Next month's referendum on States reform in Jersey won't be democratic - These are fears former Deputy Daniel Wimberley, who, while a politician had proposed the establishment of an Electoral Commission. Mr Wimberley is concerned that no campaign spending limits have been set and that there is no funding for campaign groups.
"It is absolutely essential that PPC do whatever it takes to ensure that neither side can buy the result by massively out-spending the other side. The Referendum Law is silent on this matter, but recently the States rightly took action on the level of expenses allowed in election campaigns, so that there was a more or less level playing field.
"I assume that PPC wishes to see a vigorous, exciting campaign. That is why I am asking PPC to use some of the under spend of the Electoral Commission to fund the campaign groups which will be set up. Then these groups can focus entirely on putting across their views instead of being diverted into fund-raising."
"This Referendum should not be decided by which side has friends with the deepest pockets, but by what is best for Jersey," said Wimberley. (1)
The Scottish referendum has spending limits, albeit very high ones. But is it possible to fix limits to people who are campaigning in independent groups? It is difficult, because it means the groups will have to work together as regards how they go around their campaign, and they may not wish to do so. There seems to be just one Option A group, but I suspect there are several different groups pulling both towards Option B and Option C. What resources do they have, and how that can be costed is difficult.
The Scottish Referendum gives also spending limits based on the percentage of votes the main parties won at the 2011 general election. The exception is the Greens who get a higher limit based on the £150,000 ceiling available to all registered campaigners. Outside bodies like Trades Unions also have spending limits. But it is very difficult to know how any limits could be set when we don't have a party system - the total for each side in Scotland is split between sides and parties.
Privileges and Procedures Chairman Constable Simon Crowcroft said the committee had no power in law to control spending: ""I sympathise with Mr Wimberley's concerns, however, PPC can only act within the law and there is currently no legislation in place to control spending in a referendum."
But is there really going to be an all out blaze of spending and publicity? Perhaps, but I would say that unfortunately, unlike Plemont, the Referendum is not really engaging with the public at all. What I worry about is a 15-20% turnout, and how that is taken on board. Certainly as far as the online campaign has gone, on Facebook, and Deputy Tadier's blog, the results are pitiful. Compare that with the passion aroused by Plemont, or the "STOP the demolition of the historic buildings in Pitt Street and Dumaresq Street" - that, which is not nearly as high profile as Plemont, has garnered 671 votes!
As it stands, around 70 people have taken part in the latest online poll on the Referendum. Now there are massively more people online than that, so why haven't they decided to vote. Either they haven't seen the poll, or they are just not bothered. Option D - don't vote, is becoming the spectre at the feast.
What about expenses and Daniel Wimberley's concerns. Printed media is one thing, but online resources, such as websites and blogs are more difficult to cost, especially as a blog may not be 100% devoted to the campaign, and is generally free of charge. But suppose I want to produce a leaflet to take around estates in St Brelade or St Helier, or even randomly. Where in the law does it determine that I have to link up and aggregate costs with others also campaigning? Unlike elections of politicians, there are no provisions in the Referendum law on this, and it is far too late to bring them in at the 11th hour.
Daniel Wimberley is also worried about what role the media will play in the lead-up to polling day. That's an interesting one. The JEP has published a variety of letters on both sides, and also published responses to a license application regarding a public house in which two writers virtually called the Honorary Police "Dad's Army", painting a picture of geriatric defenders of the law, ill equipped to deal with violence. That certainly supports Nick Le Cornu's plans under Option A for the removal of the Constables from the States, and the Honorary Police from the Island.
So far the media seem fairly balanced on Options, and not deserving of the title given by one politician of "Jersey's Pravda". Daniel wants implement the idea to "insist that the media give the referendum sufficient prominence and cover it in a fair and balanced way." It's very unclear how much this is dictating to the media what news stories are worthy of covering, and that's surely an editorial decision, not one that should be forced upon them.
And how easy is it to check on column inches on each Option, or minutes in news stories on BBC and CTV? If a letter is in favour of the Constables, do we split that between Option B and Option C? If in favour of Clothier (and Deputy Tadier had a letter in the JEP about that), how do we "balance" that? Deputy Tadier favours Option A, but that letter was harking back to Clothier as an alternative possibility for keeping Parish links.
So while there are concerns, I'm not sure that they can realistically be addressed.
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