Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Putting the wheels back on Option B. Why the party of government is suddenly so desperate for Reform

We all know the well laid plans of mice and men go astray. So what contingencies did the party of government have to ensure their Option B version of gerrymandered “Reform” is in place before the election of 2014, if it failed to pass the States? None, it would seem. There is no plan other than to put Option B back on the agenda and ram it through the States again and again until it is passed. How will this be achieved? How flexible are the 21 "B Specials" prepared to be and what concessions or compromises are they prepared to make? Few it would seem from the latest blog of Senator Ozouf and certainly nothing that will make for a genuinely democratic structure compliant with the Venice Commission Guidelines.

The defeat of P64/2013 in the States by 28 to 21 votes was pretty decisive. To win it needed a minimum of 26 votes. Option B lost because all along it was so gross that too many vested interests in the States were offended.  There were a few principled defenders of a democratic structure, but these were always going to be a minority. Ultimately it was the numbers game that came into play. A States comprising only 42 members, of which 12 were anyway Constables, was going to result in too many job losses. Yes, the Turkeys refused to vote for Christmas, but likewise the Constables voted to retain safe seats. 

Ironically, the States in all its blindness did democracy in Jersey a favour by overturning a terrible contrivance and gerrymander. It now remains for the party of government to salvage the pieces and intimidate or bribe enough States Members to change their vote in a second debate in the autumn.

Legitimising the illegitimate

The result of the Referendum in April was supposed to cower the vested interests in States. It backfired. The turnout was a farcically low 26% and opinion was roughly evenly divided. Option B did not achieve a majority in the first round of counting and only achieved a narrow technical victory through the contrived device of shifting votes from Option C supporters.  With the electorate clearly indifferent, States Members could ignore the outcome of the Referendum, if indeed there was one, and safely vote as they saw fit, knowing there would be no electoral consequences in October 2014.

Anyway, the Referendum was purely advisory as even Senator Bailhache, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, let slip, when he described it in a BBC interview as a “glorified opinion poll”. The States remains sovereign and there was never any intention the Referendum be binding. 

In fact, the Referendum was designed to give a fig leaf of public legitimacy to a contrived result, knowing Option B, the preferred winner from the point of view of government, was democratically deficient and would face scrutiny by UK government lawyers at the Department of Justice on behalf of the Privy Council. The Referendum was designed to legitimise the illegitimate. The public were manipulated by the government.

Counterattack – media spin

The party of government may have been smarting after their defeat but did not waste time in getting their propaganda machine into action to spin the rejection. The rhetoric of disgust in the letters section of the JEP, editorials and opinion pieces by journalists, all claiming that the public will had been ignored, was entirely contrived. It was not the electorate that was furious; it was the party of government at their humiliation and defeat. A depoliticized electorate has no opinion and is easily manipulated, as many were into supporting Option B in the Referendum, on the basis of “our masters know best what is in our interest and we must trust them”. 

Behind all the righteous indignation is the simmering resentment of the party of government that misjudged; they simply could not muster the necessary 26 votes. The train that was to be rushed through the States, all steam and whistles, now lies overturned as a derailed wreck on platform B.

Option B supporters consider their next step in the long march to reform


The party of government and its loyalist supporters are becoming extremely agitated and there is even a note of desperation. Government Bills do sometimes get lost, but not this decisively and rarely do they provoke a reaction to bring it back and force it through.  Propositions cannot be brought back to the States for three months, so the earliest date for a new debate will be October.

It is often remarked that politics is about the art of the possible, so we should expect the government to make sufficient concessions to get its legislation through. Based on the latest blog by Senator Ozouf today, it would seem very little in the way of concession is being made.


An Autumn offensive

Deputy Sean Power was interviewed on BBC Radio Jersey today and, somewhat embarrassingly for him, did not know what Senator Ozouf was proposing. The only piece of news was a tweet by Senator Ozouf stating that he would be bringing a new proposition to the States for debate. In the dog days of Summer, when news is sparce, a mere tweet from a Minister is sufficient to run a story.

Deputy Power was convinced that the extra five votes to achieve the necessary minimum of 26 could be arranged by turning the “Wobblers” and forcing those Ministers and Assistant Ministers who had voted against into supporting the government line.

Senator Ozouf’s “compromise” on Option B

The party of government appears to have learnt little from the defeat of Option B and the reasons for that. On his blog Senator Ozouf states he intends to propose an additional 2 Deputies for St Helier by way of compromise, describing the Propositions of Deputy Green and Pitman, which would have added an additional 5 St Helier Deputies, as “too far”. Will such minimal concessions win over sufficient States Members? Unlikely one might think, especially since he has missed the fundamental criticisms of Option B, that it perpetuates the historic divide between Country and Town, leaving St Helier grossly underrepresented.

Senator Ozouf's initiative is an attempt to set the agenda when in fact the newly formed PPC has been tasked by the States to "seek alternatives for reform of the Assembly". Clearly for the supporters of Option B there can be no alternative; hence the desperation.

Option B cannot be tweaked by adding a few extra Deputies to St Helier. Believing so exposes the intellectual poverty and horse trading nature that underlies Option B, the Great Gerrymander.

Only by eliminating Constables as a category of States Member can constituencies be made of roughly equal size. This is a concession the party of government will never make as it goes to the issue of power. Retaining Constables ensures there is an inbuilt majority for the Executive in a States comprising 42 members.

It is clear the political class is incapable of reforming the electoral system and States Assembly in any significant democratic fashion. Otherwise they would never have proposed Option B. There is reluctance to even conceive of reform that would sweep aside ancient and undemocratic structures. Therefore, will it take for the British government to exercise its responsibilities for good government in the Channel Islands in the absence of an electorate capable of expressing its will?
Democrats must continue to campaign for a democratic electoral system and States Assembly based on the principles of fairness and equality across the island. They must put pressure on States Members to ensure there are no shameful compromises and betrayal of reform.


  1. You did hear that the other really toxic part of the proposal is to hold a separate election for six Senators to address the question of island-wide mandate?

    Bang goes the general election...

  2. Senator Ozouf's blog is a little confusing as to what precisely he is proposing. We will have to wait for the Proposition to be published on the States website to see the details and most importantly the logic it follows.

    Option B does not envisage the retention of Senators, so I am confused how they have been thrown back into the pot for recasting, if that is the case.

    Will it all boil down to horse trading? Of course the "B Specials" just want to get Option B through by cajoling, threats or bribes - indeed anything that gets them a majority in the House.

    Significantly, Senator Ozouf did not speak in the main debate – he had done the maths and realised Option B did not have sufficient votes to pass and was going to fail. He spoke later in the day to stress that reform had to continue. By this he meant that the configuration of the elections in 2014, if left unaltered, would result in a situation unfavorable to the party of government and the reelection of its supporters. The single election day, a vital component of any democratic electoral system, is posing a threat to those that prefer carefully engineered outcomes. Elections for them are occasions when the electorate endorses the government; not the electorate structuring government by choosing policies and parties.

    What exactly do States Members want and what are their fundamental principles? So many did not speak in the States debate it is hard to ascertain. Generally they have been very reticent to make public their opinions.

  3. It might not be on his blog - but he threw it in on his radio interview.

    Listen again to BBC Jersey breakfast show, about 0710 31 July. He was emphatic that there could not be a single election term of 4 years, a single election date, and senatorial elections - claimed it was dangerous.

  4. Well spotted. The matters arising deserve separate comment so I have a new blog on the issues.