Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Option A: Modernise or Die

This is one of Nick Le Cornu's observations on Option A (which he is supporting) and the Status of the Constables, with some of my comments:

"There is no doubt that Option A will change the status of the Constable and of the Parish. Whether that is to the detriment of those institutions depends on their ability to modernise and democratise. Meager attendance at parish meetings and the absence of contested Constables elections in 9 of the 12 parishes in 2011, are indicative the system is moribund. It is part of the malaise that sees 60% voter abstention at elections."

"To date, the Constable in the States, has been the political veto to alteration in the power balance. Structures and institutions have been protected that would otherwise have been reformed and possibly abolished long ago. The Honorary Police have survived against the logic of an island wide Paid Police force."

Nick sees the Parishes as moribund, and a reactionary force in the States, and most of the Parish structures are ones that "would otherwise have been reformed and possibly abolished long ago." As for the honorary police, they have "survived against the logic of an Island wide Paid Police force", which is what he wants.

Simon Crowcroft was one of the Constables returned in the last election unopposed. Presumably he is therefore an example of the moribund system, or just perhaps he was doing a good job as Constable so that an election would have been more or less a foregone conclusion. That of course, is an option that Mr Le Cornu doesn't seem to see.

This also rather goes against what other supporters of Option A are saying, that they want to strengthen the Parish system. Mr Le Cornu doesn't - he wants an end to the honorary system, and a weaker Parish system, and sees Option A as a step in that direction. It's a sharp contrast to Simon Crowcroft's comment on a "unique living tradition of Honorary Police".

"Parishes and Constables will not disappear overnight were Option A to be implemented. Constables will undoubtedly stand and be elected as New Deputies, but their role will change. They will be expected to commit fully to their work in the States. In a reduced Assembly that will be even more vital if the legislature is to function. Scrutiny risks marginalisation to Executive fiat."

"The larger electoral Districts are in effect creating miniature Senatorial elections. Senators have in the past been the more strategic thinkers and policy makers; an altogether higher caliber of individual capable of representing the interests of the political class. It has been possible for them to control and win Senatorial elections through the strategic use of the media."

I'm sure the Deputies in the States enjoy being told that they are less strategic thinkers and policy makers. Still, I'm sure Sir Philip Bailhache, and Senator Philip Ozouf and Senator Alan Maclean will like hearing that they are an "altogether higher calibre of individual" than the likes of Deputy Trevor Pitman and Geoff Southern, for example. I didn't really know Nick was so right wing!

"Parish elections have too often been subject to local issues and personalities. This is the favoured option of the political class, but for reasons of real politique and the balance of forces, they know they cannot exclude Constables. They may not pull their weight, but they vote loyally for the Executive."

I'd like to see some statistics to back this up. An equally good case can be made for the Senators largely voting loyally for the executive, or a particular cluster of Deputies. I did some work on this in 2008, after that election, and there were actually a group of Deputies who tended to vote for the Executive more than the Constables did. Of course, as the Constables are a different class of States member, their voting pattern tends to stand out more, but that's a false perception. The pattern is about the same as that of the Senators, but that isn't so noticeable, in voting the same way as the Chief Minister. There is a greater spread of votes for Deputies, but of course, there are more Deputies.

More analysis can be seen at:

http://www.electoralcommission.je/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Analysis-of-voting-in-the-States1.pdf

And really have Senatorial elections never been subject to personality matters? I think Nick would like political parties, but without them, of course, you are going to get personalities in the Senatorial elections. The giant cardboard cutout of Chris Whitworth that appeared at a few of the last hustings rather demonstrates that. But also Senators are selling trust in themselves, and their vision of Jersey. It's very much a personality matter.

"The real advantage of Option A is that through one category of States Member, it will create an individual who will be dedicated to doing that job exclusively. This, hopefully, will diminish the silo mentality and blinkered vision that limits horizons to the parish boundary and issue of yellow lines and speed limits."

Again, according to Nick, the Parish Deputies and Constables tend to limit their horizons to "yellow lines and speed limits". In that case, the Constables should be very silent when it comes to debates about any other issues, but they are not. It also suggests that the one category of States member won't be bothered about what Nick calls the limited horizons of Parish matters.

"What may emerge are individuals capable of dealing with island and international issues. It has to be said, that Finance has tolerated the absurdities in government structure and expense, because it has delivered political stability for decades. Now it is seen as an obstacle to good government, as they would perceive it. An electoral system that returns large numbers of backwoodsmen to the Assembly is regarded as detrimental to modern conceptions of business friendly government."

