DEPUTY Geoff Southern shows his customary resilience in the face of adversity, with his insouciant declaration that there was no damage done by the result of his latest Senatorial campaign.
On the other hand though, the statement held no trace of his other customary qualities of being good at grasping facts and interpreting figures.
All that he says beneath the headline is indeed true. Geoff's error is that it is not all that there is to be said. Moreover, the unsaid items are big ones.
As he belatedly admits, many voters saw there was no advantage in voting for him, as he was already in the States anyway. That much was always obvious, so the assumption that those many voters would not notice that catch was rash, to say the least. The key agendum of any election is to elect the candidate enjoying the widest confidence; economics and policing are subordinate issues. To have re-elected the sitting candidate would simply have moved the actual choice of the new member to a secondary by-election, in which most of us would not have got a vote. Thus, success would have been an own goal against democracy. Although the goal was easily saved by the electorate, the attempt to score it was a lower standard of competence than the JDA usually aspire to. And it damages the party to be seen as incompetent and anti-democratic.
Geoff's intention to show the JDA are a “serious political force” would have been fine, had we done so. However, asking the voters to endorse us as such is, like any big question, double-edged. The derisory thousand votes we managed to scrape answers us alright, but that answer is “Oh no you're not, hahaha!” Geoff sought enhanced authority, but instead it has been immensely diminished. And, as he ran as our candidate, the party has lost its credibility with him, and the JDA's other public representatives lose what added kudos they gained from being in the team. Now, that is damage in a very big way, for all of us in the party.
The by-election campaign was a still deeper misjudgement, though. Despite Stuart Syvret's 2007 declaration of intent to destroy the JDA, he and we aim a broadly similar policy raft at the same voters. In 2005, we assumed that anyone who voted for us would vote for him, too, and ever since, we have known that we shared the same base. Voting for him and us did neither any harm, but this time it was him or us. Stuart's relationship with his voters goes back a decade before the JDA was even formed, and they resented being asked to choose. True he has alienated some of them with his recent behaviour, myself included, but three and a half thousand still thought what he has got right made the rest worthwhile. Having been made to choose against us, that large body of voters will now be considering themselves JDA opponents, and it will be an uphill struggle to tempt them back. Worse, the personal acrimony towards a man so many are fond of has antagonised them against us, especially from people perceived to be his friends. For myself, as Syvret has pointedly snubbed me each time we have met, whether you put that down to plain rudeness or shrewd judgement, I have no friendship to betray, but some of my party colleagues have been closer to him, in the past, so public responses to private breaches look more disloyal than they are from the outside. So, we have thousands of our core voters at least resenting us, and in many cases seeing us as traitors. That may not be how it was, but it it is how it has been seen. And that, too, is grave damage to the JDA.
Not only has the campaign split the wider progressive cause in Jersey, but its failure has posed a risk of splitting the party. Many outsiders are urging us to dump founding members Geoff and Ted, while many others want to see the other founding members, Trevor and Shona, wash their hands of us, despite the establishment of the JDA having been their big project of the last five years. Yet, cleansing reputations by sackings and walkouts raises further problems in going on. Were anybody to bring a successful motion that Geoff be expelled for bringing the party into disrepute, we would all wonder who would be next, and lose trust in our own party. Besides, as the candidature was a Council decision, they would have to fire the lot of us en bloc, and there are not enough other potential party leaders in the membership to fill the gap we would leave. Even after quitting, the Pitmans would still be tagged ex-JDA for the next ten years, so they would salvage little public repute for the price of abandoning the party that has been more their baby than anyone else's since 2006. This kind of destabilisation is damage, too.
I am not sure that I liked seeing Unite's logo alongside our own on our adverts, either. Having been a TGWU member in the late 1970's, when Mostyn Evans was sacrificing his subs-paying members' interests to his political aims, I am not keen on trade unions getting political. I am still less keen on the prospect that the JDA could become, either in fact or in popular imagination, a paid front for Unite, or any other union. If the relationship is clearly and openly that they are backing us, that is fine, but if we are fronting them, and becoming the Jersey Labour Party by stealth, then I want no more part of it. Cosying up to the unions could be damaging, unless the JLP is really an objective.
After this, the JDA plainly cannot field any Senatorial candidates, and possibly not even any Deputies in 2011, and maybe not even in 2014 either. The party can endure as a means of organising teamwork between centre-left politicians and between their supporters, but it will now be several years of re-establishing its reputation before it can return to a party's real business. That is terrible damage.
So, Geoffrey, there is great damage done, actually. Jersey needs to develop party politics, and we want a centre-left one in the range. So, the JDA needs to go on, but it would be ridiculous to pretend that this has been anything other than a massive setback that has undone four years' progress. Politics is a numbers game like snakes and ladders, as well as in the sense you meant, and we are back at about square 3 now.
I second Geoff's closing remarks, though:
Keep the faith. The fight goes on.