Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Election for Chief Minister: Some Comments

Senator Ian Le Marquand has thrown his hat in the ring as a candidate for the next Chief Minister in the States. But he has also come out with some suggestions which I think would be extremely good if we had a much larger Parliament, like that of England, but which could cause considerable problems locally because he seems unaware of the unintended consequences of his suggestions in a fairly small States assembly.

He wants the next Chief Minister to be both a Senator and someone who has previously been a Minister. This is like one of the Venn diagrams where there are two intersecting circles with a much smaller area in common to both. As the Chief Minister nominates candidates for the Council of Ministers and generally speaking most of those have been elected, this means that new Chief Ministers will be those who have always managed to get on happily with the status quo and therefore there will never be any real change in the general direction of the Council of Ministers.

This does not happen in the United Kingdom because there is a party system and the idea behind that is that real alternatives can be offered to the electorate. With a much smaller numbers and the lack of any distinct party identity in the States, Senator Le Marquand's suggestion will squash any real alternatives. As it stands, the current situation means that there are at most three or four candidates who would be eligible to stand for Chief Minister out of the entire States membership, giving the electors virtually no opportunity of substantial change should they wish it, especially as three of those would be sitting Senators already not up for election this year.

Of course, the danger which the Senator is trying to avoid is that of a Deputy, perhaps one of the smaller parishes, being elected as Chief Minister and where the electors have absolutely no say in the matter unless they happen to live in that parish. If there is no contested election, the situation is even worse. Because there is no limit to the number of terms that someone may be Chief Minister, they could be there for decades, especially as the Chief Minister has the power of patronage in nominating other members of the Council of Ministers, who in turn appoint Assistant Ministers. The Assistant Ministers may see their positions as the first rung on a ladder, and the Ministers themselves, wanting to be nominated in the future, could all tend to vote to keep the Chief Minister in office. The only safeguard against this is a limit to 2 terms of office, much as they have in the United States, and various other governments around the world.

Making the electoral districts broader, so that there are more choices in each one, would mean that a Chief Minister could be appointed from the ranks of a Deputy without disenfranchising a large part of the electorate, and the larger constituencies would mean that challenges were more likely.

The other reason for the second caveat that the candidate for Chief Minister should also have served as a Minister is the Senator's way of tackling the problem which has been seen time and again in the votes for the Senatorial elections. This is the emergence of very popular candidate whom the most of the electorate want, in marked contrast to the establishment candidates who may well gradually sink in popularity as years go by. Time and again, the States has ignored this kind of popularity when making decisions (in the old days) as to whom should be President of this Committee or that, which has been a complete snub in the face of the electorate, and no doubt has contributed, over the years, to the derisory percentage of the electorate who vote; voter turnout is one of the lowest in the world, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance statistics.

Finally, a word should be said about Senator Le Marquand's suggestion that candidates for Chief Minister should declare themselves before the elections, so that electors can than ask candidates for Constable, Deputy or Senator whom they would support as Chief Minister. This is on the face of it, an extremely good idea. But to work, it requires the Chief Minister to be chosen by an open ballot, otherwise some candidates will undoubtedly say one thing, and do something else; after all, even with an open vote on GST, several anti-GST candidates, such as Deputy Anne Dupre, simply said they had changed their minds - since being elected.

There is nothing inherently dishonest about changing one's mind, but the rapidity with which it is done does not fit well with the trust of the electors. Senator Le Marquand, it should be noted, has consistently voted for exemptions - as he said he would before being elected. But the lack of an open ballot may well lead more members to "change their minds" than might otherwise be the case; the lack of public accountability being notable. Deputy Trevor Pitman is bringing a proposition to have an open ballot for Chief Minister; if this is passed, then Senator Le Marquand's suggestion would be an extremely good one, and I hope he backs it, as it would strengthen his hand.

And finally, Senator Le Marquand must improve his act. When someone like Deputy Roy le Hérissier makes accusations of delay and prevarication, it is time, perhaps for the Senator to review his performance, and not just dismiss criticisms, but talk to his critics. An attitude that he is always right, as he appears to have given in this instance, is not helpful.


James said...

Finally, a word should be said about Senator Le Marquand's suggestion that candidates for Chief Minister should declare themselves before the elections

It's a nice suggestion - if you are actually in the election. Neither ILM nor Pip Ozouf are actually up for election, they are two of the six guaranteed to be back in the house - so where is the democratic mandate for either to be Chief Minister?

Anonymous said...

No one seems to be alert to the danger that the next Chief Minister may be Philip Bailhache. It must be blatantly obvious to anyone with a knowlege of law, politics and the way the constitutional system operates in Jersey, together with a heavy dose of common sense, to comprehend what PB (the ex head of all five levers of power in Jersey) was up to, is up to and indeed wants to be up to in relation to controlling every form of political debate in Jersey.

Indeed, many people who have a deep understanding of Jersey Politics see him as the very person who should never ever be elected to public office in Jersey or in any other jurisdiction - due to the very fact of his links to entities in Jersey whose very raison d'etre is to emasculate true debate in Jersey.

What is needed is someone with a good understanding of the Constitution of Jersey to assert it is ROTTEN to the core and to change it! Yet that is the very danger as PB identifies that fact and wants to use it as a platform to promote himself to Head of State - from Chief Minister to Head of State - sod the Good People of Jersey! [Frightening!]

Tom Gruchy said...

There are several likely establishment candidates for the CM post so there is always a chance for a so called "progressive" to stand and give them a fright.
If Cohen is raised from the dead he will presumably carry on as foreign secretary - but that could also be the consolation prize for a failed Ozouf.
The Bailhache presence will scupper many political ambitions because he will almost certainly be able to demand any position - assuming that the public are dumb enough to elect him in the fisrt place.
Unfortunately, there is not the same abundance of potential "progressive" CMs to choose from.
Ironically Stuart had a good pop at the job years ago but Le Herissier ruled himself out last time - although there was quite a lobby for him to try for it.
Once again the time is running out - but an "alliance" group could name their own CM progressive candidate now and run this before the public in October. At least the public would have some part in the process and the common platform would unite progressives as a believable alternative.
Unfortunately, they will almost certainly run as the usual bunch of prima donnas - mostly lacking in credibility as a viable alternative either to the public as their reps - or when it comes to appointing a CM.

So it goes on - egos before accountability.

James said...

@Tom Gruchy: Le Herissier is in a rather difficult position, as a Deputy in a constituency (mine) where there was no election last time.

Nothing I've seen so far suggests there will be this time, so the exact issue that Tony pointed out in relation to Reed would apply.

Not that Roy wouldn't be a significantly better pick than PB, or indeed a good three-quarters of current States members...