Expect a hot Autumn. The Counterattack by government supporters of Option B has already begun. The campaigning season between now and the end of the year will see Option B marched up and down and then traded through the States in time for the October 2014 elections. Well, that's the plan.
We must bear in mind that Option B and its legislative expression P64/2013, is a great gerrymander designed to concentrate power in the hands of the few for another couple of generations. That’s precisely why such an undemocratic scheme should be opposed with utmost vigor now.
There are clearly some supporters of Option A who genuinely believe that Option B embodies certain aspects of reform that can be the basis for later additional reforms. They are wrong. Option B is for a generation or more at least. It is designed to be the historic replacement for the 1947 constitutional reforms that allowed the unchallenged exercise of power for over 60 years.
Seizing the initiative, Senator Ozouf explained yesterday to BBC Radio Jersey what concessions might get Option B through the States.
The interview (at 8 minutes in) was one of evasion and obfuscation as to the real issues. Alas, the media, ever deferential to government initiatives, was insufficiently critical to highlight either the obvious intellectual deficiencies or real politique issues behind mustering a majority in the States.
The ticklish question – St Helier
The Senator’s pragmatism turned around the bargain, by way of necessary concessions, to muster sufficient numbers of States Members for Option B to pass.
He identified the stumbling block, indirectly without naming them, as the St Helier Deputies, whose electorate had voted by two to one in favour of Option A in the Referendum. With an election looming, these Deputies would have a hard time justifying a simple surrender. At what price could their support be bought?
St Helier, said the Senator, “looked as though it was disenfranched”. This is how he coyly described the perpetuation of the Town and Country divide under Option B. He went on to allude to “the perceived inequity of the St Helier situation”. Inequity is no mere perception; it is an objective reality.
The Senator chose to ignore the excellent research carried out by Dr Alan Renwick of Reading University, one of the academics advising the Electoral Commission, which exposes the inequalities in the current electoral system and has been there for centuries in the historic Town and Country divide. The structure is so tainted that the expert advice is to demolish and build anew.
This research remains the intellectual elephant in the room albeit not having informed the public debate. Nevertheless it forms the objective rationale for any challenge before the Privy Council. How could any self-respecting government, seeking to reform its electoral system, arrive at Option B and the perpetuation of so many existing democratic deficiencies?
What were the Senators’ deal clinching concessions? It turned out he was offering two extra Deputies for St Helier, so each of the two new larger districts would have six instead of five. This will without doubt be regarded as chicken feed.
What worries most the 28 who voted against Option B is the radical pruning of the States to 42 members. Adding back two Deputies is neither here nor there and certainly does not address the “St Helier issue”, which leaves the Town and other urban areas grossly under represented.
The single election day
Clearly it’s the single election day that is acting as the democratic worm.
The “Old Way”, to which the Senator alluded, was the managed system that carefully avoided the electoral moment when, potentially, the electorate could remove the incumbent set of rascals and replace them. This is the very essence of a democratic system; that’s why this novelty is bringing pain.
The prospect of Jersey’s first General Election, when every States Member faces reelection together on the same day, sends a shiver down the spine of the political elite. Hence the urgency in replacing the “Old Way” with an equally gerrymandered system called Option B, perfectly designed to ensure those that hold power never lose it.
“a slightly amended version of Option B”
Ever nostalgic for simpler times, Senator Ozouf said he would not object to tweaking Option B by bringing back six Senators elected every three years. In one step he would destroy the single election day and any idea of a General Election. It would mean the return of three categories of States Member, elected in constituencies of unequal size and on different days. Heaven! So much for rationalising the system.
|Gallant St Helier fells the Giant Option B|