Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Parish of St Peter and the Electoral Commission

Submission No: 192
From: Connétable John Refault on behalf of the parishioners of St. Peter
Dated: 31 July 2012

Submission: The Parish of St Peter held a meeting of Parishioners to get a broad selection of views from them on the Electoral Reform. The results were as follows:- Retain the 12 Connetables - have 12 Deputies, one for each Parish and an further number of Senators with no agreement on number with Island wide representation.

There's been quite a bit of criticism about how many people attended this meeting, so I've decided to post this on it. I should note that I do think it is quite unfair to criticise John Refault without asking him for the details. If he clammed up, and wouldn't give details out, that would be fair enough. But in fact, I did contact him and he was perfectly willing to share the details of the meeting with me! There's no conspiracy here, even if perhaps he should have put the numbers - more on that anon.

"There were approx 20 Parishioners. The Parish meeting was advertised in the same way as a Parish Assembly including being published in the JEP Gazette.  The small amount of interest demonstrated may indicate the appetite of the general electorate on this subject and the energy being generated is coming from those motivated to bring about change."

The small amount of interest demonstrated may indicate the appetite of the general electorate on this subject and the energy being generated is coming from those motivated to bring about change.

I did ask those present to make their own submissions in their personal capacity as while the points put forward were those that reflected the strong majority of conformity, there were some individual and minor differences.

P.S. There was no vote taken but an agreement from all present that I would take the opinions forward as agreed.

Best regards

John R."

I'm not defending him in respect of not mentioning how many parishioners were present in his submission - but it was advertised in the JEP Gazette - like every Parish meeting. So normal practice was followed. It was probably also on the notice board at the Parish Hall. How many other Parishes have actually bothered to hold a public meeting like this? I know one Constable who has taken the decision not to because (1) people can make their own submissions (2) hardly anyone would turn up. I'm inclined to agree with him!

Now if a Parish Assembly decided on a Parish rate, that would also be the consensus of the parishioners at the Assembly, even if there weren't many present either. We don't always hear the numbers present reported in the JEP. In fact, the numbers present are immaterial. Anyone can attend. The decision on the rates is carried by a vote of those present. But when you consider how few people attend a rates meeting - which affects how much they are going to be paying - their chance to effect their own property tax - it shows how little engagement there is! The only rates meetings I can recall being massive was when former St Helier Constable Bob le Brocq faced a rates revolt over his vastly profligate spending on the Parish Hall, for which he expected rate payers to pick up the tab - that had to be held at Fort Regent and it was an angry meeting! Personally, I think that postal voting in advance would be a good idea, or if propositions are made at the assembly for different rates, an opportunity of a week after when people could submit a postal vote would be also good. Matters can be better, and should be.

I also don't think John Refault can be blamed for the lack of interest, which clearly was a disappointment to him. It is as likely he didn't put the numbers down because of embarrassment at the low turnout than any other reason. If I was Constable, I'd certainly be a bit embarrassed! It has been said that he didn't advertise the meeting properly, but in fact he did, just as any Parish meeting is done. In fact, the Jersey Gazette notices are online, so there's less reason for criticism than in the pre-internet age. You don't have to actually buy a JEP.

The fact that he was quite willing to tell me, and also that he asked those present to also send their own written submissions to the electoral commission, suggests that he is trying hard to get people involved. "I did ask those present to make their own submissions in their personal capacity" he also told me. But I suspect, it is flogging a dead horse, for the most part.
Let's face it, and be realistic about these matters - some of us live and breathe politics, but the vast majority of the people of Jersey grumble, but couldn't really care less - they have other priorities in their lives which they consider more important, a fact noted (for the general population of the UK) by George Orwell long ago in books like "The Road to Wigan Pier" where he describes the working man - "his vision of the Socialist future is a vision of present society with the worst abuses left out, and with interest centering round the same things as at present--family life, the pub, football". I suspect that's pretty true today. Even clever professional people whom I've tried to get engaged in politics have other matters to attend to - family life, travel, golf! But seriously, ordinary concerns of the everyday outweigh what most people see as pretty boring. They'll grumble. They'll vote. And that's it. And nothing much that you or I or anyone else can do will change much of that.
And who reads the Jersey Gazette much anyway - a brief glance sometimes, if you get the JEP at all? Or a quick perusal of the Jersey gazette online website (available for free). But that raises the whole can of worms as to how the Parishes in general communicate with the public at large. The States does better with the website, but people have to take the initiative and visit it. People who aren't interested in politics won't anyway. The electoral commission has done better with a leaflet sent to every household in Jersey - and look how pitifully few submissions that has produced. Submissions - less than 100! That's under 0.1% of people eligible to vote!
To make an confession, despite being interested in politics, I myself  have been to only three or four Parish Assemblies, twice in the time Len Downer - when St Brelade was convulsed by a grave miscarriage of justice in the case of Donald Lucas, and tempers were high (the large numbers meant it was held at Quennevais School), once to speak on the demolition of Chateaux des Roches, and one to prevent an ancient footpath from being moved for the convenience of a hotel. Usually, when there are Parish Assemblies, I have better things to do myself. And St Brelade's in particular, takes place at St Aubin, a location renown for its excellence of ease in finding many parking spaces - I'm speaking ironically! 

I do have an excuse, I need two hearing aids, and unless I'm virtually within arms length of people speaking, I can't hear them easily, which is also why I avoid most rallies. Hearing snatches of words and what (to me) is people mumbling is pretty pointless and mind numbingly boring. While there's a lot on access to wheelchairs, they are not the only kind of disability which precludes people from taking an active part at meetings, which is often overlooked. Sound systems are all very well, but unless the speaker uses a microphone, and there is a hearing loop system, bad acoustics can simply produce distorting echoes which are just as impossible to hear properly. Stone deaf people, of course, are pretty much wholly excluded. How they can follow and vote at a Parish Meeting is next to impossible, which is another reason for looking at better mechanisms for information and votes at assemblies.


Anonymous said...

I gave up reading the online gazette a few years ago when it appeared to cease being updated. A quick view shows that to have changed.

As for turnouts at parish assemblys and rate setting, see rate setting

I see the gazette online carries notices for other parish assemblys around that time, but not that of St Ouen written up in the above link.

Not that reliable it appears

Anonymous said...

Connétable John Refault has provided the proof that the position of the Connétable is of no great importance, as he was only able to command the interest of 20 people.

In his own admission, he was only representing less than 20 people, hardly worth a position in the States.

I would have thought it would have been more impressive if he could have proved the importance of the position by representing a sizeable number of Parishioners.

Mark Forskitt said...

Tony, Thanks for the reminder about the Gazette online. I've added it to the Jersey Today source sites.