Has a system in which we mainly elect individuals caused us to lose the ability to compromise?

IN the months before every Jersey election rumours start to circulate about political parties.

Lucy Stephenson (30707095)
Lucy Stephenson (30707095)

There’s always talk that this could be ‘the year’ when parties actually take off, when finally the electorate get a chance to know what they are voting for, not just who they are voting for.

And then each time the talk dies down, the political groupings never materialise and the election goes ahead with candidates predominantly, with a few exceptions, standing on independent platforms. Recently Reform Jersey is the only political party to have stood the test of time.

Of course we now have a new party in town – The Progress Party, run by ‘the Two Steves’ as they are affectionately known by many colleagues. Establishing the party alongside Deputy Steve Luce and Senator Steve Pallett is former Deputy Eddie Noel.

The trio – who are described as interim committee members – announced their new party in January and began recruiting other members.

But that party wasn’t always just about those three men, and the process and conversations to get to the point of launch did not happen overnight.

Similarly, conversations are happening across the political spectrum at the moment about the possibility of other political parties being formed. Some are more developed than others, most involve a mixture of existing States Members and some new faces and some attempts have already been abandoned altogether.

It is also worth noting that all the talk around political parties being formed spurs on others to think about doing the same, not always by joining existing conversations but perhaps even starting their own.

But all the talk does not necessarily mean that we will have an election dominated by political parties next year.

And one of the key reasons for this is, I believe, because we have been stuck in a system dominated by independent candidates for so long that we strive for personal perfection and have lost the ability to compromise.

It’s one of the reasons that the party conversations begin to fall apart, or why potential founding members walk away before anything has been set up.

Thrashing out ideas and policies and principles is, of course, a natural part of the process when establishing such an organisation. And it is all part of the fun.

It is also to be expected that not everyone involved in those conversations will see their project through to the end. And setting up a political party from scratch is not an easy thing to do.

But there appears to be a real want and need for more parties among not only existing States Members but the politically engaged who are considering standing for election currently.

So why do so many of these potential groups and partnerships fail to see the light of day?

Why do we have a new party launched by just three founding members when there could have been so many more?

And, ultimately, why has party politics failed to take off in Jersey to date?

A large part of the answer comes down to a lack of compromise. That and not being able to see past the personalities involved.

You see, one of the perceived strengths of our current system is that each independent Member elected, by and large, has the freedom to be exactly who they want to be, to vote how they want and to pursue the exact kind of policies they want.

Only the public are able to pass judgment on their work, and that only happens every four years.

But as well as being a strength in some respects, it is also a major weakness in the system. It means we have a parliament made up of dozens of different approaches and views, which makes finding a consensus difficult. Just look at the issue of States reform as a major example of 49 people, with a few exceptions, each trying to pursue what they individually think would be the perfect electoral system.

The truth is that for this issue, like many others, there is no such thing as perfection, and compromise, discussion, workarounds and common sense will always be needed.

With political parties, much of this work would have already happened by thrashing things out around the party table, enabling the members to find a common vision. They would then turn up to the actual debate on the matter as a united group, clear on their own views and ambitions and ready to work towards them.

Currently, for some of our politicians, a States debate is the beginning of this process, and it often shows in the quality of the discussions and, sadly, sometimes the result too.

It’s true that groupings such as the Council of Ministers, Scrutiny panels and informal alliances between Members help to facilitate such discussions, but it’s not enough.

And there is not enough compromise, because the system does not currently allow the right kind of processes to happen to achieve it. Instead, Members often cling to their own nuances, personal assumptions which have often gone unchallenged and their individual views on how something should or should not happen. It’s good to aim high, of course, and to stand up for what you believe in, but it is possible to do that and to work to find common ground with others which will enable action to be taken for the benefit of our community.

Political parties would help with that process, of course, but I can’t help wonder if the journey to establishing them in the first place is being plagued by the very same problems of compromise that mean we need them in the first place.

Is everyone striving for their own personal vision of perfection just a little too blindly?

And is that why we all hear the rumours about political parties but very few actually materialise come election day?

For more comment and opinion pieces, see today's JEP.

Most Read

Top Stories

More From The Jersey Evening Post

UK & International News