Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why we should vote for Option A in Jersey's referendum on April 24

As chairman of the committee charged with presenting the Electoral Commission's proposals for next month's referendum I've had to keep my personal view to myself about whether the Constables should continue to have an automatic right to sit in the States Assembly.  However, with the approval of the referendum act yesterday, I am now free to speak my mind.

The Commission's proposals are set out in full in a document delivered to every home and available on the web ( and in the run up to the referendum on Wednesday 24 April there is likely to be a lively debate about which of the two reform options A or B, is better - or whether, indeed, we should just continue as we are (Option C). 

The problem with Option B which gives each of the 12 parish constables an automatic seat (and vote) is that it perpetuates the democratic deficit for St Helier electors.  Under Option B there will be 6 electoral districts each with 5 representatives, plus 12 constables: that will give St Helier (to be divided into 2 districts) just 11 representatives in the slimmed-down Assembly of 42.  That may sound like an improvement (we currently have 11 members out of 51) but it is still a long way short of the representation the St Helier electors are entitled to, given that our parish has one third of the population.  In contrast, Option A would create 6 electoral districts each with 7 representatives, so St Helier would have 14 out of 42 members in the Assembly, including the Constable if he or she were to stand successfully as a Deputy. 

It is vital in the upcoming campaign to stress that while Option A removes the automatic right of the parish constables to sit and vote in the States Assembly, but it does not stop them from standing for election as deputies.  Most, if not all of the current constables have shown that they are perfectly capable of discharging their parish duties at the same time as functioning as useful members of the legislature.

Option B not only allows the centuries-old under representation of St Helier to continue but it also means that voters in some parts of the island have more say in the government than we do - whereas it is a fundamental principle of democracy that everyone's vote should have the same value. 

Supporters of Option B will argue that if we don't have all 12 constables in the States it will spell the end of the Parish system.  In my opinion this is scaremongering: Jersey is not Guernsey, our parochial institutions are much stronger than in our sister island, with, for example, strong parish municipalities with particularly robust traditions of honorary service such as the Procureurs du bien public, the Honorary Police, the Roads Committee, the Rates Assessors, the Roads Inspectors, and so on - all of which will continue to function under Option A. 

Why does all this matter? some parishioners will be asking themselves.  Voter equity is important, I believe, if Jersey is to continue to be regarded as a jurisdiction that values fairness; in more practical terms, some of the political battles St Helier representatives are facing - such as getting the rest of the Island to contribute to the running costs of the Island's capital - will be much more achievable if Option A is successful in the forthcoming referendum.


Anonymous said...

It does not matter either way. If option A wins, PB will just discount it and push for option B anyway. After all, he is our king!!

James said...

Dare we ask... if we do select Option A, will you stay on as Constable, or will you step down and seek to become an MSJ?

Anonymous said...

Good argument Constable. Glad you have nailed your colours to the Option A mast.

Now all you need to do is forward your blog post as a letter to the JEP :-)

Go Team A!

Simon Crowcroft said...

James, I would expect most if not all of the Constables to seek election as Deputies (or MSJs as you call them.) On the subject of the nomenclature, I queried with the Electoral Commission why they had chosen the old title as it is confusing. MSJs would have been preferable imho as the new representatives will not be the same as the current Deputies.

Nick Le Cornu said...

One wonders how in 1854, when Deputies were first introduced, it was decided this new category of States Member should be called a député. Presumably this was an assertion of a Francophone rather than Republican identity and consciously anti-English.

I even suggested in my submission to the EC that the title of Deputy should be retained; but then I am such a romantic traditionalist.

The EC retained Deputy because it sounded traditional and conservative. It compliments the long standing position of Connetable in the States. Government policy is Option B as Chief Minister Gorst has made clear. He wants the retention of Constables from a mixture of real politique to get their votes now, and in the future as loyal supporters of the COM.

In reality the New Deputies are Old Senators slightly scaled down. Winning Senatorial elections is easy for the Party of Government because they command the media and can set the issues amongst the 40% of electorate that vote (remember 60% consciously abstain).

Tom Gruchy said...

