum on States Assembly reform. The vote taken at the end of the meeting was strictly limited to St Helier voters. By a show of yellow cards we voted. The result was: ‘Option A’ 13; ‘Option B’ 4 and ‘Option C’ 2.
The cynics will be saying, oh that’s just Town and it can be ignored. What I noticed is that, as far as I could tell, those voting were not committed to one or other of the official campaigns. What we got was a demonstration of the ‘Public Will’ in St Helier.
There were about 35 to 40 present at the Town Hall meeting that evening and many lived elsewhere in the Island. One gentleman, who clearly would have like to vote, stood up to ask for clarification on the point and was told only those on the electoral role in St Helier could vote.
I suspect that when the count comes in for St Helier on Wednesday we will see St Helier overwhelming voting for ‘Option A’, albeit the turnout will, as ever, be low. It could well be lower than at election time generically, especially as so many are still confused as to the real issues at stake.
Reform of the States Assembly is long overdue. Voting ‘Option A’ on Wednesday 24th April will be a bold statement by the public that it really is time for change and our patience is now at an end.
Here is my speech on behalf of the A-Team supporting 'Option A' at the Town Hall on Tuesday evening. I read it to be sure that the message was clear.