Tuesday, 1 October 2013

PPC: A Voice of Common Sense

"Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget,
For we are the people of England, that never has spoken yet." (G.K. Chesterton)

There has been an extraordinarily vitriolic response from the editor of the Jersey Evening Post, Chris Bright to the latest proposals for reform from PPC:

"In essence, the 47-Member structure now on the table would, if approved, consist of six Senators, 12 Constables and 29 Deputies. However, the allocation of Deputies among the parishes would be changed to increase St Helier's quota while - and this beggars belief - depriving St John, Trinity and St Mary of this category of representation." (1)

The bias can be seen by contrasting this with the much more "matter of fact" presentation by the BBC which notes:

"The number of deputies representing each area is based on population figures from 40 years ago and has been shown to favour smaller parishes at the expense of more populous ones."

"Once elected, Connétables and deputies have identical voting rights." (2)

The misleading impression which the Jersey Evening Post - and some politicians are suggesting - is that three Parishes will lose all representation in the States. The JEP leader says these proposals are "depriving three parishes of representation". That's sloppy journalism, and it is untrue.

You don't need to be a supporter of Option A, or for that matter Option B, to see that the smaller Parishes, and St Mary, in particular, are hugely over-represented. A Parish that size can hardly place very onerous duties on its Constable like that of St Helier, or even St Brelade, where it could almost be considered a full-time occupation. There is no reason whatsoever why the Constables of those Parishes should not spend more time as representing their Parishioners as States members.

Lewis Baston is a Senior Research Fellow of Democratic Audit, a research organisation based at the University of Liverpool. He also has assisted a committee of the States of Deliberation of Guernsey in advising on electoral systems in our sister island. He was commissioned by Advocate Mark Renouf to provide independent advice for a submission to the electoral commission, and he noted that "redistribution of Deputy seats would achieve more equality of numbers without changing long-established constitutional features like the representation of Constables. "

He also noted that if the de minimis level of representation for a Parish is a Constable, then greater voter parity can be achieved with no loss of the Constables and Parish system:

"If this de minimis is reduced to that of a Constable and no additional Deputy (after all, a Constable is a Deputy with an additional local role, and in many jurisdictions individuals may combine local and national office), greater equalisation is possible without increasing numbers. Removing Deputies from St John, St Mary and Trinity, and adding them to St Brelade-2, St Clement and St Helier-3, reduces variability to 14.2 with no increase in size. It would also reduce the spread between the most and least represented electors with the smallest (St Mary) being 84 per cent of average and the largest (Trinity) being 128 per cent of average" (3)

And he was in favour of retaining an overall threefold representation of Senator, Constables and Deputies.

PPC is in line with this thinking:

"The Committee considers that the principles of fairness of representation must override any such concerns. If representation is linked to the size of population, it is inevitable that smaller parishes will have fewer representatives and if Connétables are to play a full and meaningful role as members of the States, there should be no difference for residents if they are represented by a Connétable or a Deputy in the States. PPC believes it would be quite wrong to allow smaller parishes to have more than their fair share of representation."

The retention of Senators is one thing that was most regretted by those who voted for Option C. Invariably, because they didn't want to lose Constables as well, a number of second votes went to Option B rather than Option A. But having conducted a random survey at the time, it is clear that this was very much seen as the lesser of two evils.

Contrary to the Electoral Commission's decisions, I suspect most people, outside of those who live and breath politics, resent the loss of Senators. The question the Commission never asked was: should the Senators remain in the States - Yes / No. Instead we had a fudge, where two options excluded the Senators and all that remained was the status quo. That can hardly be considered asking public opinion on the retention of the Senators.

The fact that a number Option C voters did also have a second choice for Option B shows that they wanted to retain the Constables. But it is also clear that as a second choice, they did not want the loss of the Senators or the Super constituencies which were part of that Option. 

So PPC have crafted an interim measure which (a) keeps the Senators, with 6 places for election, as in previous years (b) retains the Constables and Parish system (c) adjusts the allocation of Deputies to make this give better voter parity. It is the best deal left after the States voted against Option B when proposed by the previous PPC.

