Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Introduction to Jersey Politics

It is very fashionable to claim an ignorance of, perhaps a lack of interest in, or even, a hatred of politics. There is a common misconception that politics is boring: all Alistair Darlings or committees in unexciting conference rooms. And politics is boring - if you don't have the imagination or will to see it as anything else. It's easy to flick channels, watch a few seconds of a stoney face intoning some point about a species of caterpillar that will be wiped out by another runway, and laugh and say, "Politics: I told you so. How could you ever be interested in that?". (1)

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." (Martin Luther King)

Deputy Montfort Tadier is currently in the middle of running a series of  5 lunchtime courses. I am sure he will be repeating these; they are well attended, and there is definitely a need for some kind of introduction. I would be interested to see what demand there might be elsewhere - would they also be of interest out in a Parish location, in an evening, for those who don't live or work in Town?

With the use of a projector, and some powerpoint slides (but not to the point of overkill), Montfort is an engaging speaker, and there is plenty of interaction with his audience.

The first one looked at the history of the States, how it came into being, and the pre-war situation with Jurats, Rectors and Constables, why it is called "the States", how the current system of Senators, Deputies and Constables were introduced in the post-war years.

The second concentrated on the practicalities of the States chamber, how it works, when it sits, voting and house rules - and what your elected member does when it is not sitting, as well as the role of scrutiny and ministers, and the Privileges and Procedures committee. He also looked at what is in French, and why, and what constitutes a quorum.

There is also the odd pithy anecdote - Montfort also explained how the "red light" on the microphone works to attract the speaker's attention, and how Phil Rondel, who sits at the front, surprisingly often complains he is not seen, where Montfort sits behind the tall figure of Deputy Daniel Wimberley, and has to tap him on the shoulder to move slightly to one side, in order that his light can be visible! There are the "unwritten rules", like not taking a jacket off even when the air-conditioning breaks down, and it is a sweltering summer heat-wave, because the decorum on dress-code in the Chamber is a matter of overriding importance (even if it allows politicians to wear sandals and no socks!).

Today it is a visit to the States Chamber, with the Deputy Greffier to take the participants around. There's been a lot of preparation for this course, and at a mere £10 (to cover the cost of the Arts Centre Room), I would certainly recommend any future course.

Interviewed today by Roger Bara on BBC Radio Jersey, Mr Bara did ask whether there was a danger that the talks might be partisan, taking particular political points of view. In fact, they are pretty much factual based, and on the few occasions perhaps where there might be differences between politicians, Montfort simply gave the different points of view within the Chamber.

In an election year, it is especially important to increase awareness of what goes on in the States rather than just focus on election issues.

The election turnout displays widespread apathy - the UK has 76% voter turnout. Voter turnout in Jersey varies between Parishes, but is between 34% (St Helier) and 59% (St Mary), with an average closer to 45-50%.

One of the reasons may be a lot of disillusionment with politicians, who are sometimes wrongly seen as an idle bunch, who take a salary yet only (except perhaps for Ministers) have to be in the States Chamber every other week, with long holidays matching school holidays. If anyone thinks that, Montfort's course will soon disabuse them of that notion. While the House is not sitting, there is still plenty of work to be done. Propositions and amendments and questions need to be properly researched, and scrutiny panels, like select committees in the UK, are not just a case of turning up without "doing one's homework".

Evenings may also go to home visits with constituents about their problems and concerns, either on the phone or equally likely  face to face. A conscientious politician does not just work 9 to 5, because there are matters of Parish concern to address, and all manner of problems for the constituents, whether they can vote or not. In this respect, the States member is like a political counsellor and advocate, providing support and help for those who would otherwise be overlooked by the statutory safety-nets of government, and mediating for them. There are also political surgeries so that anyone can drop in. For the Deputies of St Brelade, these are held at the The Horse and Hound about once a month.

Another posts that may be of interest from Montfort's blog:

Question Time - How it works and Today's States Agenda:

This gives the details of how asking questions  works.


Anonymous said...

The description of the etiquette in the States makes it sound a bit like Victoria College. There was no doubt plenty of doffing one's cap to the Head Master and woe betide the young man that wore a tie that was too wide.

Monty, fortunately, never had the benefit of that training and leadership development. Vic was built to man the British Empire, as is attested to by the wooden boards on the stairs with the names of Civil Service success.

Given all that, one can see why the Establishement Elephants do not like Members who do not have a tie and a crest.

Anonymous said...

Listening to the interview by BBC Radio Jersey with Deputy Tadier on Wednesday morning concerning his politics course, I was struck by the impertinence of the interviewer. It seems that only those of a democratic persuasion get this subtle yet consistent treatment designed to belittle their comment.

The first was that the Deputy at a mere 31, elected aged 29, was somehow still wet behind the ears. There are plenty of the “Youth of 08” that could be so categorised, but not this one. It is simply patronising for the rather smug Roger Barra, safely back in his warm spot and like a elderly cat enjoying all the privileges. Montfort is a graduate in languages with experience of teaching overseas for government schools, so he has excellent credentials as a teacher.

The most insidious proposition was that the Deputy was seeking to indoctrinate his audience. The word indoctrinate was never used, simply implied through clever journalistic technique, honed by years in the service of government radio. This put the Deputy on the defensive, but he handled it well.

Roger Barra: “Is there a danger, because you are an extremely enthusiastic States Member, that your own political leanings might accidentally come forth as opposed to just what is the mechanism in the States. In other words to impressionable people might there be a danger you will say this is how things should be.”

Deputy Tadier: ( caught on the back foot agreed) “yes its always a danger, I am conscious of that…”.

The late Christopher Lakeman, with ambitions to be a Crown Officer, frequently gave talks and led groups around the States building advising on such fascinating details that our colonial governor has a seat one inch lower that the Bailiff. One cannot imagine BBC Radio Jersey asking if he was likely to impose his right wing political views on the impressionable youth and old folks.

The Deputy was slight disingenuous about his scrutiny panel into political education in schools. Read the transcript of the interview with Deputy Reed, the Education Minister. He expressed deep antipathy to education of children on politics lest it be a form of indoctrination. Is the ignorance of youth on political issues surprising? It is a policy of government.

voiceforchildren said...


A few words from Emille