Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Penultimate Senatorial Election?

This Senatorial election may well be almost the last one. Next year, I think we may well see the final election for Senators.

The Senators for 2005 were:

Stuart Syvret (Independent) 15,131
Ben Shenton (Independent) 14,025
Freddie Cohen (Independent) 13,704
Terry Le Main (Independent) 12,159
Terry Le Sueur (Independent) 9,976
James Perchard (Independent) 8,998

Of these, it is highly likely that Le Main and Le Sueur will step down. Syvret was not re-elected, and that will leave three candidates to try again.

Why the landscape of elections has changed is to do with the proposition brought and accepted by John Le Fondré for a single day election. Previously, sitting Deputies have "thrown their hat in the ring" by trying for Senator, and the Senatorial elections have been a mix of old Deputies and completely new members, and sitting Senators. Where Deputies have failed, they have had the chance of standing again as Deputies, as of course have Senators (like Paul Le Clare) who have been ousted as Senators.

But a single day election removes that, and exposes a candidate to Island wide scrutiny, with no safety-net. Often Deputies have looked after their districts and their parish matters well, and this counts as much in Deputies elections as how they have voted on Island wide matters like GST or the Waterfront. A Deputy who looks after his district and his parishioners well stands a good chance of being re-elected, whereas a Senator is more dislocated from these matters, and their voting on States issues counts for more.

Consequently, what I predict will happen is that more Deputies will play safe, and not gamble a safe seat against a longer term. The result will be that independent outsiders will get more of a look in, and rather than moving from Deputy to Senator, I can see the change being reversed, as a less popular Senator seeks the safe harbour of a Deputies seat, where there are less voters to woo.

The other group at an advantage is a party, such as the JDA, because they can afford to field candidates on the Party mandate who have not yet been elected on the grounds that the general public know more or less what they are voting for. It may well be that an "establishment" party or loose coalition may form to counter that, or - and this is the more likely outcome - the Council of Ministers will try to remove the position of Senator, as it is mainly a place for newcomers and new party members, rather than sitting Deputies seeking promotion.

However, the last election, and the bi-election recently, shows that the JDA have yet to transfer their obvious popularity in the Urban parishes to the country ones.

But if we have less established candidates seeking the Senatorial position, we may well move towards a Deputy as Chief Minister, and the degree to which Parish and Island issues predominate in their district may well determine how long they can remain in the States, but to have a Chief Minister chosen from such a small subset of the population may well lead to unrest at the impotence of the average voter to make any changes. In Guernsey, the larger electoral districts, while clustering around Parish boundaries, do mean that their Chief Minister has more widespread support.

In Jersey, a relative safe country seat could lead to a Chief Minister who could be in office for years, and will surely lead to more voters wanting to know if their candidates will vote for the existing incumbent or an alternative. This could be mitigated, in part, by adopting the same provision as many countries, and allowing the Chief Minister only so many terms of office, which would be a worthwhile check and balance.

The other problem over Chief Ministers is that, as with Jim Callaghan, John Major and Gordon Brown, the incumbent - both the present and previous - have not had any election hanging over them; they have been in the middle of their terms as Senator. This means that the electorate has no indirect say over who is elected, because the candidate can avoid all interaction with election issues, and indeed could be extremely unpopular with the voters.

It is surely not a good state of affairs that both Senator Frank Walker and Senator Terry Le Sueur came in mid-term, and Senator Walker has left the States, and Senator Le Sueur will do so precisely when an Island wide Senatorial election would have given a vote of confidence or no confidence in their governance. One prospective candidate, Senator Ozouf, would also be mid-term, but as he is relatively young, he might wish to stay on and face the electorate in four years; alternatively, by seeking a safer Deputies seat, he might avoid any Island wide vote on his term of office.

This returns me to the start of this post, and the dangers inherent in the Le Fondré proposal, which may well extinguish the position of Senator by stealth, and sooner than we think. If too few Deputies come forward, it may well be argued that we should do away with that mandate.

Against this, a suggestion has been made those standing for election must come up with a deposit, as happens in the U.K., the idea being that it would stop frivolous candidates from running. But it would also disenfranchise those who are serious, perhaps taking early retirement around 60, who would want to contribute to Island politics, but are unable to do so because of the cost. We would be moving back to the bad old days when those who could stand needed a private income to enable them to do so.

What a large number of candidates does do is to provide pressure on the existing format of the Parish hustings, which is clearly inadequate to deal with those circumstances; the answer is surely to revise the format of the hustings, rather than try and reduce the number of candidates. Parish hustings belong to the old days when membership of the States was unpaid, and the population of most Parishes was not much larger than St Mary's. Perhaps a "West Show" style solution could work, where the candidates would be divided by two or three, and the Parishes in the West, East etc have a joint hustings for those candidates, giving a greater chance to ask questions in depth.

The other option mentioned recently is of Senators having to come from the ranks of those who have proven themselves as Deputies. This would screen out very able candidates like Ian Le Marquand and Francis Le Gresley, and is again an action against the outsider entering Jersey politics at the Senatorial level.

If Senators have to come from the pool of Deputies, from those confident enough not to mind if they are voted out (or arrogant enough to assume they won't be), will the public have sufficient choice? It might well be the case that much smaller numbers standing lead to greater apathy, because the public know and don't want to vote for most of those standing - yet by default, because of the smaller numbers, most of those sitting Senators will get in again and again. The essence of democracy is the ability to remove the ruler from power peacefully; if this cannot be done easily, the twins of apathy and revolutionary activism will rear their heads.


Ugh, It's Him! said...

Possibly a Council of Ministers mostly made up of Deputies would wish to kill off the role of Senator.
However there are two important justifications for keeping it, that would have to be brought up in defence.
At present, I have 14 States Members I have voted for, or more often against, representing me. Abolish Senators and I have just two. The other is that candidates who represent a broad minority all around the island may have more difficulty in finding a single constituency where there is a concentration of their supporters, and be unable to even get nominated, let alone elected, diminishing the overall representation of the public in the House.

TonyTheProf said...

The trouble is that apart from mid-term Senators, and those not standing, being part of the Council of Ministers is a good way of ensuring you do NOT have Island wide popularity!

Council of Ministers + Constables Block vote, and supportive Deputies would be quite enough to force change through, especially if most Senators were opposed to the current Council.