Tuesday, 30 May 2017

An Apology, Chief Minister?

Collective Responsibility: An Apology, Chief Minister?

"On 20th May 2014, the States adopted the States of Jersey (Amendment No.7) Law which included the introduction of the principle of collective responsibility to further enhance the effectiveness of the executive." (Strategic Plan Progress Update, Inspiring Confidence in Jersey's Future)

Mark Boleat, writing in 2014 said that:

The principal reason is that the Jersey electorate voted wisely and decisively. Ian Gorst now has a very strong position, which he must not hesitate to use. This is only partly because of the power that the Chief Minister now has to fire ministers, and the long overdue normal principle of collective responsibility being applied. 

Who was the Chief Minister who brought in this proposition, who said when passed that: "It was the right thing to do to bring it forward, have the debate and let the democratically elected members of this assembly make its choices."?

Why it was Ian Gorst, who now wants to scrap collective responsibility!! And who said in 2014 as he proposed it:

“The Assembly would be demonstrating that it expects individual ministers to adhere to the important principle of collective responsibility - representing and implementing agreed policy as set out in the Strategic Plan approved by the Assembly. This would result in a much more efficient and effective system of government for the Island.”

I have no objection to that, but I would like to hear five little words: “I apologise. I was wrong”.

It is often notable that those bringing a proposition which contradicts an earlier stance hope the public have short memories. 

So here are a few statements from 2014 on collective responsibility, and why it was supposedly needed. I wonder what arguments those flip-flop politicians who nailed their colours to Ian Gorts's ship will use to discredit their own arguments and come out against it. 

Will they admit they were wrong, and it didn't work out as it was supposed to? That would be an honourable thing to do, but honour is perhaps in as short supply as it was in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Let's be fair here. I am willing to accept that collective responsibility was an attempt to improve the running of Government, but if it has failed, let the politicians who spoke in favour, or who brought the proposition, be honest in saying so. Let them admit they were mistaken, but acted in good faith.

I disagree with the idea, very much for the reasons given below by Senator Francis Le Gresley and Senator Ian Le Marquand, two very capable politicians who would have felt unable to take office under Collective Responsibility. They highlight the problems: that it stifles dissent, and that the best argument can never reach the States because it can be killed off by Collective Responsibility.

One of the most obvious defects was the proposition by Andrew Green to site the hospital on the Town Park. It was opposed by the Constable, and all the Deputies of St Helier... except Rod Bryans, who had to keep silent because of Collective Responsibility which trumped his representation of the St Helier electorate.

And Assistant Minister Tracy Valois was silenced as a member of the Treasury Minister's team, left out of the loop, and finally resigned so she could speak out. This is hardly harnessing talent!

And recently, with the Innovation Fund, we have seen that Collective Responsibility can simply mean that,  as Gary Burgess put it: "the tangled web of political responsibility in Jersey appears set up to ensure enough grey areas, meaning there's never really one person you can pin wrongdoing to."

From a more cynical perspective, Collective Responsibility was introduced in order to silence dissent within the Council of Ministers, not just the more obvious mavericks like Deputy Duhamel, but also moderating voices like Francis Le Gresley and Ian Le Marquand. Far from bringing about greater efficiency in decision making, it brought about a culture in which initiative was stifled, and where mistakes could continue because like lemmings, the Council was committed to one way.

From 2014, on Collective Responsibility

Chief Minister, Ian Gorst , proposing the change:

If I turn now to collective responsibility. The changes proposed: the draft law would, for the first time, introduce collective responsibility for the Council of Ministers. As a result Ministers would be held to account jointly for decisions made by the Council and for policies proposed by the Council.”

I want to go right back to Deputy Baudains opening remarks. He, I think, in those opening remarks acknowledged some of the problems with the current system. Perhaps it is just that we do not agree on what the solutions are. I think he acknowledged that.

But one of the things he said was that we needed to get around this silo mentality and that is why for me the collective responsibility around the Council of Ministers’ table is important. We absolutely do need to get round that silo mentality and we need to make sure that when we are having those difficult discussions, which we have, there is a mechanism in place whereby we are encouraged to reach agreement.

