Tuesday, 26 June 2012

States Reform: An Opinion

Overview

I have sought in this paper to establish first principles, and then consider the results in terms of the kind of constituency which flow from those principles.

The one assumption I am making is that the Senators will be removed from the States, and the Deputies and Constables will remain. The reasons for the retention of the Constables is probably the one on which I will find myself at most loggerheads with other people, but the principle there is one of balance between the central government and the parishes, and that follows from the treatment of the Deputies.

Discussion

1) Voter Parity.
 
The ratio of elected members per voter should be broadly equivalent, with a small degree of leeway. This cannot be done with keeping Deputies within existing Parish districts - St Mary just will not fit. While not quite a "rotten borough" (to use a term prior to the UK 1832 Reform Act), it has disproportionate voting balance for its population. I therefore suggest that Parishes should be clustered so that you have 5/6 Deputies in larger electoral districts.
 
In terms of an existing model for that kind of grouping of different Parishes working together, this could be termed "The West Show" solution. That shows, incidentally, that different Parishes can work together on a joint project, with unified representation of several Parishes together. Incidentally, there is nothing to stop Deputies who live in a Parish taking part in specific events such as the Battle of Flowers - just the same way as a Senator who lives in St Brelade was very involved in St Brelade's Jubilee fete.
 
This also has the advantage that any demographic shifts will be less likely to upset the balance, and if required, one district can gain a deputy, one can lose one; in this respect, there should also be an independent electoral boundary commission to examine the population in each district every ten years (the statistics can be made available via the census without much extra work) and ensure that parity is maintained.
 
2) Voter Equivalence
 
As Bob Le Sueur has pointed out in the JEP - and reading a recent submission, Pierre Horsfall - has also pointed out - at present, we can vote for a number of Senators, a number of Deputies, and a Constable. To reduce the number that the voter can vote for is surely to impoverish their voting capacity, and would be a retrograde step. Larger districts mean that each district can have 6-7 people to vote for, and hence voter equivalence is maintained. If the Senators are to be removed from the States, voter equivalence should be taken seriously as a consideration. It is a way of maintaining the voter's choice of candidate. It is the answer to those who want to retain the Senators in the States.
 
In this respect, the Clothier report was seriously deficient, as it did not address the principle of Voter Equivalence, and had to stretch voter parity - with St Mary - to its limit, reducing it to one seat.
 
Professor Adrian Lee has also noted that in Guernsey, where larger districts is the case, this removes the possibility of tactical voting, and leads to a fairer representation. It is not quite proportional representation, but - like the Senatorial elections - it goes some way towards that, without the underlying complexity of such a system.
 
3) Constables - Balancing needs of Locality and Centrality
 
The Constables should remain in the States for the foreseeable future on two grounds.
 
Firstly, the move of the Deputies to larger districts means that their direct Parish link is no longer the same (and will no doubt be resisted by some Deputies because of that), so that retaining the Constables ensures that the Parish link is maintained, and a balance between the centre and districts is kept - so that, for example, the States cannot just impose legislation on the Parishes in the way that central Government in the UK can do so on County Councils. Likewise, the Constables can bring Parish issues which relate to central government to the States. 
 
Secondly, the removal of Senators, and making of larger districts is a big step, and it is important to implement change piecemeal where possible so that any unforeseen consequences do not have too large an impact - for instance, funding Constables from the rates if they are removed from the States.

There may come a time when a future electorate and States decides to remove the Constables, but in the meantime, they provide a degree of continuity between the old system and the new - evolution, rather than revolution, should be the guiding principle. After all, the post-war revision which led to the removal of the Jurats and Rectors from the States maintained the Deputies and Constables by way of continuity.
 
Moreover, the same day election has meant that the election for Constable has itself been evolving to encourage voter participation. Previously, elections for Constables tended to be random affairs, based on the date the last Constable retired, which did not make for a good focus for contested elections. While there are not many contested elections for Constables, that is probably in part because there are currently 3 elections on one day, and the focus of electors is on Deputies and Senators.
 
4) Terms of Office and Sundry Matters
 
Three years means one year for any new member to get to grips with the States, one year to participate actively, and one year partly taken up with seeking re-election. I think that six years would be too long a period, and four years - as in Guernsey - would probably be the best compromise. Six years means that the electorate feel powerless and disenfranchised, unable to change matters; three years is too short a period to govern.
 
The removal of Senators, and the choosing of a Chief Minister from other States members mean that some electors may not have the opportunity to remove a Chief Minister. Therefore, as a precautionary principle, the Chief Minister should be allowed two terms of office before having to pass the reigns of power to another member. This is a widespread practice in other jurisdictions, and even within some local societies - the Société Jersiaise, for example, has restrictions on the President holding a term of office  - this ensures that the voter does not feel wholly disempowered when they cannot vote for or against a Chief Minister.
 
