Wednesday, 8 July 2009

One Day too Many?

STATES Members could still vote for a general election if the planned 'superconstituency' reforms are rejected. Deputy John Le Fondré has tabled a proposition that would set up a general election starting from 2011, regardless of whether the current reform plans are passed. He says that if the Privileges and Procedures Committee's plans are rejected, Members should still have the opportunity to back a general election and request further reforms to be brought back to the States. Privileges' proposals would divide 37 Deputies into six 'super-constituencies' and remove Senators, while giving all Members a four-year term. An amendment by Deputy Bob Hill would also remove the 12 Constables. The reforms are listed for debate at the first sitting after the summer recess on 8 September.

But how would one day work in practice without other reforms? I think there are two significant factors which would effect this:

a) There would be an increased risk of losing a seat, with no fall back position of Deputy. This would stop the abuse of people losing out on a Senatorial platform, and an Island mandate, then sneaking back in as Deputy (and sometimes even taking back the position which was the cause of their defeat as a Senator). But it would also mean that more Deputies might prefer to play safe, and stay with their local constituency. From looking at past elections, it seems that while Senators are elected more on Island issues, for Deputies, how they respond to the local Parish matters (and listen to constituencies) weighs much more heavily on the voter. Deputies can become Ministers, so one scenario would be to see more Deputies staying in safer seats rather than chancing a sometimes fickle electorate.

b) Because the Le Fondré proposal does not include changes to boundaries, and retains the Senators (and the status quo), this means there would be 12 Senatorial positions up for grabs, which is a lot to choose from! If Deputies prefer to play safe, this means that there may well be a shift to new candidates, who have nothing to lose, and existing candidates who feel established and secure enough to try again.

A possible scenario: the last election saw 21 candidates, of whom 5 were deputies. Take those away, and you would have 16 candidates, of which 3 were sitting Senators. That means there would be a new intake of 9 candidates into the States. After all, would Geoff Southern or Shona Pitman have risked losing their seats if they could not try again as Deputies?

The propensity of Deputies to play safe may well lead to another shift. Instead of candidates going for Senator after being Deputy for a number of years, they may well decide to move from Senator to a smaller and easier Deputy's constituency to improve their chances, especially if they are manifestly unpopular with the general public. So there could be more Senators coming in new, then moving on to Deputies, which would be a safer seat, even if for fewer years.

This may lead to increased pressure to reduce the number of Senators, but retain the same number of Deputies, and in so doing, cement the voter inequalities in small Parishes like St Mary.

The poor voter, in the meantime, will suffer from vote overload, having to choose 3 times in a row on the same day - Constables, Deputies and Senators. It will be like having a General Election in the UK, as well as Local Council Elections, and European Parliament Elections, all together. I'm not wholly convinced it will be as easy as last time, when there were perhaps two or three candidates for Constable as well as the 21 for Senator. Add to that the possibility of an extra five to seven for Deputy! The voter will be bombarded with around 30 or more manifestoes, and the hustings will be impossible in their present form. I can see rather than voters coming out to vote, some may giving up in despair.

Whatever happens, there will be unexpected consequences of this proposal. Simple it may be, but its results could be more significant than at first sight appears to be the case. One day, without other significant reforms, may be one day too many!

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