I count the leading figures of Jersey's “Reform Jersey” political party among my personal friends. I wish them to remain so, thus I shall take pains to be temperate in this critique of their latest tactic. However, I disagree with it too strongly, not to challenge it at all.
(Background for non-Jersey readers: The island has a unicameral parliament, but with three different modes of election for the members, having different titles for functionally the same office.)
Senator Zoe Cameron was frozen out from working on her subjects of special interest and competence by the Council of Ministers, was totally ineffectual and rapidly became disengaged. To her credit, instead of serving out her full term as a waste of space, she admitted her failure and stood down so that another could put her seat to better use. So, we have an island-wide by-election to look forward to.
The purpose of a by-election is to replenish the House to its full complement of working members, that is all. The ballot asks no other question of voters than, which of the candidates do they prefer to take office. In practice, for many voters, the choice is who is the least unacceptable, rather than whom do they want, but it is still about filling a vacant office with another holder.
Reform Jersey have disappointed me greatly, by putting forward Deputy Sam Mezec as a candidate for the by-election. Now, this is not going to be an ad hominem attack on Sam: I know him personally, like him a lot as someone to talk with about our mutual interests, and I approve of him as a politician. However, I believe that his candidature in this election is wrong in principle on multiple levels.
The first objection I have is that Sam is already a member. If we vote for him, and he wins, then we have made no change at all, but simply delegated the choice of who the new member eventually is to the electorate of Sam's current constituency as a Deputy. This is an abdication of our democratic right to no discernable benefit. We have no idea who the candidates would be in the consequent by-election there, and, moving from principle to strategy, it is one of Jersey's most bipolar constituencies, with a track record of electing both very right-wing and very left-wing candidates to its multiple seats, so we can hardly count on them to give us another in Sam's mould, even if Reform Jersey offer them one.
My second objection is that Reform Jersey are justifying the plan with some sophistry about how a vote for Sam serves as a referendum on the proposed Medium Term Financial Plan. No: As I said above, the vote chooses a new Senator, that is all. It is quite possible to disapprove of the MFTP and also want to see one of the other candidates become the new member of the House, and totally impossible to legitimately deem votes on an explicit question of who should be elected to office as referendum votes on another matter entirely. I am pretty sure all the RJ leadership are sharp enough to understand that, so to suggest otherwise is a cynical ploy that I am somewhat less than proud of them for stooping to. Disowning them as friends would be a gross over-reaction, but I am not going to pretend I approve of the duplicity.
A more trivial objection is simply this: Elections have a substantial cost, to the public purse, to the candidates and in the time of honorary officials and volunteers working pro bono publicae. To contest an election with an intention to simply cause another is an irresponsibly wasteful plan.
Now RJ have announced this, they are pretty much obliged to go through with it. So, I shan't waste my time calling on them to think again. I can address my fellow voters, though. If you have no sympathies with Reform Jersey anyway, do what you would have done. If, however, you are like me in wanting Sam to be in the States, we already have him there: We do not need to waste our votes on him now. By the time all candidates have declared, there will at least one credible and capable progressive candidate in the field, whom we can get behind to fill Senator Cameron's place to good effect.