I note that Constable Gallichan is leading a group of Constables in support of "Option B" but shall the Constables Committee be drawn into this either one way or the other?
It would be useful to allow the electorate to lobby the Committee directly - can this be done?
How might the expenses of the various campaign groups be monitored/restricted and is it appropriate for Constables (or States Members) to use their public facilities, salaries and expense allowances for campaigning purposes?

TonyTheProf said...

Simon, what are your plans if the Parish of St Helier decides it can do without a paid Constable and instead opt for a tender for a professional administrator so that the Constable becomes something of a figurehead?

Anonymous said...

Good to see you supporting Option A.
It's the only way ahead if we want real democracy in Jersey. It's also encouraging to see you putting your own situation as Constable aside. Another pleasing thing to observe is that finally you're not supporting the position of Bailhache. It was getting a bit concerning!
Looking forward to seeing you take renewed interest in the child abuse cover up. I was so disappointed when you said it was "time to move on" from it. You know this will never go away until it is resolved properly. By being a 'peoples person' again and not a pro-establishment figure, you will improve your status no end. Good for us, good for Simon. Win win, even if you loose!

James R said...

I believe the term Deputy - If Peter Crill's Memoirs are anything to go by, refers to somebody to whom, 'power has been deputed' - rather than somebody who is deputising for somebody else. I am proud of our heritage and support the retention of the term. I guess it doesn't really make a difference in the grand scheme of things though.

Anonymous said...

Constable, I have three initial questions as a ratepayer.

What would you do if you were not successful in being elected a Deputy in scenario "A"? would you still seek the purely honorary position of Constable?

Would you be seeking to turn this into a remunerated role?

Do you feel the Parish would be at a disadvantge if our Constable was not in the States and yet some others were successful in being elected to the States?

Nick Le Cornu said...

Good to see you on board with the Option “A” Campaign.

The under representation of St Helier was brought home to me yesterday when I serendipitously stumbled across a Petition to the Privy Council in 1886 by then Constable (Philip Baudains), its 3 Deputies (H.E. Le V. dit Durell; Clement Le Sueur. C.G. Renouf), various ratepayers and a Vice Admiral, demanding an increase in political representation of the Town in the Assembly to reflect its economic weight, tax contribution and population.

The 1881 Census revealed St Helier had a population of 28,020, whilst the eleven rural Parishes together only reached the figure of 24,425. Politically the Country Parishes had 33 representatives in the States (eleven Rectors, eleven Deputies and eleven Connetables), whilst St Helier had 5 representatives (the Rector, the Connetable and 3 Deputies).

Option “B” in the forthcoming Referendum on 24th April is a continuation of that same old game – the political under representation of St Helier and the social and economic interests of those that reside there.

Option “A” – Toujours en avant!

Philip Johnson said...

Yes, option 'A' is the best for Jersey and St.Helier.You need to stress that it is better for the Island as a whole.

Simon Crowcroft said...

Anonymous said...
Constable, I have three initial questions as a ratepayer.

What would you do if you were not successful in being elected a Deputy in scenario "A"? would you still seek the purely honorary position of Constable?

Yes. But as to whether it would be 'purely honorary' that would be up to the parishioners. I have been doing the parish job unpaid for 11 years, tho obviously I've been paid as a member of the States. If I were to be parish constable but not a deputy under Option A reforms it would be up to the parish to choose whether to pay me anything for continuing to act as unpaid chief executive or to employ someone else to do it; in the latter case I would have the time to do other paid work like teaching.
This question begs a further question of when the election for Constable will take place. At present, and under Option B, it will be on the same day, so you have to choose what role you want to fill. If Option A succeeds the States will have to work out when the election for Constables will take place - before or after the General Election. I think that most if not all of the current constables enjoy the combination of parish and States work and would stand for both positions, though clearly a constable who was unsuccessful in the Deputy elections would no longer receive remuneration from the States.

Would you be seeking to turn this into a remunerated role?
I've answered this in my answer above.

Do you feel the Parish would be at a disadvantge if our Constable was not in the States and yet some others were successful in being elected to the States?
I find it hard to imagine someone standing successfully for the constableship of St Helier and not being returned in the election for Deputy. Actually I think any constable worth their salt can expect to take a seat in the Assembly where all the elected members will have equality of arms for the first time since the Assembly was convened. Quite a thought, that.