Thursday, 30 August 2012

Daniel Wimberley's submission regarding the Constables

I'm presenting here Daniel Wimberley's submission regarding the Constables. It will be available on the electoral commission website, but as I suspect most people don't go through the entries there, I'm making it more widely available here.

As readers of my blog know, I favour retention of the Constables, at least for the present time, and deal with the representation issue on the same grounds as the Sherman Compromise in the USA.

Constables are often elected unopposed - there were only three Constables elections in the past election where sitting Constables were involved. But part of that has to do with their Parish electorate. I don't think it's that people favour the status quo as such, but they do favour any Constable who keeps the Parish finances in order, and so keeps the rates in check. It was high rates because of excessive spending which lost Bob Le Brocq his position as Constable of St Helier.

In fact, looking at where Constables lost or won an election is interesting. Mike Jackson gave the appearance of being an absentee Constable, never available to Parishioners, because he was engaged in States business, but it was probably taking the wrong side over a debate over black tombstones, where he abrogated any responsibility for taking the matter up ("it is not within my gift") rather than being pro-active, that was against him. Peter Hemming forcefully took a case for development, and pursued it against the wishes of many Parishioners. It is when Constables become partisan, or seem to, that they lose the support of the Parish. Although left-leaning, Deidre Mezbourian fought off a challenge from James Le Feuvre (with the weight of his mother Iris, a former Constable) because Parishioners saw her as supporting the Parish and being non-partisan in Parish affairs.

And when it comes to looking after the Parish first, and then the Island issues, let's not forget that most Deputies play that card at election time. That's why they can vote against exemptions to GST, vote for the ludicrous sunken road master plan ("Freddie's Nightmare"), and still be elected - they play the Parish card - representing Parishioners, and Parish matters - for all its worth. See how they put Parish issues in their mandate ahead of Island ones! Note that unpopular Senators, in contrast, have no "local hand" to play, and either decline to stand (e.g. Frank Walker, Terry Le Sueur) or are out (Freddie Cohen).

But here's Daniel Wimberley's submission, which takes quite a different point of view. The bulk of his analysis involves charts and diagrams which I can't easily post here, so please look for it appearing here:

See also his comments on the commission itself here:

Daniel Wimberley: Main submission, part one

Note to commissioners: this first part of my main submission focuses on just one class of member - the Constables.  I will deal with all other issues in part two.


It is my firm belief that the Constables should not be in the States.  This would not weaken the parish system, quite the reverse.
The arguments are very clear.  First, their presence in the States contradicts the principle of fair representation - that each vote shall be of equal weight. With the Constables in the States some voters are worth very much more than other voters.
Any attempt to keep the Constables in the States and then to correct the unfairness will generate an equal and opposite anomaly.
Second, they are mostly not elected in the normal sense of the word.  Some become Constables unopposed.  Many remain Constables unchallenged. This suggests that their role is seen as non-political, which is borne out by their being in the States ex officio.
I think it is generally accepted that they are seen primarily as 'mother or father of the parish' and only secondarily as politicians - people who decide on policies, programmes and laws affecting the whole island. This is not a criticism, just a statement of fact.
This issue of the Constables not being elected is linked to the question of democracy within the parish system and how the parish system can and should be rejuvenated.
Third, and no doubt linked to the preceding, the Constables, as a group, do not do their fair share of States work.  I present detailed evidence to show that this is so, just as it was 10 years earlier, when Clothier did the same research.
This is highly relevant when there is so much talk about reducing the number of States members.  It also raises the question of remuneration.  They are not paid for the work they do in their parish, for which they are "elected", but they are paid, the same as other States members, for doing the work which they do ex officio.
So there are real problems with the Constables being in the States.  They contradict the principle of fair votes; they more often than not are not elected in the normal sense of the word; and they do not do the same amount of work as other members.
Those who defend the position that they should be in the States mainly argue from tradition and they say that the Constables being in the States is a vital support for the parish system.  They also say that the Constables represent the views of their parishioners in some special way.
I suggest that we must be mature and discerning in our approach to tradition, not slavishly following it but selecting what to keep and what to discard.  I show that maintaining and enhancing the parish system depends in no way on the Constables being in the States.  And I show that the notion that they represent the views of their parishioners in some special way is deeply flawed.
I close by pointing out the political function of the Constables and why it is so important to the ruling group that they stay in the States. I do this so that it is completely in the open what is at stake here politically. [1] This helps the public, the Commission, and anyone reviewing this process for whatever reason later on.

[1]    For example, it helps to explain why the Electoral Commission was changed by the States, at the prompting of Senator Bailhache, now the chairman of the Commission, to be non-independent. I would prefer not to be cynical like this but unfortunately all the other signs point the same way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess the 10% rule wipes out your argument to keep the Constables being voted in per Parish!