LETTER TO J.E.P. - RE CONSTABLES -
FROM TED VIBERT
1 Osborne Court
Your editorial, headed “democracy not just efficiency” (3rd September) contains many statements that are so inaccurate, illogical and the result of muddled thinking, that it would be doing a great disservice to your readers to let them go unchallenged.
Your editorial uses the word “democracy”, making a clear assumption that your newspaper believes that the States of Jersey is a democratic institution. In fact, it is a most undemocratic government assembly that requires more than “tweaking” but needs a total overhaul to make it democratic.
This was also the view of the distinguished Clothier Panel 12 years ago.
The Clothier panel’s proposals, of course, were scuppered by the turkeys- including the chairman of the current Electoral Commission who was then the Bailiff and should not have been interfering with political matters- who didn’t want Christmas to come. And their vociferous opposition made sure that Christmas never came and so saved their political skins.
It is clear from the content of your editorial that the writer has a strange idea of what makes a democratic government. Putting it in its simplest terms, democracy is a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives.
History is redolent with examples of how this noble aim has been consistently prostituted by corrupt and unscrupulous politicians who have gerrymandered boundaries to give one party an advantage over others; who have used force and intimidation as well as threats of retribution if people did not vote for them; who have disenfranchised voters by various means, to reduce their voting power against them; stolen voting boxes with thousands of votes going missing; bribed voters with cash or goods(often alcohol)and so on.
They can all claim to be” democratic” in that they represent “a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives”.
But we all know that government achieved in this way is corrupt and totally. undemocratic
An essential requirement for a democratic assembly is that all members should be elected by the people and all should have an equal or near equal number of electors in their constituencies.
Any analysis of the make-up of the States of Jersey can only conclude that by having three different types of members, voted in by fifty three vastly different size electorates, is just as undemocratic as the ones I have detailed.
The Constables represent the worst case The 18,000 registered voters of St. Helier are represented by 1 Constable and the 1,228 registered voters of St.Mary also have 1 constable--- yet both have the same power within the States.
The four urban parishes of Jersey --St. Brelade, St. Clement, St. Helier and St. Saviour-- have 4 Constables in the States representing 40,133 registered voters-which is 1 Constable for every 10,330 voters.
The other 8 parishes have 8 Constables for 21,608 voters- or a Constable for every 2701 voters.
This means that if eight Constables from the small parishes vote against a proposition and the four constables from the urban parishes vote for it, the 40,133 lose out to the 21,608. If you editorial writer thinks that is democratic it is clear that he is guilty of muddled thinking.
Whilst on the question of the Constables being in the States, your editorial states “despite a vociferous minority, there is no evidence of any public demand for the removal of the Constables and no compelling reason why there should be”.
Your writer offers no evidence whatsoever that there is “no public demand for the removal of the Constables “. That is because the contrary is true. The very clear indication of the public view is contained in submissions made to the Commission where the majority of submissions favour their removal. In this we share the views of the eminent and intellectually powerful Clothier Panel who thought the same.. .
Between 1998-2000 this group of UK based QC’s , local lawyers, a top local businessman and a prominent member of a local farming family, and the islands long term economic adviser, headed by a leading UK lawyer , High Court judge and Britain’s first police Ombudsman met for over 200 hours, heard 132 witnesses and received 161 submission. This panel concluded that the Senators and Constables should not be in the States and there should be one class of member in equal constituencies drawn along parish boundaries.
I would add that the job of the Electoral Commission, should not be about assessing “public demand” but should be about producing a form of government that is fit for purpose for the century in which we live, a system of government that is fair and removes ludicrous components that do not stand up to serious scrutiny.
The test of” public demand” will be when the Commission puts forward their proposals, which will go to the States for debate and then to a referendum.
This referendum should be run by a Committee of outsiders(no politicians) and certainly not by the Commission, which is already patently biased by having a chairman, who has expressed strong views about retaining Constables, the Constable of the smallest parish and a Deputy, whose father was the Constable of St. Helier.
No one will be surprised if this Commission proposes that the Constables should remain in the States.
Your editorial raises Constables almost to the level of sainthood. He declares that “their life experience and general common sense provides an important balancing factor in a single chamber assembly.” Can he be seriously suggesting that the 12 Constables have any more life experience or common sense than all the other Members of the States?
Your editorial writer gets even more ridiculous when he writes “their removal would probably deal an ultimately fatal blow to the parish structure on which so much of Jersey’s special identity and community spirit depends.”
He offers absolutely no evidence as to why this would happen.
After all, the Constable is the head of the parish and is answerable to his parish assembly. He heads a team of volunteers from procureurs to honorary police, roads committees and youth workers.
He is answerable to the parish assembly for all of his actions and it is the parish assembly that is the strength of the parish system. They set the rates and approve expenditure. The Constable heads the administrative team which issues dog licences, gun licences, driving licences, and is responsible for the welfare of the young and elderly.
The condition of the minor roads of the Parish are also his responsibility as is garbage and bottle collection and the annual brancage.
He takes a close interest his parishioners and is expected to visit those who have golden weddings and who reach serious old age on their birthdays. He fully supports the parish entry in the Battle of Flowers and, on battle night, will usually be found sticking on flowers. All of this activity will ensure that our parish system survives. Nothing will change in this area if the Constable is not in the States.
Removing Constables from the States would also enable them to have their police powers returned. These were removed some years ago when it was decided that it was wrong to mix police powers with being a politician. By removing Constables from the States, they will be able to revert back to their role as head of their honorary police further strengthening their community role.
Any suggestion that the parish system will be weakened if the Constables are removed has no basis of fact whatsoever and is simply scaremongering.
It has also been argued by the Commission chairman that if the Constable is not in the States, who will speak up for the parish on any matter that affects them. But every Parish has a deputy in the States and that is their job.
St. Helier has ten Deputies, St. Brelade 3, St. Clement 2,St. Saviour 5 and if the Constable is removed, can it reasonably be argued that there will be no one to speak for their parishioners. The suggestion is nonsense.
Your editorial also states that “each of the 12 parish heads is uniquely well placed to understand and act upon the views and needs of the local communities he or she serves”.
In fact, he’s no better placed than the Parish deputy.