Saturday, 28 September 2013

Country Deputy says St Helier voters are undeserving of equal representation because they don’t vote

“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.


  1. Sir

    "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."

    But let's not forget the commission also put forward the non-gerrymandered option A which the electorate also firmly rejected in their first preferences.

    1. Option A has been described as "fairer" and in terms of equality between constituencies there was a degree of parity, whereas Option B made malapportionment even worse than the current situation.

      Option A only ended up on the table, or shall we say on the Referendum ballot, because one member of the Electoral Commission banged the table and threatened a minority report if a non-gerrymandered scheme was put forward.

      Option A is pretty much what the academic advisers were suggesting. However, the Chairman had already decided long ago what he wanted and what we were going to get. Had he had his way the ballot would simply have read Option B, Yes or No. Those that wanted change would have been forced to run a negative campaign to prevent something worse that the broken present.

      The Chairman said it in his hustings and it duly appeared in the final Report as Option B. This then became official unofficial government policy. The Tom Toms beat and the loyal discovered that Option B was best for them, even though no one quite understood the mechanics. Beloved Constables would be retained at the price of novel super-constituencies. The loyal were informed this was a price worth paying. Option B became the Party Line.

      Not having a truly independent Electoral Commission was fatal. Thats precisely why there was a strong campaign to stop it at the outset.

      What is not being discussed are the social forces at work behind the various Options and now P116. That is a little bit of analysis for a later blog.

    2. Annonymous, the Electoral Commission put forward Option A under the threat from the non-politician members to write a minority report if it wasn't included on the ballot. The States Members on the commission wanted only Option B to be put to referendum.

      You'll also note that the Option A campaign group only had one politician as a member. The Option B group was run almost entirely by politicians.

    3. The Option B campaign had no civil society support. It was run entirely by sitting or ex politicians, everyone a paid up member of the political class. I never spotted any yokles dressed up in sabots out campaigning for the cause. The two men I spotted putting up posters near the airport were paid hands and both Portuguese. I would assume they never vote.

  2. Who is John Le Bail- never heard of him or learned of the good he does. Now his predesessor DW was a very different person, not just working for St.Mary, but also the whole island. However, I think they either had dirt on DW or something similar as he was not going to stand again- like a rabbit in the headlights on that one.

    1. The reason you haven't heard of him is that there is no such person.

      The Deputy of St Mary is John Le Bailly.

    2. Eleven years prior to this, in January 1881, the States voted to accept a proposition calling for the Rectors to be removed from the States. Sixty-seven years later, it finally happened. Am I to expect that a democratic Jersey will not happen in my lifetime?

  3. Thanks, the typo misspelling of the Deputy's name is now corrected.

    1. You write about REFORM! Yet Jersey's OFFICIAL Reform Day on 28 September passes by without even a sigle flag being raised!!! You must be joking if you think that International Conventions will force the issue and help to line up the comfy chairs in the cosy club for the likes of a bunch of so called "progressives" who have not bothered to study or address their OWN political history.
      Its all very well quoting the thoughts of reformers and theorists of OTHER places but what about the brave residents and writers from the past who have already addressed ALL the same democratic failings of this Island? Shall we learn nothing from their experiences and must we simply repeat the same discussions about Constables in or out and more seats in St Helier whilst the "establishment" carry on as always, unchallenged and untroubled...You quote usefully from 19th Century Jersey politics but it is the same "electoral" issues and we know nothing of the social policies of those named. Of course, nobody has written the handy history for us and even the BBC has to employ an "expert" from Plymouth to feed our never ending desire for information about "election history" - but what a waste of so much time and effort. Show us the issues - how might a small Island such as Jersey adopt meaningful policies and provide decent housing, employment, health care etc etc for all?
      The UK Justice Minister (aka Lord Chancellor and Chris Grayling MP) was in Jersey last week but he was not talking to the plebs like us...he reserved his time for the usual Royalist, ruling gathering and no doubt described with glee how he plans to tear-up the entire UK Human Rights Bill just because of a few Islamic bogey men. So if you pseudo-reformers want to invoke "international pressure" on Jersey's electoral defects you had better hurry up! I feel sure that the Jersey Human Rights Bill and any other Convention obligations are heading for the Energy from Waste Plant as I scribble.
      Raise a flag!? Raise a glass is all Jersey's sadly disparate "reformers" are capable of so it seems in 2013...

    2. Agreed. A sad critque of reformist politics.

  4. So John Le Bailly, Deputy of St Mary, has just proven just how low a calibre some Deputies are in the overrepresented parishes. If that is typical of his logic, he should definately go, surely St Helier can offer a better candidate!!

  5. What parish/district are you going to stand in for next years elections Nick?

    1. I have been thinking seriously about St Mary as Deputy in order to create a contested election there and right the slight against St Helier residents by the present incumbent. Then I realised once PPC's Proposition is unanimously approved in the Assembly there will no longer be a Deputy for St Mary. That made me think about St John or Trinity but I fell into the same trap.

      Perhaps you can recommend an appropriate rotten borough where contested elections are permitted?