Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Post Election Irregularities in Jersey 2011

Nine current States members will get to vote on the 2012 budget and a range of other issues even though they failed to retain their seats. There are also nine members who are leaving the states for other reasons. Due to the nature of Jersey's system the outgoing members will sit twice more, and in those two sittings they will vote on some important issues. They include the 2012 budget with tax increases, and millions of pounds of spending. The newly elected members will take their seats on 6 December.

Outgoing chief minister, Senator Terry Le Sueur, said it was better than having inexperienced states members voting on such important subjects 'fresh and unaware'.  He said: "It is becoming a bit of an anomaly. When there were three separate elections there was less of an urgency to change it. The alternative is you have someone coming in totally fresh and unaware of all the implications trying to make decisions in their first sitting in the house. It is a no-win either way"

Political Analyst Professor Adrian Lee said this post-election system was an "unusual" set-up, and he could not think of any other place it happened. (1)

Having permanently increased the days the States can sit from 14 days to 28 precisely in order that the outgoing States should bind the incoming one, Senator Terry le Sueur now comes up with a specious excuse to justify that. "The alternative is you have someone coming in totally fresh and unaware of all the implications, trying to make decisions in their first sitting in the house."

This is the phrase in big bold letters on the BBC story alongside the main story. I would personally have highlighted the comment by Adrian Lee - "Professor Adrian Lee could not think of any other place it happened". The patent absurdity of this can be seen once we look to another jurisdiction, and apply the same argument.

Consider if Gordon Brown had been able to propose a budget, knowing there was an election, and had been given extra days for that session of Parliament to carry it through - and it would have been binding on any incoming Government. You might have read a news story like this:

"Never mind if there are Conservatives who may win the next election," said Prime Minister Gordon Brown, "it was better than having inexperienced Members of Parliament voting on such important subjects 'fresh and unaware'. The alternative is you have someone coming in totally fresh and unaware of all the implications trying to make decisions in their first sitting in the house."

Can you imagine the uproar, not to say the sense of outrage from voters, who might be able to vote on the Governments past record over prior years with the economy, but who would be able to do little or nothing about the most recent budget?

Voters would have seen themselves as cannon fodder, as electoral eunuchs, castrated by the outgoing Government, and unable to do anything but vote in the vain hope that the law on this might change in years to come, but they would be disenchanted and disillusioned with the whole voting process. Voting turnout in the United Kingdom might slump from 76% to 45% or lower - much the same as it is now in Jersey. That is why Parliamentary business is suspended when there is an election, and if matters fall by that guillotine, so be it.

The matter of the open vote for Chief Minister comes up next month, when forces will be mustered to reverse the decision taken earlier by the States, and again provide a woeful lack of transparency for the voter. A decision was made, and to overturn it with such unseemly haste would certainly be the work of people who really deserve the appellation of "wreckers". Will there be a "wrecker's vote" on the issue?

It should also be noted that elections where control of the national executive is not at stake generally have much lower turnouts, which is hardly surprising. If you don't know the way the people you are voting in have voted in the past, and they won't disclose how they voted in a closed ballot, essential information about where they stand is missing, and the electorate are again treated as errant children, for whom the Chief Minister, like a benign Headmaster, knows best. Is this kind of patronising stance really the best choice for a mature democracy?

And is there any chance of implementing what is certainly needed - an amendment to the States of Jersey Law = so that no Chief Minister can serve more than two terms. If the period of time between sittings becomes 4 years, as is highly probable, and there is always the possibility that one Parish, over whom most of the electorate have no say at elections, can supply a Chief Minister, then it is essential that there are firm limitations placed on the power of a Chief Minister.

For the moment, however, we will have to watch from the sidelines, as States members who were voted out of office decide on the budget, and it is no good emailing those States members because they have nothing to loose - they have already been kicked out of the next States. They have, for a brief period, power without any accountability whatsoever, and no voting record to worry about - unless they try for a return in three years, in the hope that the electorate's memory is short.

There is also another vote again on the open ballot for Chief Minister - and taking part will be the outgoing Chief Minister Terry le Sueur, who is now completely unaccountable to the electorate, for he is not standing again. He is still abiding by his principle of making misleading statements such as  "It is no-win either way". Perhaps from where he is sitting that is correct, but for the average voter, it is no-win all the way.



Mark Forskitt said...

Not to mention of course the presumption by the Chief Minister that the incoming lot are less capable or knowedgeable than those there already. An assertion not proven.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent analysis Tony. You make some very interesting points.

The Jersey way weighs heavily on democracy.

Anonymous said...

So, inexperienced states members shouldn't be allowed to vote on important subjects 'fresh and unaware', yet its perfectly acceptable for a newly elected candidate less than a week into their political career to stand for Chief Minister?