So here is Nick's idea of the current Parish system, one that "returns large numbers of backwoodsmen" who are rural yokels who cannot understand business friendly government and international issues. Obviously if you think that, you don't want to strengthen the Parish system, you want to take power away from it. And this is confirmed when he says:

"What we see is a cultural battle, but it is not a new one. Today is a repetition of the battles of the 19th century, of Liberals against Conservatives, of the Town against the Country, of the Manichean struggle of Jersey nationalism against the incursions of modernity in the guise of Englishness. Yes, the Jersey Beans, love their quaint institutions, and some Englishmen even go native and join the Honorary Police, but it's on its last legs. Like the Jersey herd, it only takes an outbreak of foot and mouth for it to disappear entirely."

Nick's idea is that the Parish will become more like a County Council, with lesser powers, delivering "a lower tier of quality public services", and if it doesn't, those will be taken over by central government. He doesn't use the word "feudal legacy", but he might have done with his invective about "quaintness". He sees the Constables as a "quirky detail of provincial identity".

"The Parish is not going to disappear, provided it continues to provide a lower tier of quality public services. Constables will just have to up their game if they are to survive. No more special pleading will be tolerated."

Nick is a supporter of Option A. His vision is to remove a lot of what the Parishes do and centralise it, and remove the honorary police, and he sees Option A as a good step in that direction; clearly he would like rubbish collections to be collected by the States and not the Parish, and taken away from the Parish:

"So many of the island's institutions remain only partially modernised and democratised. It explains why we have two Police forces, a Paid Police and an Honorary Police; twelve rubbish collection services all ending up in one incinerator in St Helier"

That's not to say that all Option A supporters think that; clearly they don't. Sam Mezec says "Having a local administration is an effective and cost efficient way of delivering services at the lowest level possible to the people." So who is right?

Nick has stood for election under a banner of "Time for Change", and has a blogsite in which his opinions are noted. He's quite a prominent political campaigner.

So it would be interesting to the general public, I think, to know how representative his options are within the Option A camp, or whether he is very much out on a limb. Or is it about evenly divided?

6 comments:

Sam Mézec said...

Tony,

The headline "modernise or die" I think, albeit an extreme way of putting it, is probably something that most, if not all, Option A supporters can agree with in principle. Obviously what will differ will be what our definitions of "modernise" are.

For me, modernise means removing undemocratic elements, innovating and reinvigorating. Something I think is only possible once the link between States and Parish is severed. Option B is "business as usual", no change to the Parish system.

Nick's logic that some things are better off dealt with by the States is one that I can't see how anyone could disagree with. Something shouldn't be done by the Parishes for the sake of it if there is a better alternative, and vice versa. Therefore, what responsibilities the Parish should have are the ones that they can prove as best dealt with by them. Having a dedicated Parish system separate from the States enables them to focus on their own public services more than if the heads of the Parishes are stuck in the States, which (in my view) means they will be able to more effectively take on more responsibilities. Whilst the Constables stay in the States, they will lose more roles, not gain them.

Whilst Nick is entitled to his view, I don't at all agree that the honorary police has existed despite the logic of having all policing done in one administration. I mentioned on my blog that actually, having volunteer police officers in the Parishes saves us a huge amount of money. That will continue so long as it's the better way of doing it. (Also note that Guernsey abolished their honorary policing despite having their Douzaine representatives in the States, so fat lot of good that did them).

I don't think it makes Nick right wing to say the Senators are often high calibre. I'm a socialist but will happily say that Philip Ozouf is an excellent politician who conducts himself in a professional way. I might disagree with what he is doing, but it's not a contradiction to say he is a good politician.

What made the Senators like this was probably the fact that their terms were twice as long as the rest. So they could be more long term and could do a job undistracted by elections.

The whole point in these new Deputies, is that they are a hybrid of the current Deputies and Senators. The problem that if we keep the Constables in the States, is that they will become the junior States Members. They won't have anything close to the mandate of the other 30 members to see through their manifesto commitments, nor the time to take on important States roles. This will be bad for both the States and the Parishes.

The exception to that will be the Constable of St Helier, who I think would have a legitimate claim to automatically become the Chief Minister, given that he/ she will be the politician with the biggest mandate.

