Monday, 5 August 2013

Return of the Bolt-Hole?

Reform is back on the agenda, with propositions by Trevor Pitman and Philip Ozouf, which are essentially tweaks to Option B; there is also the option which Philip Ozouf finds acceptable, of a return of the Senators, albeit in a diminished form.
I can't see how the Senators can continue as things stand. Existing Senators may stand again, but it is almost certain that no Deputy will stand as Senator and risk a political career on an Islandwide decision. No Constable as far back as I can ever remember has ever stood as Senator, usually the move is from Deputy or Senator to Constable.
So where are the extra candidates of good calibre to come from? It will come from rank outsiders. And yet there are people saying that the Chief Minister, for example, should be a Senator, which doesn't leave much choice from existing States Senators (if re-elected) and rank outsiders - and with the exception of Sir Philip Bailhache, it is highly unlikely any of them will stand a chance of being elected Chief Minister on their first election to Senator if they haven't been in the States before.
That is no doubt why Senator Ozouf is trying to overturn the proposition which was originally brought by Deputy John Le Fondre. I made the following two predictions back in July 2009, when John Le Fondre originally proposed a one day "general election", and which, incidentally, Senator Ozouf supported.
a) There would be an increased risk of losing a seat, with no fall back position of Deputy. This would stop the abuse of people losing out on a Senatorial platform, and an Island mandate, then sneaking back in as Deputy (and sometimes even taking back the position which was the cause of their defeat as a Senator). But it would also mean that more Deputies might prefer to play safe, and stay with their local constituency. From looking at past elections, it seems that while Senators are elected more on Island issues, for Deputies, how they respond to the local Parish matters (and listen to constituencies) weighs much more heavily on the voter. Deputies can become Ministers, so one scenario would be to see more Deputies staying in safer seats rather than chancing a sometimes fickle electorate.
b) Because the Le Fondré proposal does not include changes to boundaries, and retains the Senators (and the status quo), this means there would be 12 Senatorial positions up for grabs, which is a lot to choose from! If Deputies prefer to play safe, this means that there may well be a shift to new candidates, who have nothing to lose, and existing candidates who feel established and secure enough to try again.
The States attempted to address problem (b) by reducing the number of Senators down to 8 from 12. But nothing was done regarding problem (a), and I have had personal contact from Deputies who have told me - after that change - that they would no longer contemplate leaving the relative safety of a Deputies seat (where they were polling top) for a Senatorial one (where they risked all). One has to remember that the advent of paid politicians has meant that it has become a career rather than a hobby, and there is added inducement for playing safe.
Senator Ozouf's proposals regarding Senators is essentially to shift their date back by a month; in other words, to allow Deputies to have "two bites of the cherry", a situation which has been to the advantage of Clarrie Dupre, Don Filleul, Terry Le Main, Paul Le Claire and Guy de Faye, to name a few.
As Ben Fox said of the original change:
"The drawback, as already been said, is you will not have 2 bites of the cherry.  Well the Deputies do not have 2 bites of the cherry and maybe if people know that they do not get 2 bites of a cherry, they might have the opportunity of putting a little more into it or recognising that maybe it is not for them as far as the public is concerned."
This was one reason why Deputy Le Fondré wanted one election day, to prevent Deputies seeking an Island wide mandate, being rejected by the electorate as Senators, getting back in as Deputy, and being returned by the States to the same position of Minister that they had before. As he said back in 10th September 2009:
"I believe my proposition is fairly close to what I believe the public wants, i.e. elections on the same day; not this present system whereby we have Senators and Connétables on one day and then the Deputies, as the also-rans in a way, 6 weeks later.  Interest falls, turnout falls and, in my view, democracy does suffer."
That happened on a number of occasions with Presidents of Committees under the old system, and it always come across - rightly - as a kick in the teeth for the electorate. They rejected an individual Islandwide on their political record; yet the same politician, the "also ran" has a second chance via a safer seat, and can be returned to the same position on which the island rejected them.