Although not directly related, the transparent voting for Chief Minister and Ministers should also remain. Without knowledge of how elected offices are chosen, there can be no accountability of members to the electorate, and backroom deals will almost certainly play a larger role. Anyone who doesn't believe such deals exist does not understand how politics works - they should read some political diaries! In a larger jurisdiction, such as the UK, that would not be the case, because the numbers preclude significant shifts in voting patterns though backroom deals. In a smaller jurisdiction, it is a necessity. To guard against that, votes must be open. Members, it is hoped, are mature enough not to hold grudges against those who did not vote for them.

Recommendations:
 
How many States members there should be

The removal of the Senators, and the clustering of Deputies means that the number of States members can be reduced. If the principle of equivalence is adhered to, this means around 30-36 Deputies in 5 districts (5-6 Deputies per district), along with 12 Constables, making around 42 - 48 members.

Whether we should we have Senators, Deputies and Constables:

I have assumed that the Senatorial mandate will be lost, but this means increasing the area covered by the Deputies - districts or clustered Parishes.

What their mandates should be
What their constituencies should look like; and

The Deputies will represent a district - a cluster of Parishes.
The Constables will represent their Parish

How long there should be between elections.

Four years - three is too short, six is too long. A too long period before change can lead to voter disillusionment; a too short period can lead to too much grandstanding with an eye on the electorate.

7 comments:

James said...

I could live with this, with one caveat - and that is that the Constables may sit in the States but not vote.

Sam Mézec said...

As with above posted, I can also live with it on the condition that Constables have no vote.

The problem that you haven't addressed here, is surely the point of larger districts is to address the imbalance there currently is between population and number of representatives in certain parts of the island. So why keep the Constables because that just completely undoes all the good done by introducing districts.

The 8 rural parishes have the same combined population as St Helier, yet their 8 Constables each have a vote that is weighted the same as the Constable of St Helier. It just isn't democratic.

The States of Jersey is there to run the island of Jersey, not portions of it, like the Constables are meant to do. Their work does not need to be combined. Democracy should come first.

TonyTheProf said...

The reason for the Constables saying is one of balance. If the Deputies are in 5 large districts, the Parish interests are not safeguarded. The retention of the Constables ensures the balance between the Parish and a too-authoritarian central government.

It's based on a reading of Seldon (1951), and the Catholic ideas of subsidiarity.

James said...

You airily talk about parish interests. Is it not about time that the people of Jersey asked themselves what type of issue is going to matter such that (say) the people of St Ouen would vote pour and the people of St Mary contre, and how many such there would be?

And is it not time they asked whether the States - which the soon-to-be-disenfranchised-under-Plan-Tony Senator Bailhache wants to turn into a national parliament managing foreign and defence policy - is the place to debate such issues?

(Yes, I know that there is a difference between planning for town and country, but the Constables do not adequately represent that - even St Helier has "rural" constituents, while St Saviour, St Lawrence, St Brelade are all half-and-half rural and suburban)

James Rondel said...

Some sound reason behind your proposals Tony. I too favour the retention of the Connetables however I do struggle with the disparity of their mandates. As a result of this, and the lack of check & balance that we have in our legislature, I propose to elevate the Connetables into a second chamber. I believe that this creates a scenario where we maintain their wisdom, experience and parish link to our Government, without having to continue the democratic deficit which currently exists.

A further point which I must raise is the notion of voter systems, as you highlight creating a larger district with more candidates would go some way to removing sinecures, however I believe until we get a more proportional voting system; without political parties we are never going to achieve true accountability as tactical voting will still persist. We only have to examine St Helier 3/4 2008 to see that we are in need of the Single Transferable Vote!

P.S I hope that you forward your views to the E.C!

James Rondel said...

Some sound reason behind your proposals Tony. I too favour the retention of the Connetables however I do struggle with the disparity of their mandates. As a result of this, and the lack of check & balance that we have in our legislature, I propose to elevate the Connetables into a second chamber. I believe that this creates a scenario where we maintain their wisdom, experience and parish link to our Government, without having to continue the democratic deficit which currently exists.

A further point which I must raise is the notion of voter systems, as you highlight creating a larger district with more candidates would go some way to removing sinecures, however I believe until we get a more proportional voting system; without political parties we are never going to achieve true accountability as tactical voting will still persist. We only have to examine St Helier 3/4 2008 to see that we are in need of the Single Transferable Vote!

P.S I hope that you forward your views to the E.C!

TonyTheProf said...

Yes I've sent off my views to the EC. I think that a larger district of 5-6 Deputies to vote for is some way towards a more proportional representation without excessive cost.