Firstly, let me clarify that I am what you could call a frequent but casual listener to States sittings. By that I mean that I tune in regularly but that I don’t sit there all day listening intently. I nip in and out. I respond to emails at the same time and stop listening when I need to concentrate on something else.
Nonetheless, I pay attention, which is more than can be said for some Members.
This week, during the latest ‘virtual’ online sitting, we had one elected representative fail to respond when called to speak by the Bailiff. She was called a good five or six times, showing that she wasn’t paying attention. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she had to nip to the WC.
Another Member stated, when called, that he must have ‘nodded off’, as if it was some kind of joke.
It was funny all right, but not in a ‘funny ha ha’ kind of way. It was disrespectful to the other Members, it was disrespectful to the Bailiff and it was disrespectful to the electorate.
A few minutes later another elected representative asked the Bailiff a question and thanked him for his answer by saying ‘thank you m’ love’. Again, not very funny ha ha. The Member in question was deservedly reminded to use appropriate language for a formal sitting but I’m not sure she was listening as I didn’t hear her apologise. I would have been mortified.
Being found lacking in the correct language and demeanour is poor but let’s not lose too much sleep over it because those problems are easily fixed. However, in addition to this, Members had to be reminded about correct procedures at least twice. Considering that the current Members have been in the Chamber since 2018, I find it pretty hard to believe that they still don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. It is literally their job.
While the first day wasn’t sublime, the second day was certainly ridiculous.
The Bailiff who, in my view, should win a prize for patience and poise, had to point out to some Members what they were voting on. ‘You are voting on the amendment of the amendment as amended’ must have been uttered half a dozen times.
To be fair to States Members, voting on amending an amendment that had already been amended is preposterous.
One cannot make head nor tail of what one is voting for, which is how propositions get voted in by mistake. And no, this is not a figure of speech. I have it on very good authority that at least one proposition, namely the increase in the residency requirements from two to five years in order to stand for election, was voted in by mistake recently.
I’ll repeat in case that hasn’t quite sunk in. A proposition was voted in by mistake.
Anyway, if spending time amending an amendment that had already been amended wasn’t enough of a waste of everyone’s time, the Assembly also has form for delivering ‘wrecking amendments’. That is when someone amends a proposition to mean exactly the opposite of what it sets out to achieve. The domestic equivalent would be to add the word ‘not’ to the sentence ‘we are having pizza tonight’ meaning that we are not having pizza tonight.
Stay with me reader. A a vote ‘pour’ is not a vote for pizza. It’s a vote to change the menu to not have pizza. Add more layers of complexity and, next thing you know, you are voting for either dog food or no food for dinner. Propositions are often hundreds of pages long. Amendments are tens of pages long.
Amendments to amendments are also tens of pages long. They cover complex issues. The devil is often in the detail but there are a lot of details in a 400-page proposition requiring high levels of forensic analysis. Yet we know from the descriptions above that some Members are not paying attention to the conversation, let alone to the issue at hand.
When the public tries to engage with the process, they witness how some Members fail to use the correct language or display the correct demeanour. Some don’t seem to know or follow protocols, and it seems some don’t always know what they are voting for either.
Having said that, there are some pockets of excellence. There are some very eloquent, hardworking Members who I admire for what they do and, if nothing else, for sticking with it and remaining composed throughout the whole thing.
This is not good for politics, is not good for democracy and it certainly is not good for the people.
For more comment and opinion pieces, see today's Jersey Evening Post.