Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Electoral Commission - A Few Comments

There are strong moves afoot to get Sir Philip Bailhache as the Chairman of the Review body for Electoral Reform. I am at a loss how this will lead to an independent review, as he has made his view very well known in his manifesto. Here are a selection of statements made by him on the subject.

I would note that while he says "as recommended by the Clothier panel", he is NOT prepared to take on board the Clothier panel's recommendations that the Constables be excluded from the States. In other words, he is prepared to use Clothier to back his arguments, only as long as it suits him, and if not, Clothier can be ignored. So that argument - let us follow the wisdom of Clothier - is entirely spurious.

In fact the Bailhache vision of the States is pretty clear on some matters, less so on others. He is very coy about whether Senators should remain or not - in fact, while he mentions Deputies and Constables, the only thing he has to say about Senators is that a 30 Senators Island wide mandate would be impossible to manage.

But the Constables remain, and the Island moves to superconstituences. Now that's more or less what has been proposed before by Roy Le Hérissier, and it got thrown out. I think that the recent Census highlights the disparity  between Deputies and the number of people they represent, and larger constituencies - as introduced in Guernsey, are an obvious way to go, amalgamating various Parishes. So I am in substantial agreement with this idea, as it gets what is important - voter parity - into the equation, and if Deputies represent a district rather than a Parish, the Constable can fight the Parish corner. There needs to be a balance.

Why has this been thrown out in the past? Well, the Deputies, in particular, often do not want to lose that Parish connection. John Le Fondre has stated this to me quite clearly, and I suspect he is articulating a commonly held view. Deputies are engaged at a Parish level, and a larger constituency would break some of that connection - although there is no reason why they should not remain involved in Parishes in which they live as private people, they will lose the political element.

Having looked at many elections over the years, I would say that as a rule of thumb, votes for Deputies are often made primarily on how they are viewed within the Parish, not within the States.  Provided you are not extremely right or left wing in the States to the detriment of Parish matters, political leanings in the States Chamber, and where you vote on GST etc don't count for half as much as how you supported the Battle of Flowers, or opposed a planning application, and attended Parish Assemblies.  Once that link has been broken, Deputies will be more vulnerable, they won't have the smaller base constituency that they enjoy, and have to appeal to a wider range of voters geographically and Island wide issues will matter more, as they do with the Senatorial elections.

So we can see at least one reason why the proposals have been thrown out in the past. That is why Daniel Wimberley proposed an independent commission. The States are not good at making their own mind up, and whether they will be any better if Sir Philip is in charge of the whole matter remains to be seen. He did not manage to carry the States with him on the open vote for Chief Minister, and this will be an open debate, and open vote, so he may be surprised to realise that despite his call in the Hustings for compromise, that does not come so easily.

The other matter is whether or not he is suitable having stated his own opinions so clearly. An independent body would be able to review submissions on merit, but he has already given his own submission, so he is not independent. And I think spurious arguments, drawing on only selective parts of Clothier for support, should be dropped. I think Clothier got it largely wrong on some issues as Constituency boundaries and voter parity, where the Guernsey programme of reform, the Harwood report, got it right.

So I am against his chairing the reform commission because he has too clearly stated his own views, and I think has compromised any independence or impartiality by doing so. On the other hand, his proposal for around 10 larger constituencies is one that I would personally support, and have done for years, and my own submission would be very much along those lines.

What I think also muddies the waters is his view that "the devil makes work for idle hands", and the dysfunctional nature of the States is due to too many members. I think it is due to too little democracy, too little participation and inclusion by the previous Councils of Ministers.

When I was at school, the captain of a football team would be able to choose, and would choose his chums. That's not a good basis for "team spirit", what that is a basis for is what C.S. Lewis called "the inner ring", a cozy clique of individuals where favouritism reigns. If there is any divisions within the States, that is the first thing that must be addressed. Reducing numbers does not mean this will end, as it is part of a malign ethos that has developed within the States, and let's hope the new Assembly can see its way to more consultation and participation.

If I may be permitted another anecdote - my late Aunt always tended to play favourites with her children, and she was treated as a favourite by her parents. My mother was not, and perhaps as a result, she went out of her way to ensure that myself and my sister were treated equally fairly. Favouritism, in team games, or in interpersonal relationships, is in fact an easy option; it requires effort and commitment to ensure fairness instead.

