By Ted Vibert
NOW that we have a new Chief Minister, we have to wait a week to find out which States Members he will choose to form the Council of Ministers, whose decisions will help to shape the direction the Island will take and which should last until the next general election in just under two years’ time.
As always, there is hope that the Island’s affairs will be better managed than they were in the immediate past and some of the glaring errors of the past are not repeated. But I have my doubts.
No one can deny that there is a total disconnect between the States of Jersey and the public. This is partly due to our political system and lack of party politics, which results in people voting for individuals rather than a group with a common cause who have outlined what they would try to do if they won in a clear manifesto that has been approved by the electors voting for it.
In that way, people are able to connect with their politicians as a group and have a legitimate expectation that they will get what they voted for if the party is victorious.
And if that elected party does not follow their election promises when in power – or in opposition – the public can get rid of them at the next election. This is a powerful weapon the public holds and it keeps them connected to the political scene.
At the moment, members of the public have no say in States decisions. The Council of Ministers is not elected by the public to put into effect a mandate or philosophy that Islanders voted for, as is the case in countries where government is decided under a political party system. That is the standard setup in most democratic countries. Why is it so repugnant to us here in Jersey?
Because of the current system, we have ministers and assistant ministers who believe that their position entitles them to foist their pet agendas onto the public. There has been no better example of this than over the Les Sablons development in Broad Street. How was it possible that after a full public hearing by a highly qualified planning inspector, who considered all the evidence and gave his full approval to the scheme, an assistant minister with absolutely no background or training in planning had the power to reject it? This extraordinary decision could have a stopped a huge, welcome and important contribution to the much-needed redevelopment of St Helier. Thankfully that decision was overturned. But all of that delay and aggravation has added greatly to the project’s cost.
This “we know best” attitude of members of the council is encouraged by the political system, which sees people with no political or business experience elected to the States and then immediately elevated to a position of huge responsibility overseeing significant portfolios. As some of these people are in thrall to their own beliefs, we get individual personal attitudes dominating important decisions.
For instance, the most recent Environment Minister, Deputy Jonathan Renouf, firmly believes – as do members of Reform Jersey – that it is the actions of we humans that are changing our climate.
No one denies that the minister is entitled to that view, misconceived as it is. But where in his election campaign did he tell his voters that he would introduce a wind farm with 72 giant turbines in the Island’s territorial waters? And when did he ever explain to his voters how this would secure our current supply of electricity, bearing in mind that the wind farm would be owned by a private company? If it’s not owned by the people of Jersey, how does he think the Island would have control over its operation? How is this situation any different from what happens now, with the Island getting power from a French company? His argument that it would be part of our “decarbonisation” is absurd, as the power we get from France is produced by nuclear and hydro, which is already low-carbon, so what’s the point of it all? Does anyone remember all this being part of an election campaign?
Under a party-political system, a subject as important as this – which is likely to involve taxpayer’s money, and hit the poorest and least well-off sections of the community, and have a massive impact on the lives of everyone – would have been debated by the members of a party over a considerable period in full public view well before an election. If it had been approved by the members of that party, it would have formed part of their manifesto. When the public then went to vote, they would have known, if they supported that party, what they would be getting.
Jersey’s system of “government by individual whim” is what frustrates the public so much. Island politicians can promise all sorts of things to get themselves elected and, once in office, fail to deliver on their promises.
They can simply say: “Well, I tried.” Others are free to do the opposite of what they said they would do on the campaign trail. Deputy Renouf committed himself, when elected, “ to engage more with the public to explain what we are doing and why and deal with concerns that are raised”.
However, the head of a group of Jersey residents concerned about the minister’s enthusiastic support for Jersey’s net-zero climate policy, and a wind farm off our coast, recently wrote to him requesting a meeting. The group wanted to present evidence that they felt he should know about and consider. His response was: “I appreciate you’ve put a lot of work into your presentation, but I’m afraid I am not going to read it. I cannot tell you how many of these I received in the many years of my TV career. They never present convincing evidence and the fact that I was able to find a basic error in your first point suggests that I will not be convinced this time either”.
This approach and individual policy-making cannot continue. However, it is unlikely that a new Council of Ministers will change things very much, as it will still operate under the same old system.
How soon will it be before a disaffected member of the Council of Ministers submits a no-confidence motion in the Island’s new leader?