Why party politics is the way forward for Jersey, and why I chose to join Reform Jersey
If someone had told me 15 years ago that in 2020 I would be making the case for party politics in Jersey, never mind being Chairperson of the Island’s only formally constituted political party, I would have laughed out loud and firmly told them they were wrong. In all likelihood I would have said something along the lines of ‘Party politics won’t work in Jersey, we like to vote for individuals, we vote for people and that works for us. We get a good spread of views within the States, voted in by people that vote.’
That was easy for me to say. I understood the system, I was no stranger to local politics, having been the daughter of a former Deputy, I grew up going to the public gallery of the States Chamber after school, and very often being my mum’s ‘plus one’ at events where I could observe some of the politicking that would go on. I also closely observed a number of votes of no confidence being taken in what were then Committee Presidents, the general view being, that’s politics and we will all slap each other on the back and be friends afterwards. Why fix what’s not broken?
When I moved to Australia I struggled with the notion of voting for a party, how would I know that I could trust the person that I was voting for? How did I know that the party had selected the right person? I can remember telling my Australian friends that I didn’t ‘get’ party politics - ‘surely you need to be confident in the person you are voting for?’ I would add. Then I went through my first Australian election cycle as a public servant - suddenly it all made sense.
As an elector I was given some pretty clear choices about the policies that I would be supporting with my vote. As a public servant I was presented with some certainty that whichever party gained power in the election it would have made some election promises, and that it would be my job to implement them. It was the job of the public sector to offer frank and fearless advice to our Ministers. It was the job of Ministers to consider that advice, but make their own decisions and be accountable for them. Ultimately, we had a parliamentary term to deliver on the policies that the electorate had voted for.
The 2018 Manifesto drops through my letterbox
When I returned to Jersey in 2016, after over 10 years in Australia, I got back into the swing of Island life. Got back used to local politics. I had read about Reform Jersey online in Australia, I would listen to election broadcasts on Radio Jersey, but to be honest all I knew about the Party was that I knew Geoff and Monty, and that there was also a young guy with long hair. I was busy settling my young daughter into island life and making our family home here, and party politics just didn’t work in Jersey.
When the 2018 election came around I was back in my old familiar territory. I knew the format, you pick the people that seem to have the most similar views to you, and you try and use all your votes (because who would want to waste a vote?). The flyers with bullet points and smiling faces dropped into the letterbox, but one took my attention. This one had a manifesto attached, along with pledges, and all this aligned with my own ambitions for the Island. Reform Jersey had another vote.
Without Party politics our Government lacks direction and is inefficient
After Jersey’s 2018 election it took a year and a half for the Government Plan to be developed and then approved. That is well over a quarter of the term of office that the newly elected Council of Ministers had to continue to progress the plans of the previous government, without having their own agreed plan of action. The Government of individuals had no common policy platform to draw upon and no real mandate from the public to pursue any specific election promises. If they were to draw on what they had promised voters they would have had to look to several sheets of A5 paper with fairly simplistic bullet points containing well meaning statements. In amongst those sheets of paper was that one manistefo with 10 pledges.
To go it alone or join the party
I had settled into island life and had got my head back into local politics. I had been thinking ahead as to whether I would run for election in 2022. Then we had the unexpected by-election called for in St. Helier 3/4, which is my home district, and that which my mum had represented. I did a lot of thinking over the Christmas of 2018, should I stand and what would my policies be? What are the principles and values that I would want to be part of my election platform? I wrote these down, then my thoughts turned to who else I would support, or vote for in the election. I remembered that Reform Jersey manifesto and read it again, compared it to my own notes, the similarities were striking and I knew at that point that I would not stand against a Reform Jersey candidate. I needed to work with the party. So I joined the team, got selected as a candidate, and we ran a campaign based on our shared values, the same manifesto, and the same 10 key pledges that our 5 elected States Members have already signed up to. I came 2nd in that election. If I had chosen to go it alone I would have potentially split the vote with the Reform Jersey candidate. Not a good outcome for voter or candidates.
The things people say
At the school gate, at work, in conversations with old school friends and people in the street, and on social media I have been told: ‘I would vote for you, but I wouldn’t vote for Reform Jersey’ or ‘I agree with most (or all) of your policies, but I won’t vote for Reform Jersey’. This completely perplexes me - why wouldn’t you vote based on principles and policies - surely that’s what’s at the very heart of political decision making, would these people prefer to vote for an individual that has no published policies and isn’t clear about their principles? Then there are people that say ‘I don’t agree with your policies’, and then when asked which ones in particular admit to never having read the manifesto. I understand, life is busy, but what these people are saying to me is that they are voting on the basis of a perception that they have, rather than on the basis of their own beliefs and values.
There are also those that are deeply uncomfortable with the notion of there being a ‘left’ and ‘right’ in local politics. Can we all not be moderate, or ‘centrist’?
Where does this all leave us?
So here we are, in 2020 with a Government which is a perpetual hung parliament, one which has no clear mandate, and one that relies on the thin threads of what might be termed as ‘gentlemen’s agreements’. We have no new hospital (unless you count the temporary one), and a Government Plan that now needs to be renegotiated to encompass post Covid-19 recovery. Let's remember here that the Government Plan took over a quarter of a parliamentary term to agree in the first place.
Our party has presented our plan for post-Covid-19 recovery within our New Deal for Jersey, it is based on our core principles and values, and aligned with the manifesto that our voters supported. How many of the individuals in the States Assembly can say that they have clearly laid out their principles, and that those that voted for them really understood their core values and how they would be translated into votes within the Assembly. On what will these individuals base their own recovery proposals on, and just how much backroom negotiation will happen between these individuals out of the public eye?
I hope that the Assembly supports the principles that underpin our New Deal, principles that put the needs of our whole community at the heart of post Covid-19 recovery. I fear that the current system is so broken that it will lead to further stagnation, further compromises, and the continuation of the balance of power being held by senior public servants, rather than our own elected representatives.
Particularly now, at this unprecedented time, the people of Jersey need to be able to trust that politicians are acting with integrity, and with the community’s best interests at heart. That they will fulfill their election promises.
The very much younger me was told that ‘party politics won’t work in Jersey’ by a number of people over a number of years, many of those people were our elected representatives at the time. What those people were doing was protecting a system that worked for them as individuals, but is dysfunctional and inefficient. What their view ignores is that, whether intentional or not, alliances are formed in the corridors of the States Chamber and committee rooms. It's gone on for decades behind closed doors and has enabled what we commonly term as the ‘establishment’ to be our de facto government.
Aside from the public agreement that Reform Jersey made with the current Chief Minister in 2018, none of these agreements are discussed openly in public. It is rumoured that there are groups of current States Members that are considering working together to form another party. My request is that if any elected politicians are considering forming a party, or currently working in an informal alliance, that they do this openly and honestly, form your party and publicise your policies. Let your electorate know who you are working with, and what your collective policies are. Bring your policies and plans for recovery out for public debate, as we have done with ours.