Thursday, 20 September 2012

It's a Small World

Bill Matthews, writing in the JEP, has one of the worst suggestions that I've seen for the States.

A total of 24 Members is more than adequate, representing: 12 from the parishes and elected by them, 12 from constituencies more adequately relating to the population count, i.e. North, 2; West, 2; East, 2; St Helier, 6.

. Each Member elected every four years on one Election Day. Eliminate the meaningless titles of Senator, Deputy and Constable.
. Continue with a ministerial structure of eight, with responsibilities subdivided.
While one cannot control democratic representation there is a strong desire to improve the calibre of membership.

So we have 8 Ministers, with 2 Assistant Ministers each, making 8+16=24. It's a small world!

In other words, at elections, according to Bill Matthews, everyone we elect is going to be in the government. No scrutiny, no opposition. Or if there are disagreements, they'll all be between people in power, which may not make for the most harmonious government. Quite honestly, this proposal seems to have been put together by someone who really hasn't looked at the States or departments much at all.

Scrutiny, according to Bill Matthews then is outside the States altogether:

Scrutiny cannot be within the House but should be in the hands of external groups reflecting Island life with clear training and expertise involved and realistic independence and accountability.

"Accountability" suggest they can be called to account, but "clear training and expertise" suggests they are selected for the position. So who can call them to account, and who can select them? And why does Bill Matthews think this improves democracy? Probably because in his vision, this means that scrutiny can be more like the Jurats, elected by a select group, not the public at large, and excluding those States members currently on Scrutiny who could be ejected from the States. Goodbye Trevor Pitman, Geoff Southern etc because you won't have "clear training and expertise". That's very accountable!

And how are the titles Senator, Deputy and Constable "meaningless"? Where has Mr Matthews been for the past 30 years?

Senator - Islandwide vote
Deputy - Parish or subdistrict within Parish
Constable - Parish (and in charge of Parochial affairs)

Now while you might say the titles are strange, they are not "meaningless". Functionally they mean something, and if Bill Matthews had bothered to do some work - or even bothered looked at the Commission website - he'd see how those titles came about historically. Archbishop, Bishop, Archdeacon, Dean, Rector, Vicar, Deacon, Curate all seem strange names to some people, as the Rev. Bill Matthews might be aware, but they are not thereby "meaningless"

The nub of what Bill Matthews has to say is here - "While one cannot control democratic representation there is a strong desire to improve the calibre of membership.". Translated: I really don't like certain States members and I wish there was some way of making a States membership that I approved of by legal means of controlling who can stand.

"The Constables are elected by the parish and accountable to them. The history in the Island of the parochial system is a good one and needs reinforcing. "

So you take the Constables out of the States? This is not the first time the curious argument has been made that the position of the Constables will be strengthened by removing them from the States which will somehow "reinforce" them. It's clear that in his system, the Constables are volunteers, unpaid - does he really think that whether in the States or without, anyone can be Constable of a large Parish like St Helier and hold down another job fulltime? Or is he hoping for an opening for retired people, such as himself?

Then there are the "management speak" statements in plenty, such as:

"The honorary system needs reinvigorating and expanding with more independence to encourage creative involvement."

"The strong voluntary principle engages and stimulates the involvement and commitment of Islanders so that local responsibilities are increased and improved."

Has Bill Matthews been taking lessons from Alan Maclean, I wonder?


Anonymous said...

Bill, like so many in Jersey has presumably never tried to raise an unpopular cause or need with the elcted 51.
It is all very well if you are part of the cosy club and fit in with the regular order of things but it is amazing how scarce our elected representavives become if you want to challenge a decision of a Department or Parish.
Comflicts of interest abound at all levels in this little Island not to mention the idleness of so many States Mambers when it comes to doing some original research when (for example) a 'phone call to a friend is not enough to fix a problem.
We need more representation, not less.

TonyTheProf said...

Interesting that Senator Bailhache takes the same line (with Mr Kirkby's hearing) on small numbers:

Senator Sir P.M. Bailhache:
Can I just test this idea of the numbers? Forgive me; it is not a critical testing at all. I am just wondering how you arrive at 25. At the moment we have 10 Ministers and we have a number of Assistant Ministers as well. The theory that was expressed when ministerial government came in was that you should always have a number of Members who would be able to challenge ministerial policy and so on.

TonyTheProf said...

He goes on:

"I sense that your view is that is inefficient. You can get a much smaller number of people involved. But does your drive to efficiency prevent a kind of democratic expression of different points of view, which clearly there are, throughout the Island."

As I've said before, although I don't think he should be running the Commission (but that's a political issue), I think he comes up with a lot of good questions in these hearings.