To make a comparison, look at the Mayor or London. Both Mayors we've had specifically quit being MPs when they were elected so they could focus on the job. Had they been MPs too, it would have belittled the role, not improved it. They were hugely influential outside of Parliament, and the Constables will be the same once they are out of the States.


Sam

Sam Mézec said...

Also, one final point that occurred to me.

Undoubtedly there will be people in all camps that believe their Option is the best for a variety of reasons.

Some in the Option A camp will support it because they don't like the Parish system. I think they're wrong, but they are entitled to their view.

Would you admit that there are many who are backing Option B, precisely because they know it is the least democratic option on the table, and they want to make sure St Helier is as under-represented as possible?

TonyTheProf said...

I'd be interested to know if Nick shared your views on Philip Ozouf and Sir Philip Bailhache. Maybe he will comment.

You still have avoided the question:

So it would be interesting to the general public, I think, to know how representative his options are within the Option A camp, or whether he is very much out on a limb. Or is it about evenly divided?

I can see that you will do very well as an aspiring politician! Can we have the answer please, or shall I have to do a Paxman until I get it?

Sam Mézec said...

Please don't resort to a Paxman, I don't think I could handle it!

The Option A camps official line is that we think the Parishes will be reinvigorated and improved by the split. If there are people also supporting Option A that think the opposite, they are not in the majority, that's for sure.

And to be honest, I don't think Nick totally thinks the Parishes will die out because of Option A. To me it sounds like he thinks they'll die because those in charge of them won't have the initiative to make them survive. Which is an obvious risk. If the Constables don't seize the opportunity (which they risk doing if they continue to bury their heads in the sand) then the Parishes will die. But that will be their fault, not the fault of the electoral system. It risks happening regardless.

Ugh, It's Him! said...

I am in favour of both Option A and subsidiarity.

Nick Le Cornu said...

Tony,

Busy with banners and leaflets, so apologies for not replying sooner. Thanks to Sam for a defence.

Most of us have reservations about aspects of the two Options, A or B. I say two, because C is not an option; it is the broken present with its mass voter abstention and disengagement.

I object to the reduction in numbers. Scrutiny will be impotent. This of course is the intention. The Executive will be even more powerful than now. The complexity of government is beyond most States Members. Only two are currently lawyers. Traditionally it is lawyers that pack out legislatures in part because the interpretation of the law is their profession. Hence why we need better educated States Members in general.

The real point is that, for me, Option A embodies some fundamental changes that are crucial to the creation of a democratic States, a democratic Island and one where progressive change is feasible. These are: All elected on the same day, one category of member, equal and fair votes for all, equal size constituencies; inevitably contested elections (no pocket or “rotten boroughs”), the ending of the historical injustice of the political dominance of Country over Town (gerrymandered).

Since Option A embodies those things, inspite of imperfections, it is a symbol for hope and for change. To vote for A, is an act of hope; a belief that change really can come. To abstain or vote otherwise is a step backward; to resign oneself to passivity.

Option A has to win on the first round of voting to demonstrate the Public Will for a type of reform that offers real change. Remember, the Referendum is purely advisory. Any legislation has to be passed by the existing States under its present, flawed, structure. The likelihood is that the Turkeys will not vote for Christmas. They will filibuster; they will postpone any decision, so that in the end the elections are fought with the existing structure, thus preserving seats and pension supplementing salary for more individuals that might otherwise be the case under either Option A or B. Hopefully the electorate will be sufficiently astute to remember in the 2014 elections which candidates are confirmed Turkeys.

The Referendum has been bizarrely devised with three “options” less the “none of the above!” (which would have been an option), with the expectation it would deliver support for option B. Remember Option B is government policy as the Chief Minister has endorsed the retention of Constables.

The Referendum is a way of legitimising something that is clearly inegalitarian and rationally indefensible. The proponents of B know this and they also know they will have problems with the Privy Council when it comes to scrutinise the legislation. This will be the “Sark Moment”; the point when the British Government may decide to reject it and demand something unspecified but “more democratic” and kept throwing it back, until it really embodies the expected features of what is conceived of as a modern democratic system.

Significant support for retention of the Constables will be used to demonstrate the popular affection for a quirky but essentially much loved detail of provincial identity. Retention of Constables will be presented as essentially benign; when in fact it is a recognition of the present balance of forces. The Executive lacks the will to push through vital reform.

I hope that helps to clarify my position.

Nick

Option A - Toujours en avant!