Other Ministers have said: “Well, a Chief Minister should be able to do it without making these statutory changes.” To some extent, I can accept that argument because I believe that this Council of Ministers on the whole, by and large, has made the current system work in the best way that we can. But I equally admit that it has taken us far too long to deal with some issues because of that process we have had to go through. That is why I support these changes because I have no doubt whatsoever they are going to create a system of government which is more effective, more efficient but for me the most important change that this will deliver is that it will make that system more accountable

Senator Francis Le Gresley, speaking against it:

It is about leadership, and the Chief Minister of our Island has to be the best leader that we could ever find out of the candidates who are elected into this Assembly, and leadership is about bringing people together, driving the agenda and achieving what the public have elected us to do, which is to run our Island in the most effective and efficient way. Leadership is so important, and leadership should not be directed by laws or by changes as proposed in this proposition. A true leader does not need all these additional powers. It is a weak leader, in my opinion, who needs these powers.

So we come to collective responsibility. Now, I know that I would never be able to serve if I had continued in a Council of Ministers with collective responsibility, because, as has been made quite clear, without party politics we are all independents. We all have our own strong views, we have put out our manifestos for the public during the elections and then we try, and what happens is when we come to a new Council of Ministers we all put our manifestos into a pot, if you like, and we try to come up with some policies that we can all sign up to.

But the point that I am trying to make is when it comes to sitting in this Assembly, even though the Council of Ministers may have decided on a particular way that we might accept a proposition, perhaps from a Back-Bencher, you have to listen to the arguments. What is the point of coming in here and just knowing that you are going to vote a particular way before you have even heard the arguments?

So you will end up with, to a certain extent, yes-men or yes-women, which is not the best way when you only have a small pool of people to choose from

Senator Ian le Marquand, speaking against it

Undoubtedly, however, the centralisation of power will produce an increased polarisation in this Assembly and Members need to be aware of that. Undoubtedly there will be a danger of a monochrome Council of Ministers because people of conscience who will find themselves constantly outvoted will not feel able to stay

Senator Philip Bailhache, speaking in favour

If we are going to have Ministerial government that is what Ministerial government means. The public expects and outsiders, outside the Island, expect that in electing a Chief Minister we are electing a political leader, someone who can give political leadership and who can be confident when he offers political leadership that at the very least his Ministers will support him.

The role of the Chief Minister is one of a powerless puppet. He has no authority over other Ministers. He can try to persuade but if Ministers do not share his political views - and because the Assembly elects Ministers and the Chief Minister does not choose them many of the Ministers might have different political views from his - it is almost impossible to persuade them.

Susie Pinel, speaking in favour:

If more power, and consequently direction, is imbued in the role of Chief Minister and if collective responsibility is adopted and it enables more effective decision-making, then it can only improve our current situation.

Paul Routier, speaking in favour

We need to have some sort of recognition that there needs to be a better way of doing things. We are failing at the present time to achieve some of our policies because we are not as joined-up as we should be. Those Members who were worried about collective responsibility, we need to think about the way decisions are finally made for our community.

Alan Maclean, speaking to Scrutiny:

 I do support the principle of collective responsibility. 

1 comment:

Jersey Action Group said...

Senatorial Hustings, St John - Chief Minister Ian Gorst vociferously defends Collective Responsibility and tells the audience that without it we won't have independent politics and we will have to give way to Political Parties.

JERSEY MAY 25th 2017
Jersey Chief Minister Ian Gorst has said he intends to bring proposals to change the executive structure of government to the Assembly before the end of the current session.
He told the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel yesterday he was to bring a raft of proposals and, among them, would be the repeal of collective responsibility. Under collective responsibility, all ministers must support cabinet decisions.
Mr Gorst said he would like more freedom to appoint assistant ministers who could work across departments. He also said he would like ministers to be able to also serve on scrutiny panels.
Video of the hustings Septemebr 2014 Ian Gorst pushes hard on Collective Responsibility


Teresa Bewhay had asked if the panel considered that having collective responsibilty means that the Council of Ministers becomes a Political party.