St. Mary – WHO?

I have read the candidate manifestos in the red book that went to every house, and I went to the Hustings and took some notes. I cannot cross my heart and say I was terribly inspired.  I did write in the first version of this: “Nor can I say that any of the three is an absolute no no.”  Now I am not so sure.

Before we begin, Question: why cannot the parish video the proceedings and put them up on the web? And make audio versions available too, as my son did last time round?

So first some general things to bear in mind :  (adapted from the page on which way shall I vote)

1   DON’T VOTE FOR THE “OLD GUARD”

That is the gist of this website. The evidence is that they are

On ecological constraints (the planet is finite, therefore we have to find a new economic model to replace the model of endless economic growth) they simply don’t get it. And on such issues as LVCR and the continued success of the Finance Industry they sing an over-optimistic song. They could go for a Green New deal approach (click here for how this would work)  – but on present evidence, they just won’t..

I reprint my recent letter to the JEP which sums up these issues, at the foot of this page. It ends:

 “Voting for your own best interests means voting for people who will be honest with you, for people who are competent and for people who will act like a new broom.”

On the big issues the old guard either do not consult at all – e.g. on the right balance to strike between tax and spending policies – or they do false consultation.

So, do the candidates genuinely believe in listening? Do they want to honestly engage with the public and find out what is the best way forward? Or do they see themselves as “rulers”? That does not just mean holding surgeries or talking to people on the bus as certain States members seem to think, although that is fine and important. It means real, structured, consultation aiming to reach all sections of the community and with proper information.

And following the fiasco where the States were bamboozled over the true cost of the incinerator, I recommend you look out for the following:

  • integrity
  • Do they have an instinct for telling the truth?
  • And it might pay you to check the candidates for brains. Not one States member at the time spotted that anything was dodgy about the statements in the incinerator reports about the costs.
  • But brains are not enough. You have to have the attitude that goes with it, the determination not to be fobbed off, to get to the truth. At the hustings in St. John one candidate, Lyndon Farnham, criticised the hundreds of questions which are now asked and which are ‘a waste of time.’

2     SO, WHO IS THE OLD GUARD?

Yes indeed.

In the absence of a party system, candidates for the States just spring up like mushrooms. Observing the St. Mary’s hustings triggered these questions in my mind. Why are they standing? What is their experience in weighing up political issues? What gives them their passion for politics? Or is the key question in Jersey really – who suggested to them that they should stand?

3    THE IMAGINE TEST

A good test is to imagine.

Imagine they are being asked to vote for putting back money the Council of Ministers has cut from the capital programme in order to get on and build the Town Park. Which way would they have voted?

Or on my proposition to make it possible for serious cases of members misleading the States Assembly to be investigated and appropriate sanctions to be applied, by a body independent of the States. Which way would they vote?

Or when the Electoral Commission has done its work, and puts forward a proposal , will the candidate if elected tinker about with the proposal to make it fit with their particular interests before it goes to the public, or will they say: this goes straight to a referendum, I will not stand in the way?

Or on the amendment to the Island Plan to bring the land on which the former Plemont Holiday Village stands into the Coastal park thus restricting the likelihood of planning permission and bringing down the value, which way would they have voted?

Or on my proposal to tax the windfall  which landowners get when their land is rezoned or granted planning permission. This is big money. And it is pure unearned windfall, surely the public could have some of this, and not all of it go to the fortunate few? Which way would they vote?

On a Green New Deal to, for example, insulate every building in the island, would they actively promote this idea, along with other ways to bring about a sustainable economy in Jersey?

______________________________________________________________

And so to what the St. Mary candidates have said and written.

First a quick look at their manifestos, what key words jumped out at me as I read the opening paragraphs?

  • Ray Cooper (RC): health of Jersey’s economy, business acumen, States budget, spending policies
  • David Johnson(DJ): listen and consider, dedication to the community, competent and ethical government
  • John Le Bailly (JLB): parish system, empathy, maintain contact

They are very different. I make no comment, except to say that these are manifestos. Also, look for policy commitments. Look for direction of travel. So on to the hustings.

The Parish and parishes

When asked if more government business / administration should be centralised, all said no. JLB was strongest, saying rhetorically that there would be no need for the Parish Hall and this would lead to apathy.

Contrast what an acquaintance said to me at a function one day. He asked me: “tell me, why are there 13 waste authorities in Jersey? And 13 road authorities? It cannot be efficient can it?”

There is more to parish life than dog licenses. First, devolve to the smallest level what actually works better locally. Second centralise what is better done centrally. Third, the true focus of the parish team should on my view be the creation of a true community – meeting the needs of different ages, and different ethnic backgrounds, within the parish.

The answers were on auto-pilot, fuelled by assumptions. They all also said that they would go to all parish assemblies. Again, an answer done on auto-pilot.  One day the parish assembly may be a vibrant and democratic body, but in fact the parish system needs to evolve considerably before that day arrives.

States members’ pay – should newbies get less, Ministers get  more etc.?

All agreed with the questioner’s implication. All had no idea of the minefield which this question represents.

DJ said that Ministers worked harder, therefore should get paid more. This is simply untrue. Ministers have departments to arrange their diaries, present them with Ministerial decisions to sign, research policy initiatives. Ministers need the nous to direct the work. A conscientious back-bencher (like me!) does it all themselves, or pays someone to do research and / or write letters.

