Friday, 19 April 2013

Voting Rules and Collective Responsibilty

Dr  Jonathan Renouf pointed me to some useful background comparison stuff on the the Isle of Man government code of conduct  

He comments that:
"It deals more with what is forbidden than what is allowed (ie ministers must respect collective responsibility). They draw a very clear line around the Council of Ministers, which only includes Ministers, not their assistants. In fact, they don't call their assistant ministers "assistants", they are called departmental members, but they are to all intents and purposes what we would call AM's. They are excluded from collective responsibility with the exception that they must support their own minister."
He also points out that in the current set-up, Ministers themselves have on occasion voted against the Council of Ministers. That's certainly true, and Senator Ian Le Marquand did vote against the Council of Ministers on a rise in GST to 5%, honouring his manifesto commitment.
But Senator Sarah Ferguson thinks this is uncommon behaviour. The normative behaviour is for the Council of Ministers and Assistant Ministers to vote more or less in unison. She asks: "And do you really think that most Ministers will not select Assistant Ministers who do not agree with them? Or that Assistant Ministers who want promotion will not vote with their Ministers? Look at the voting records."
Again, a case in point is Deputy John Le Fondre, who did not agree with his Minister, Senator Philip Ozouf, and was removed, and another States Member appointed in his place. The Minister, after all, does have the power to "hire and fire" their subordinates.
My concern is that if there is a move to Collective Responsibility, which is certainly the way the Chief Minister wants to go, that the same safeguards that are in the Isle of Man would not be in place in Jersey. The Troy Rule, after all, was brought in by a backbencher, not by the chief architect of the Clothier reforms, Pierre Horsfall, who somehow overlooked that (along with much else of Clothier)!
The other factor which alters the dynamic is pay. If Ministers are paid more than ordinary backbenchers, or even Assistant Ministers, then there is an increased incentive for not voting against the Council of Ministers if you want promotion.
Those, as Dr Renouf points out, are hypothetical musings, and I agree that we should not pre-empt matters, but it is interesting that while Clothier managed to include what became the Troy rule in his recommendations, that there is no real consideration of this in the Electoral Commission's recommendations.
Instead this is what they have to say on the matter, after discussing the Troy rule:
None of this, however, falls within the terms of reference of the Commission. It would be for the States to consider in due course, if our recommendations were accepted, whether the "Troy" rule should be adapted or abolished having regard to the smaller number of members of the States Assembly. If the "Troy" rule were retained, it would be necessary to reduce the number of Ministers and Assistant Ministers to 18 so that the differential with the 24 non-executive members could be maintained.
We record that we have seen the draft interim proposals of the sub-committee appointed by the PPC to consider the machinery of government. There is nothing in those draft proposals that has caused us to revise our interim recommendation as to the number of members of the States Assembly.
In other words, unlike Clothier they do not consider it part of their remit to comment on the future of the Troy rule, and what the States should do. Clothier was forceful, but the Commission essentially passes the buck to the sub-committee considering the machinery of government. Those draft proposals are not, as far as I am aware, in the public domain, so we are in fact having to decide on the basis of  incomplete information. It would be helpful if Dr Renouf perhaps have some indication of what the sub-committee's drafts look like.
The review of the machinery of government went to public consultation, and I made a submission, as did Mark Boleat. Our submissions both agreed on the key question which relates to the Troy rule:
He wrote:
Should the Executive continue to be forced to seek consensus by being outnumbered in the States?
Yes; this is a normal part of the democratic process, but it does require collective responsibility to operate, otherwise there is a danger of paralysis.
And I wrote:
 Should the Executive continue to be forced to seek consensus by being outnumbered in the States?
This is a good safeguard against the abuse of power, and in fact, I'm not sure of any occasion where the Executive has brought a proposition which has fallen through being outnumbered. On several occasions, however, Terry Le Sueur's Council of Ministers took a swift recess to discuss and change their opinions on propositions to avoid being outnumbered, which was no bad thing.
While there are no political parties, there are political alignments (clearly visible in voting patterns), and these usually work in favour of the executive anyway. Reducing the need for consensus would therefore not be a wise move.
The Review of the Machinery of Government is one of those shadowy consultations, which is not nearly as high profile as the Electoral Commission, and has been going alongside another consultation on the Jersey Election Laws (which may look at election deposits). But as can be seen, it clearly dovetails with the work of the Electoral Commission,  and the terms of reference should have looked at this in more detail, because it is significant with respect to this question.
The unwillingness of the Commission to share the information about that question asked in the Machinery of Government Review means that we have to speculate about how a smaller States might work. They may have seen the draft report, but for the rest of us mortals, it is a matter of speculations in the dark.  "We've seen the draft,. " with the implication "and you can trust us" is simply not good enough. It's a lazy way opting out.
So in answer to the question asked:  "why let the evidence get in the way, when there's a pre-formed opinion waiting to be deployed"?, we have to speculate because only the Commission is privy to information which would help us see how the Machinery of Government may alter. There is a lack of evidence, which perhaps Dr Renouf could rectify? I don't take quite the cynical line of Sarah Ferguson, although one should consider worst-case scenarios, but I would welcome more information so that I could make a better informed decision.

1 comment:

Nick Palmer said...

I think all the characters such as Bailhache, Don Filleul, the Constables, the foot stompers, Ozouf and establishment types generally ignore that B (in particular) but also C, increase the democratic deficit and the all-Island mandate and general fairness of representation for one main reason. It's implicit in their rhetoric but rarely explicit.

It's this. They have an unswerving belief that Jersey is in the position it's in because of the fantastically good job that past "giants" of Jersey politics did. Their default position now is that they instinctively feel that any change to the system that created that "success" must be resisted for pragmatic reasons. They don't want to kill the goose they think laid the golden eggs.

They feel the "Jersey Way" delivered before which led to us having "money coming out of our ears", so must be preserved as much as possible so it can do it again. Thus, small matters like fairness, equality of opportunity and representation should be paid lip service to, to keep the unwashed hordes quiet, but quietly shoved onto the back burner ASAP while the "more important" stuff is dealt with by the inheritors of the mantle of the "giants of Jersey politics'."

J'accuse. I think a large part of Jersey's past success was reminiscent of how Jed Clampitt succeeded in "The Beverly Hillbillies". They got lucky.

Considering the amount of global money looking for safe havens at the time, and the relative lack of other offshore tax havens as competition, I can't believe that we couldn't have got so rich that we could have done away with income tax altogether and had fully funded social services etc, like some sandy places with oil under them currently do.

In short, I'm saying they were nowhere near as competent as they thought they were and could have done a far more lucrative job.

Looking back now, with the enormous sense of hubris that the establishment have, they think their progenitors must have been pretty amazing and only they can clearly see this. They think all the people calling for those little nit-picky other things don't know they're born.