“Proportional representation…means very, very little, when you consider in most elections the turnout in St Helier anyway is so pathetically low, what’s the point in trying to get proportional representation?”
John Le Bailly, Deputy of St Mary – interviewed by BBC Radio Jersey, 26.09.2013 in respect of PPC proposals to remove the Deputies of St Mary, St John and Trinity in order to achieve voter equity island wide.
These immortal words, spoken by a Deputy of St Mary, sum up the absence of understanding of the historical Town/Country divide that has so retarded Jersey’s democratic development.
Jersey’s political class is incapable of electoral reform since they are petrified by the implications of a modernised and democratised system in which the electorate actually voted. The fear of change is so great that there is a paralysis.
Alexis De Tocqueville noted long ago that regimes are at their most vulnerable when they start the process of reform; there is always the possibility that it can get out of control and potentially sweep away the past. This may be the case in Jersey. The noose is tightening and the options are running out for those that would maintain the unreformed constitution. Option B may have been their last hurrah.
The proposals put forward by the Electoral Commission in the guise of Option B were an attempt to consciously gerrymander the system so that nothing would really change. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too. It didn’t wash with the electorate; a majority of whom voted not to support Option B on their first preferences, and an incredibly low turnout at 26%, which meant the result of the referendum lacked legitimacy. Likewise, States Members rejected it soundly when the issue came before the House.
The initiative may have slipped out of the hands of the traditionalists and conservative ‘reformers’ from inside the system; some amongst the latter understanding the old adage: “for things to remain the same, things must change”.
Propostion P116/2013, produced by a PPC under enlightened progressive leadership, lays bare a number of issues that previously were deliberately not being discussed. Suddenly, the under-representation of St Helier and the unequal size of constituencies based on Parish boundaries will have to form part of the discourse on reform. A whole new vocabulary of democratic principles is having to be learnt; words that include Venice Commission and equality of representation.
The tables turned
For the first time Country Parishes will have to explain in rational language why a single representative in the form of a Constable is inadequate. All the sacred cows will have to be confronted. Why should a vote in a Country Parish be worth three times that of one cast in St Helier? Evasion, euphemisms and dog whistle silence on sensitive subjects will no longer be possible.
The Jersey Evening Post editorial on 26th September was a classic of rage and frustration that the process of change had slipped beyond their control. That said, expect a full-on propaganda campaign of spoof letters in the letters column, with addresses in Country Parishes, designed to regain the initiative and discredit PPC’s recommendations.
So desperate was the editorial that it even proposed abandoning all reform. This is an option clearly no longer available. The broken status quo is crumbling fast. Doing nothing is not an option.
Hopefully there will now be an opportunity to debate the real issues. In politics those that set the agenda win.
We have been here before
The process of reform and democratisation has been slow and winding. Obstacles and resistance are nothing new.
In 1892 there was a proposition to increase the representation of St Helier in the States Assembly.
The Jersey Express noted “A meeting of the States was convened out of session at the request of 12 members, much to the displeasure of the Bailiff", and Jurat Falle argued that the meeting would interfere with sittings of the Royal Court and added “some extraordinary nonsense that many Country Constables and Deputies would be heavily engaged in potato digging.” The Express commented “What this has to do with increased representation it requires a mind such as his to see.”
The States voted 32 to 12 to postpone discussion to the next session. Having opposed the Proposition for additional elected Deputies the Deputy of St Martin then proposed that an increased three Deputies be given to St Helier chosen by the Parish Assembly from among the 6 Centeniers. Deputy Bossy of St Saviour proposed that the Proposition be sent for further consideration to the Lunatic Asylum Committee .
|Righting an historic injustice. Demanding "One vote, one value", indignant St Helier electors turnout in unprededented numbers to ridicule the Deputy of St Mary for suggesting they are unworthy of equal representation in the States of Jersey.|