‘I’M so excited about the next election,’ said nobody ever. Is this true? I have a friend who is very animated at the prospect of the next election, though she is not a candidate but an impartial observer. When voter apathy is our main problem, why would she feel like this? For her, the new system of super-constituencies and the loss of the Senators, together with the formation of political parties offers the promise of a shake-up and the prospect of change.
Will many people feel this way, and will we see a change in voting habits and a greater proportion of people voting?
There is a vocal group on social media who call repeatedly for getting ‘this lot out’. ‘Time for change’ seems to be a slogan at every election I can remember, and yet the same people are voted in time after time, with most people not voting. When I was canvassing at the last election, and talking to a non-voter, I said: ‘If you don’t vote, you can’t complain if things don’t go your way.’ ‘I’m not complaining,’ was the response.
But complacency aside, one of the reasons for voter apathy is that people can’t see a link between their vote and the government we end up with. They can’t choose the Chief Minister, or the ministers who are appointed. And I know some people feel that the loss of the Senators will make this worse. There was always an expectation that the Chief Minister would be selected from their ranks, but now most won’t be able to vote for the person who will become Chief Minister.
This makes the advent of party politics all the more necessary. A vote for a party member should, as in the UK, be a vote for the party leader to become Chief Minister. A vote for a party member will be a vote for a raft of policies outlined in the manifesto which can be implemented without delay. Will more people vote if they see a direct link between their vote and what actually happens in the Assembly?
I found it quite entertaining to read that the Guernsey Independents’ Party (an oxymoron if ever there was one) disbanded because its members didn’t share the same policies – doh! They are now going to re-group along ideological lines. Yes, that’s what a party is.
The elected members of Reform Jersey have been so successful, and punched above their weight in the House because they share a set of principles and work closely together to try to put them into practice. Even with decisions that are not obviously political, like assisted dying, or the new hospital, there is consensus, because they are all coming from the same direction.
Let’s hope that the new parties are similarly unified with a clear manifesto, to give the voters a real choice.
But can voters be persuaded to abandon their attachment to personality politics?
I find it hard to understand why people have said to some candidates, ‘I would vote for you if you weren’t standing for Reform Jersey’. So you like them, but you don’t like what they stand for? Is that logical? If everyone who voted for Senator Mézec had voted for every other Reform Jersey candidate at the last election, they would have had all but one of the St Helier seats. When I urged people to give him a team in the States, so he could enact his policies, some said, ‘Oh I couldn’t possibly vote for all of you’. The logical conclusion of this is that people want politicians to put forward ideas, but never to get anything done.
I’ve been told by friends who were at the count that many people vote for candidates with diametrically opposed views. What is going on? Do they want ‘a steady hand on the tiller’ and ‘someone to shake them up’ – no real change, but a bit of a barney?
Or can it be that they are just voting for people they have heard of or people they like, with no notion of what they might do when in the States. And these are the people who make the effort to turn up. I suspect that very few people pay attention to the propositions and votes in the Chamber even if they are directly affected. Do prospective voters know who supports or opposes a living wage, or cheaper medical care, or more affordable housing? Of course you would want a representative who might help you if you have problems with government departments, and someone who is proactive and can speak well. But really, how candidates are going to use their voice and their vote should be the key factor.
So I hope my friend gets her shake-up, but unless it is organised around party lines, she shouldn’t expect much to change.