Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Sam Mézec, the chairman of Jersey’s only political party. Sam spoke on a subject that is close to my heart – getting more people involved in politics – and afterwards gave the audience the chance to air their views about what they thought were the important issues for the Bailiwick.
Being a supporter of executive government (and not the current revised committee system), I was particularly interested to hear Sam’s views on how we could set up a political party here in Guernsey. To put this in context, Sam explained that his party was set up as a group in 2012 but decided to reconstitute as a political party in 2014 in order to campaign for wider principles of social and economic justice. Currently their party consists of three elected members of the States of Jersey and 300 ordinary members.
When I asked how we could set up a party here in Guernsey, he explained how theirs was formed. He got together with a group of like minded people who had the “same system of values and came from the same place”. They were able talk about their views openly and honestly and also, importantly, disagree when it came to certain topics. Sam felt this was an essential feature because it also meant there was no need for a party whip – a means of forcing all three elected members to vote the same way – instead they worked out their differences and, more importantly, accepted them.
Having followed the changes to the structure of Guernsey government over the last few years and now experiencing the effects, I still support a form of party politics here in Guernsey. I do not think we should replicate the UK system. Indeed, I don’t think we need to mirror precisely what goes on in the UK as a rule. Instead I believe a form of political party can be a means of improving the way we seek – and reflect – the views of the people of the Bailiwick in the decisions we make.
We currently vote for people on the basis of what they say in a manifesto. This can lead to Deputies feeling they have to vote a particular way even though they no longer believe in that view. Whilst, on the other hand, it can see the electorate getting frustrated when a Deputy votes differently from the way they promised they would at the election.
Candidates can, of course, avoid this dilemma by expressing how they intend to vote by reference to their declared values as I did. But I think it would also help if the electorate could see a group of Deputies identifying with certain values and consistently acting on them. I believe that that would help in the decision as to whether to get on the Electoral Roll and then whether to go out and vote. It will get more people involved in deciding what is best for the Bailiwick.
Getting people interested in politics can take many forms not just political parties. For example, some say that formal political parties are not necessary as they have their own “party” with their membership being those who voted for them at the election. That’s as maybe but wouldn’t it be better to have Island Wide parties not just the voters in one electoral district identifying with just one Deputy?
As well as the need to garner enough support, there is a more fundamental problem. I believe those elected in April 2016 enjoy their independence of thought and can see pitfalls to allegiances. So, whilst I know of many like minded Deputies, it may be difficult to find any who are happy to publicise such an alliance to the extent of forming a political party with which the people of Guernsey can identify. We shall see if this proves a real problem – it is early days.
Perhaps the more likely way forward is for you, the public, to form the groups and then support the Deputy or Deputies who represent your views. And, hopefully, in 2020 you will be able to support candidates with the same policies in an election Island wide.