Clothier said that an essential part of moving to  Ministerial government was to provide proper support for backbenchers, including support staff, and proper library facilities, this is especially relevant as the States website is so clunky.  Of course this clear recommendation was ignored. This is the cause of some of the anger and frustration felt within the Assembly, the utter mismatch between the roles of the  Ministers and the backbenchers.

All of this is ignored by those who call for “fewer States members” as they all did.

JLB suggested that newbies should be paid half. Again, extraordinary. The conscientious newcomer has to work harder than the old boys and girls, for obvious reasons. I have always had an intense interest in politics, and I knew the inside story from my father, and even with those advantages, the beginning was tough.

RC Said that ‘the MD (Managing Director) would expect to be paid more.’  Well yes, in a way, the greater the responsibility, the more sleepless nights, the heavier the despatch box. Really?

First see above about work loads. second, we do not have a party system . So differential pay means that your pay depends on the favour of the Chief Minister.  As I pointed out in a debate on this very subject, little Johnny, contemplating a career in politics, will be advised to join the “ruling group” because then he is likely to be paid more.

I cannot think of anything  more calculated to create bitter division in the States, as well as founded or unfounded accusations of cronyism, toadyism, and any other ism.

Population

  • RC mentioned the dependency ratio moving from 3.9 to 1 now to 1.9 to 1 in future years. (dependency ratio = number of people of working age to each person beyond working age.) He then seemed to use this decline to suggest that increasing the population was part of the solution. Believe me, raising the population has a tiny effect on the dependency ratio.
  • DJ talked of “moving with the tide” and not putting out a ceiling.  I take it he is pretty happy with a population rising into the future.
  • JLB mentioned work permits, and sub-contractors bringing in non-Jersey workers. A bit more pro-active on this one. But no commitment n the overall level being capped.

Speed limits

A clear difference of opinion!!

  • JLB said that his feedback showed that people want them lower. He said that all the limits should be addressed.
  • RC said that the speed limits were “fine”.
  • DJ – sorry did not make a note.

GST

  • DJ: Keep it simple, no exemptions, protect the less-well-off via Income Support.
  • RC: exemptions on utilities and basic foods.
  • JLB: said (I think) that other jurisdictions had GST. I think he was agreeing with DJ but not sure.

Deposits for election candidates

All were more or less agreed on this one

  • JLB: asking a deposit would penalise the low-paid
  • DJ: maybe a deposit should be lost if someone got a very low share of the vote
  • RC: the candidates have spent a lot on their campaign, they lose that anyway if they do not get in.

Individual comments which revealed something about the candidates

RC: used the phrase “drive the island forward” in his opening speech. Think about that phrase for a moment. What is the way of thinking which underlies it? If you were a candidate, can you imagine yourself saying such a thing? Why not? Is that way of thinking what you want for Jersey?

RC: ‘Ministerial system is not working because of the quality of some members. ‘ I don’t think he means because of the quality of some Ministers, though he could have said this.I think he means because  of the divided house, the anger etc.  I have explained this here.

I think all States members now agree that we need to move back to something far more like the committee system, where the responsibility is shared out, where the Minister is not isolated in his/her department, where there are more eyes on the job. Scrutiny re-looking at everything the departments are doing is a duplication, why not review policy and programmes as they are being prepared?  Scrutiny could then look at the big issues which need a fresh look, or which are not being tackled by departments. An example was the early report done by Scrutiny into the funding of elderly care, which led to the present policy.

RC: ‘States members should be paid.’ He added this in his answer to a question asking whether the candidates would work in as motivated a way if they were not paid at all.

RC: use the Strategic reserve to build affordable housing, then the return on the investment would go back into the reserve.

JLB: Connex run the busses when it suits them. And ‘the problem is that it is a monopoly’ Neither of these comments make any sense.

I have to say that no candidate had thought through the issue of public transport at all.

RC: (the question was about Youth Crime, they had all said that the parents had prime responsibility, whereupon a member of the audience came back at them and asked them to apologise as it was not just down to the parents)    ‘the society is made by parents’

RC: ‘children should not be walking down busy roads by themselves’

I feel these two comments are alarming. The busy roads without pavements, they are created by nus, turn it round, the children should be able to walk out on their own to get from A to B, learning independence, learning even to use their legs! And society is made by parents – what about consumerism, peer pressure, capitalism, history, globalisation?

DJ: (on allotments) suggested a central register at the parish hall to gauge the demand.  The others had made supportive noises, but had both said they were not aware of demand.

Well that’s it.

  • I am wary of RC’s emphasis on money. Well-being is not just about money. And there are plenty of people in the States already who say they are keeping an eye on the money, and then what happened with the incinerator. Oooops no one asked the question. The phrase “drive the island forward” reveals a mindset which you have to ask yourself: do I go along with that?
  • I am wary of JLB’s naivety. How will he gather the majority view of parishioners on issues to know which button to press in the States, as he says in the candidate manifestos booklet ?
  • I am wary of DJ’s effectiveness, he could not think of any change he had brought about in his years of sitting on all those committees and boards as a lawyer.

It’s your call. Well, our call.

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