After 7 long years of campaigning for it, I am thrilled that Jersey is now clearly on the road to party politics.
In just a few months, we have gone from having one political party represented in parliament to three, including one set up by the incumbent Chief Minister with other government ministers. Given the recent changes to our electoral system, there is no avoiding it now – we have party politics.
Jersey's political landscape now officially features:
- Reform Jersey – centre-left
- The Progress Party – centrist
- Jersey Alliance – centre-right
But unofficially there is a right-wing 'Liberal Conservative* Party' in the wings, rumours of other parties of the right forming and, if I could be a bit partisan here for one moment, I might nit-pick over the description of the Progress Party as being centrist, when I think it is fair to say they lean further to the right than they do the left.
So those of a politically conservative persuasion are spoilt for choice. Good for them.
I am now relishing the next election, where Reform Jersey will provide the only outlet for those who want a political change which will deliver a fairer society. Our mission has been consistent since we were founded – we stand for social and economic justice. Our manifesto will reflect this, and I am really excited by the people who are now approaching our party wanting to be part of our election team.
But I did read a bit of commentary recently from those who have observed the development of party politics from the outside and felt left behind by it, who have suggested that with these recent developments there could still be room in Jersey for a 'Green Party', so I wanted to put out some thoughts on this, because I think this is misguided.
It starts with this – Climate change is an existential crisis for humanity, and every political movement ought to have as a key part of its platform their plan to play their part in ensuring we resolve this crisis. I have no truck with those who deny the science or those who claim that we are too small to make a difference. Failing to deal with climate change would be an unforgivable betrayal of our young people, who deserve for us to treat this with the urgency it needs.
That is what I believe, and it is what Reform Jersey believes.
It is precisely because we define ourselves as a party that believes in social and economic justice, that we must also support environmental justice. There can be no justice of any kind unless our environment is capable of supporting us all to live healthy and prosperous lives in a sustainable way.
Our party is the only party to have a designated environment spokesperson. It was our Deputy Rob Ward who brought the original proposition to the States Assembly asking us to declare a 'Climate Emergency' and agree to become carbon neutral by 2030.
It was this proposition that led to the Citizens Assembly on Climate Change and the establishment of the Climate Emergency Fund.
Whilst many countries are aspiring to carbon neutrality by 2050, the scientists are telling us that is too late, which is why we have called for 2030 instead. But our action didn't stop there.
Deputy Ward has brought numerous propositions since then to try to promote sustainable transport, precisely because of the impact it would have in reducing carbon emissions. He has fought to make public transport cheaper for young people, so we can get more young people used to getting the bus rather than being given lifts by their parents, and reducing congestion (and therefore pollution) during the school run hours.
He also fought for a reduction in duty on biofuel, to incentivise people to swap over to more environmentally friendly fuels, and for GST exemptions to apply for electric vehicles and services to make homes more energy efficient.
In our "New Deal for Jersey" proposals (which will form the basis of our next election manifesto) we have called for a 'green recovery' after Coronavirus, where we invest in jobs and training which will take Jersey to carbon neutrality and bringing the Jersey Gas company into public ownership so we can manage an equitable transition away from gas fuel.
Now, in our amendments to the Island Plan, we are seeking to provide a new school in town which would, we hope, have a dramatic effect in reducing traffic during the school run hours by enabling children to walk and cycle instead, and get their parents cars off the road.
As a party, I am pleased to say we have a positive relationship with the leadership of the Jersey Electricity Company (which is majority government-owned) and we have assured them that if we were leading the government, we would be more proactive in seeking to work with them to expand renewable energy on the island than previous governments have been. They have lost out on opportunities in the past because of politicians not wanting to use our publicly owned utilities to advance environmental strategic aims. That was because of the ideology of those politicians. We don't share that ideology and so will not suffer from this fault.
I am proud of our green credentials and can confidently say there isn't a party out there that will go further than us on this. So, why has the question been asked about whether Jersey needs a Green Party?
Jersey's political landscape is dramatically changing, and people are trying to work out where they will fit in this brave new world. Having to find a side to pick feels counter-intuitive to some, given our recent history.
The fact now is that those who continue to operate as "independents" in our political system are going to be side-lined. Their only role in politics will be to unpredictably fluctuate between the agendas of the main parties, depending on whichever way the wind happens to be blowing at the time. This is not a reliable way to set a government agenda and, when it comes to elections, voting for independents will seem like a waste because you just won't be getting any bang for your buck, compared to voting to endorse a team that will have a clear and credible manifesto.
But it also is no good having too many parties. Ultimately, we retain the First Past the Post voting system, and without the ability to rank parties/ candidates by order of preference, having too many parties fielding candidates risks splitting votes and producing unrepresentative results.
The most successful parties will be the ones that operate as broad Churches and bring people together, utilising the best of their members' talents and expertise, to put forward a comprehensive programme for government that covers a range of priorities that the public will be interested in.
It is for that reason that I think a Green Party in Jersey would ultimately achieve very little, and in fact could end up harming the cause for environmental justice.
If a political programme that prioritises the environment and climate change issues does not also form a captivating vision on social and economic issues, it is likely to remain a minority interest which garners a few votes, but not enough to get over the line. It would split the vote away from other parties that have a good environmental platform but blend it in with other issues too. In that situation, I fear that the biggest winners would be those with the least regard for green issues.
With all that in mind, and with a party already on the scene with an excellent record in this area and one which, crucially, is member-led and operates as a democracy, why don't those who are inclined towards green politics actually get involved in the structures which already exist to ensure that green issues are given the prioritisation and credibility they deserve in our manifesto? Honestly, we'd be delighted to have them on board!
I can see why some might be tempted by the idea of "starting afresh" and creating a new brand entirely. But politics is about a lot more than just brands. It's also about organisation, resources and experience. Without those, nice ideas don't get far.
I know I speak for my party members when I say that we are ready for the challenge of the election next year, and we are looking forward to presenting an ambitious manifesto that will serve as a blue-print for a Government Plan that will get Jersey back on its feet after the pandemic by building a fairer society where we all enjoy the prosperity we create, and are ready to face the challenges of the future, including climate change. Too much is at stake for us to do anything less than that.
So, to those who think that Jersey politics could benefit from the presence of a Green Party, I say this – we already have one. It's called Reform Jersey. Come join us.
(*yes, I know, it's an oxymoron…)