"Following the rejection by the States of the large constituency model, PPC has considered whether or not the retention of the Island-wide mandate remains important for 2014.  The Committee is conscious that the Final Report of the Electoral Commission (see Section 5.2) showed that 58% of those making submissions to the Commission wished to maintain or even enhance the number of members elected on an Island-wide basis, whereas only 42% of respondents were content for the Island-wide mandate to be abolished."

But an alternative on the table are two propositions which are Option B plus tweaks. Let's be clear - those tweaks were either not on the table originally, or rejected by the States before the Referendum. They are new proposals, just as new as the PPC ones, and also like that proposals which have not been subject to a Referendum. For those options, surely the JEP leading article would be just as appropriate if not more so:

"The interim proposals now presented for debate represent exactly what the Island does not need - further desperate tinkering with the system."

Philip Ozouf 's tinkering gives an extra two Deputies to St Helier. Trevor Pitman's gives an extra four. Surely if anything deserves the adjective "tinkering", that fits the bill.

And Constable Phil Rondel's criticism of PPC's proposals could just as easily be levied at Ozouf / Pitman, when he says that extra "seats are wasted on St Helier and would give the Parish too much power". Fairer representation seems somewhat off his radar.

Regarding Geoff Southern's proposal of Clothier, there has been a lot of talk over the years - including that from Senator Bailhache (but selectively) of "getting back to Clothier". The difference between Deputy Southern's proposal and that of PPC is that they will put it to the public in a Referendum first. As Jeremy Macon explained:

"A yes/no referendum should be put forward for the public because we feel that this question is a clear question. Also we thought that if you tied it to the election period you get a higher turnout, make it an election issue and again it provides the public with the ability to give a verdict on the Clothier proposals yes, or no."

In fact it gets right everything that was wrong about the original Referendum - the timing at an election to improve numbers, a simple yes / no question. Only the JEP could think otherwise.

As for the Deputies who would have to fight other seats to remain in the States, let us not forget that the 1832 Reform Act in the UK saw a number of MPs vote for boundary and distribution changes that effectively voted themselves out of existence.

The great political historian Thomas Babington Macaulay was MP for the rotten borough of Calne. But for him, principle was important, and he spoke out passionately for reform. His speech which was admitted on both sides to be the best of the session. And yet he would lose his own seat as a result - he later stood as an MP in Leeds. He could have defended rotten boroughs and saved his seat, but he was more principled and courageous:

"We talk of the wisdom of our ancestors; and in one respect at least they were wiser than we. They legislated for their own times.... They framed a representative system, which, though not without defects and irregularities, was well adapted to the state of England in their time. But a great revolution came.. New forms of property came into existence. New portions of society rose into importance. Towns shrank into villages. Villages swelled into cities larger than the London of the Plantagenets. All history is full of revolutions, produced by causes similar to those which are now operating in England. Such, finally, is the struggle which the middle classes in England are maintaining against an aristocracy of mere locality." (Macaulay)

(1)   http://www.thisisjersey.com/jersey-evening-post/editorial/  
(2)   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-24282600
(3)   http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-case-for-option-c.html
(4)   http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/AssemblyPropositions/2013/P.116-2013.pdf


James said...

The comment from Lewis Baston:

a Constable is a Deputy with an additional local role

is actually the opposite of the truth. A Constable is a Constable who also sits ex officio in the States - so the States role is the jam, not the bread and butter.

This is unfortunate because the role of a Constable as "father of the parish" does not sit easily with the role of a modern-day politician defending a political agenda which will of necessity favour some parishioners over others. (Mind you, there are some Constables who are no good at either role).

PPC's resolution does make one significant change. Yes, six senators are elected - but that is all of the senators, not half of them as at the 2011 election. The possibility of sweeping eg Ozouf and McLean out of the States in 2014 might well cause alarm on the golf fairways and at Lodge meetings.

TonyTheProf said...

Historically, Constables have been very much part of the States. Strictly speaking they are there ex-officio but pragmatically there is no difference between them and Deputies within the Chamber.