Do we really want a return  to that kind of abuse of the system? Or is it worth it for the price of allowing Deputies to advance to Senators, by providing a safety net? Those are the questions which need to be debated by the States before shifting the date of the Senatorial election. There is nothing wrong with Senator Ozouf raising them again, but it is worth noting the arguments for a single election day, which also included this contribution from Alan Breckon about falling interest in the separate Deputies election:
"I remember Deputies' election day last year and meeting Deputy Le Fondré at St. Lawrence Parish Hall and to say he looked as sick as a parrot is a bit of an understatement because he was well fed-up; it was a case of spot the voter.  What he said to me when I went into vote was: "You were right, single election day is what we should do" because the voters were trickling in few and far between because I think there had been a bit of exhaustion and a hangover from the Senatorial vote; I will touch on that in a minute.  The reason why - and I have had this in the past when I have gone around and knocked on doors in St. Saviour - people say: "Not you lot again."  Well until the last Senatorial election, I had not been in a Senatorial election before, so it was not me, it was somebody else.  But they were absolutely fed up with life-size posters, leaflets, media, now websites, and there were exhaustive supplements in the paper, and it was played out.  When it came to the Deputies - and I know because I have been there a number of times - we were in a hangover situation where your first job was to convince people to stay interested because obviously then you would have the Senatorial result and it may or may not have been what they wanted but they were exhausted, usually by a large number of candidates."
And the same point was made by Constable Len Norman:
"I supported a general election, I always have done, and I believe that if I voted against having a general election now, I would be a hypocrite and that is one thing I am not and I will not be.. what this will do, and I think it was proven when we had the duel elections for Constables and Senators last year, it encourages and excites the population more than having 3 elections at very odd periods."
While Deputy Macon pointed out another problem with different timings, and I certainly remember how wretched it can be to turn out in dark, wind, cold, rain:
"I think one of the differences that I have seen in the voter turnout between Senators and Deputies is the fact that the election is held in November where it is cold, where it is wet.  We know that human behaviour, as humans are creatures. darkness, as dampness, does have an effect on our behaviour.  It does make us stay more inside.  My concern is the proposal for an October election or is it to be in November because that does depend on my vote."
Likewise, Sarah Ferguson commented:
"The public are not stupid and they are perfectly well aware that this particular amendment removes the bolt-hole.  In fact I have been lobbied about this, the latest being on the taxi rank this morning as I came in, very much in favour of one election day.  In the U.S. elections they have them on one day.  On that day you vote for a Senator or 2 Senators, Congressmen and the municipality.  If you do not make it in the Senatorials, that is it.  You do not have the Congressmen bolt-hole.  It is nice to be able to have a fallback position but life is not like that."
Do we really want a return to the "bolt hole"?

1 comment:

Nick Le Cornu said...

The single election day is the democratic worm in the system. It is undermining all the old undemocratic structures and exposing them for what they are. The electorate wants to be able to structure the government and to have policy choice. The single election day allows the electorate to remove the entire government in one go and replace them with others. It’s this fear that is producing so much worry for the party of the government (the 21). They fear the “electoral moment”.

With half the Senators elected every six years there was always going to be a continuity of senior members to form the nucleus of a government. There is nostalgia for this gerrymandered system that excluded the electorate. From 2014 the position of Senator is dead.
The most sensible structure is the simplest – one category of States Member, all elected on the same day in constituencies of equal size.

The past weighs heavy on the present and the political elite are singularly incapable of delivering democratic reform that is not loaded in such a way as to ensure predictable outcomes. All they can do is dream of complexity and a system that is objectively undemocratic. Their preferred scheme, Option B, is also now dead.

The democrats on the new PPC have an opportunity to create a structure that embodies the democratic principles that were set out on Clothier and in the research (but not the recommendations) of the Electoral Commission.