Philip Bailhache: Manifesto:

The reputation of the States in the Island has seldom been lower. Too much time is wasted by the discussion of trivial matters, and too much energy is wasted on personal antagonisms instead of concentrating on important issues affecting the well being of the Island. Following the introduction of ministerial government, there are now too many members of the States. The devil makes work for idle hands. Constitutional reform is urgent but it has so far proved difficult to find a consensus as to what change is necessary.

As was recommended by the Clothier Panel, the number of members should be reduced to 42. How does one get there? I do not support the removal of the Constables from the States. The Constables represent an important link with the parishes. It would diminish the office of Constable if they ceased to be in the States. With 12 Constables there would then be 30 other seats. There are ways of dividing up those seats which require discussion. Once the States have found a solution, it should be put to the people for their approval in a referendum.

St Helier Hustings

In my view we do not need an electoral commission costing two hundred thousand pounds. I am sick and tired of the employment of expensive experts and consultants because States members and their officials cannot or will not work out the solutions for themselves. The answer to the problem of constitutional reform is staring us in the face.

We all know that there are too many members; we should reduce the number to 42. Not everyone, but the majority of people want the Constables to remain as links between the parishes and the States and to ensure that each parish, however small, has a representative in our parliamentary assembly. That only leaves a decision as to how to divide the 30 remaining seats among 10, 12 or 15 larger constituencies. A larger constituency gives some of the advantages of the Island-wide mandate but without the disadvantages of a raft of candidates who cannot be properly questioned. With a smaller number you could really test them and see what they stood for and what their abilities were. With larger constituencies there will always be an election, and politics would be forced into the centre because candidates would have to appeal to a broader range of electors.

St Brelade

I am standing for election because I want to see reform of the constitution of the States and an end to the bickering and time-wasting that disfigure our parliamentary assembly and have caused it to sink so low in public esteem.

St Mary

Reform of the constitution of the States is, in my view, at the very heart of the solution to what has gone wrong with our assembly and why it no longer enjoys respect in the Island. No one has done more than your Constable to try to find a solution, but on every occasion there is a coalition of interests that defeats the proposition. There are those who favour the Island wide mandate; there are those who want the Constables out of the States, or kept in the States; there are those who want to keep the parish deputies; there are those in St Helier who quite like being elected by only 200 or 300 votes. If no one will compromise in the interests of the Island, we will never find a solution, and the shambles that we have at the moment will continue.

There are two important preliminary questions. (1) Should we reduce the number of members? (2) Should the Constables remain in the States? My answer to both is Yes. I believe that almost everyone accepts that we have too many members given that we now have ministerial government. We should reduce the number to 42. And the Constables should stay because they are a vital link with the parishes. Removing the Constables would diminish the office and make them junior to the deputy. Imagine a contentious issue before the Parish Assembly presided over by the Constable - parishioners vote to oppose a proposition to build a multi-storey car park at the Devil's Hole - and the Constable says "I will now have to ask the deputy to convey our views to the States". The Constable should continue as chief of the parish, and have the authority to represent the parish in the States.

This is important. Some people say that it is absurd to have the Constable of St Mary representing 1600 people in the States while the Constable of St Helier represents 29,000 people. My answer is that this is the price for supporting the parish system - and it is a price worth paying. The friendly rivalry between the parishes is good and wholesome, and encourages efficiency and cleanliness. People are rightly proud of their parish. We should not undermine the institution by removing the constable from the States.

 I am now going to lose some votes in St Mary but I want to be straight with you. If we keep the Constables in the States, the only practical way of reducing numbers is to have larger constituencies - somewhere between 10 and 15 constituencies with 2 or 3 members in each. That would mean that there would be no deputy of St Mary. But it would also mean that there was always an election in every constituency and that candidates would have to appeal to the political middle ground. The electors of St Mary would remain an important part of a new larger constituency, and hustings would have to be held here as in the past because candidates would want your vote.

St Clement

The Clothier Panel recommended that the Assembly should be reduced to 40 or 42 and we should accept that recommendation. How should we get there? My own view is that the Constables should stay because they are an important link with the parishes. If they stay, that leaves 30 other members to be elected from the other constituencies. Many people like the Island wide mandate, but 30 senators would be impossible. Imagine 70 or 80 candidates on this platform. I think that there should be between 10 and 15 larger constituencies. This would draw politics into the centre, because candidates would have to appeal to a broader mix of people.

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