The Jersey Establishment missed a trick when they carried out their infamous cherry-pick of the Clothier proposals for government reform. Most of the political representation for a Jersey citizen is by the twelve Senators: You get one Connetable and one to three Deputies, depending where you live, and then at least three-quarters of your votes are for Senators. That is quite important, as it lets in a wider range of politicians. To be a Deputy, you have to find an electoral district where most of the voters agree with you, and no other candidate there does, or come through the middle of a split vote for like-minded candidates sharing the majority between them, for want of a party to organise such things. To be a Senator, it is usually enough to command a substantial minority around the island overall, without having to find a concentration of your potential supporters. From the voter's point of view, picking six at a time from a slate of candidates enables a degree of ticket-splitting, in which both some candidates focussing on economic issues and some on social issues can be chosen, with a view to electing a well-rounded and balanced government.
Now, given that there is an inbuilt conservative majority in almost every one of Jersey's constituencies, the right-wing could have further consolidated their hold on power by seizing on the Clothier Report's recommendation that the Senators and Connetables be replaced by Deputies, for a single type of member. Just think, no more maverick populists soaring to the top of the polls as everybody's fifth or sixth choice, just a collection of bland parish bigwigs toeing the establishment line.
The tiresome rigmarole of the recent by-election, so needlessly caused by a wilful breach of an erstwhile Senator's oath of office, has once again set people to wondering whether Senators are worth having. Even amongst the progressive wing, with the most to gain from their continuing existence, “one class of Member” seems to some to be a more tempting principle than “Fourteen votes, not one”. This thought must be firmly and vigorously resisted. An all-Deputy Chamber will marginalise voters, and especially minority voters, and suffer a greatly increased democratic deficit. And “one class” will be the misleading spin put on this failure to fool unthinking electors into believing that they have been done a favour.
Some people say that Senators should serve an “apprenticeship” as a parish Deputy first. But to what end? The work is the same, the powers, or lack of them are the same. But if a candidate has confidence in another in their home district, or believes that the electorate will, then the only constituency where they can offer themselves as a resident rather than a carpetbagger is the island as a whole.
Perhaps the class of Member that should be removed is the Connetables. They are elected to be community leaders of their parishes, not the island, and voters may have different opinions of their municipal and state governments. Certainly, up here in Trinity, the Parish functions perfectly, but the States work no better for us than the rest of Jersey.
We need all the talent we can get in our government, and as strongly democratic way of electing them as possible. An all-Deputy assembly would be an impediment, not a boon.
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