Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Commuter Deputies

While no one seems to suggest, apart from perhaps Nick Le Cornu, that you have to live in a district to represent it, geographical proximity does seem to have been overlooked as significant. If you live in the next Parish, or the next District in the same Parish, you can be pretty close to the area you are looking to represent; you can be living in the same kind of urban area. After all, "Town" is a sprawling area which has urban boundaries that are not obvious. Gone are the days of the 1834 map, when it was tightly clustered, and Springfield was set around fields, and indeed, a spring which gave its name to the area.
 
I work in St Helier, but close to St Saviour's Road. It is not obvious where boundaries are. The same houses, the same urban landscape, have more continuity than discrete boundaries. So I can appreciate that people in St Saviours could stand in St Helier; the geographical picture of "townscape", rather than absolute Parish boundaries has expanded over time, and that defines in cultural terms more how people think of "Town" - the shops, the streets, the flats, bedsits etc. St Saviour's Road is itself misleading in suggesting a Parish, as a good deal of it is in St Helier.
 
But what if you live miles away, in a pleasant rural surroundings? How much of a feel for the residents problems will you have? Even if you work in St Helier, as Mr Forrest has done, how many Parish meetings have you attended? Do you know what the day to day urban problems are? And if you did work in St Helier, but retired in 2002, how much have you kept in touch with the needs today, rather than over 10 years ago?
 
These two names stand out as geographically remote:
 
Name: Gordon Forrest. Age: 58. Address: St Peter, Occupation: Business consultant
Name: Ian David Philpott. Age: 69. Address: Grouville, Occupation: Retired
 
These are almost at opposite ends of the Island - St Peter, and Grouville. Now there is a long history of candidates coming from leafy rural districts (where there are not as many seats) into the more urban districts to stand, but I really wonder how in touch anyone can be at that distance. There is an existential detachment from the location, and the problems of the urban Parish are very different from those of the rural Parish.
 
In fact, many people who have businesses in St Helier also live outside of St Helier; like Mr Forrest, they can be concerned with Town problems when it effects their business, but in terms of bad housing, noise, traffic - well, at the end of the day, they leave and go home to their rural surroundings. Can Deputies understand local issues without experiencing them on a daily basis, any more than other commuters do?
 
Those that are local residents or live close by in the Town's umbrella are probably more likely to understand local issues. That is not a requirement, of course, but it helps. If I lived in St Helier, I would be rather disgruntled with someone who "parachuted in" from a rural Parish.
 
If the position was reversed - if the candidates lived in St Helier, and wanted to stand elsewhere - in St Peter or Grouville, they would receive short shift. So why didn't they ever stand there? Why have they decided to throw their weight towards St Helier rather than their home Parish?
 
After all, Gordon Forrest's declaration that commuter services need improving is in fact a sensible policy for the electorate of St Peter, but for St Helier, where most commuters are pedestrians, it seems widely out of touch with the electorate.
 
And for someone of nearly 70 to suggest that the problem of drink can be solved in St Helier by raising the age to 21, as Mr Philpott does, seems like the kind of suggestion made sipping an aperitif at the country golf club with other elderly gentleman, and hopelessly out of touch with young people, or even young tourists, who would all need to be told in big notices in local pubs.
 
The answer, I expect, is that they think it is easier to stand in St Helier. St Helier's districts offer more opportunities than rural Parishes, where there may be more competition, and the people might not vote for them because they can see better candidates. It is a "safe seat" for them.
 
Does St Helier's electorate want "Commuter Deputies", coming in from pleasant rural districts, or has the tide finally turned against that well-worth path to easier electoral pickings? It will be interesting to see.

10 comments:

James said...

We do of course also have Roy Le Herissier, who lives in St Peter and represents St Saviour (but has historical connections), and Bob Hill (Trinity resident, but St Martin born) represented St Martin.

Messrs Forrest and Philpott may have historical connections into St Helier that you are not aware of.

TonyTheProf said...

St Martin and Trinity are close, and Bob is close to the boundary. If you read what I say, I think that a "next door" Parish is fine because of the arbitrary historical nature of political boundaries.

Forrest worked in St Helier, as did Philpott.

I lived in St Helier around 45 years ago, but I think it would be special pleading to use that as a historical connection! No tunnel under Fort Regent back then. And Roseville Street, where I lived, has changed considerably, especially near the top of the street. Most of the shops in Colomberie at that time have gone. And Little Green Street was little.

TonyTheProf said...

Quite surprised about Roy!

James said...

Tony

If you read what I say, I think that a "next door" Parish is fine because of the arbitrary historical nature of political boundaries.

Bob will tell you (as he told me) that a lot of St Martin constituents felt otherwise. There is nothing very arbitrary about the Trinity-St Martin boundary either.

TonyTheProf said...

All political boundaries are arbitrary in the sense that they are accidents of history. Replay the historical tape, and there would be no certainty they would come exactly where they did. That's what I mean by arbitrary - although in fact streams were often the basis of divisions, not every stream is a Parish boundary.

It is the same idea that Stephen Jay Gould uses with the term "contingency" in his book on the Burgess Shale - that a small change in the early stages of a sequence can produce large effects in the later stages:

"A historical explanation does not rest on direct deductions from laws of nature, but on an unpredictable sequence of antecedent states, where any major change in any step of the sequence would have altered the final result. This final result is therefore dependent, or contingent, upon everything that came before—the unerasable and determining signature of history."

Maureen Morgan said...

As the island is just 9 x 5 miles this really isn't such a big issue I would say. Transport links into St Helier are not irrelevant to town dwellers as the grid lock in town is a cause of pollution and unpleasant conditions for town dwellers.

I think these days it is fair to include a good chunk of St Saviour and St Clement as urban parishes, along with portion of St Brelade as regards living conditions.

I am currently staying with a friend who is pretty certain the St Helier/St Saviour border runs through his flat, the lounge/ kitchen in St Helier & the bedroom/bathroom in St Saviour! Technically he is in St Helier number 1.

TonyTheProf said...

I do suggest that the borders of "townscape" are wider than St Helier, which is why I had no problems with St Saviour's people standing - but that's very different from someone living in St Peter or Grouville, which cannot under any degree be that close, either geographically or sociologically.

TonyTheProf said...

I work in St Helier, but I am not, nor am likely to be a regular (if ever) attendee at a Parish Assembly in St Helier.

TonyTheProf said...

I lived in Roseville Street in the 1960s, so I have St Helier roots.

Maureen Morgan said...

One of the candidates (I can't remember who) stated on Tuesday night that they were born in St Helier number 1. Bearing in mind that it where the old Maternity Hospital was sited (now the La Bas Centre) that is probably true for all the candidates in both districts bar one. :-)