Political Parties And Jersey Politics

03 December 2021

It seems likely that political parties will play a major role in the election to be held on 22 June next year. Before examining the implications of this for the governance of Jersey it is helpful to have a little historical perspective.

Political parties are not new in Jersey. They first emerged in the second half of the 18th Century, the catalyst being the autocratic rule of the Bailiff Charles Lemprière, supported by the Charlots who claimed that legislation could not be passed without the agreement of the Royal Court. The main opposition came from Jean Dumaresq who led a party known originally as the Jeannots and later as the Magots. The politics then was far from pleasant. It was not unknown for the parties to kidnap voters and dump them on the Écrehous on Election Day thus preventing them from voting. The leaders of the two parties, armed with walking sticks, had a fight in the Royal Square in July 1788.

After a dormant spell the parties revived in the middle of the 19th Century, the Magots having become the Rose Party while the Charlots had become the Laurels.

The post war political reforms in Jersey were led by a group of Channel Islanders exiled in England during the Occupation, foremost among whom was Cyril Le Marquand. He and others saw the need for radical reform of the political structure in Jersey, in particular removing the Jurats from the States Assembly and replacing them with senators.   He was among one of 11 members of the Progressive Party elected to the States in the first post war election.

However, even when parties existed, elections have largely been conducted on a personal basis.   With the exception of the members of the Reform Party, all the current members of the States Assembly were elected individually and the Council of Ministers comprises members elected individually and not beholden to a party.

One catalyst for the growth of parties has been the abolition of the role of senator.   By far the most important political figure in Jersey is the Chief Minister, all of whom have been senators, elected on an island-wide basis.  With the abolition of senators the only way that electors can have their say on the Chief Minister is to vote for candidates of the party led by their preferred candidate. This mirrors the position in most other nations. For example, in the last UK election people were voting Conservative because they wanted Boris Johnson rather than Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister. The qualities of the candidates in individual constituencies made virtually no difference to the votes they received.

But it is not always the case that the electorate will give one party a clear majority. The nature of politics is such that it can be the third or fourth largest party that determines the composition of the government. For example, after the 2015 UK election it was the Liberal Democrat Party that decided that there would be a Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition rather than a Labour Liberal Democrat coalition.  And in Germany today the decision on the composition of the government is effectively being taken by the third and fourth largest parties rather than the two that came top of the poll.

Say what will happen in Jersey after 22 June 2022?  That depends on the outcome of the election.   If one party has a majority of members of the Assembly then it will form the Council of Ministers. If no one party has a majority then the parties will seek to gain the support of the independent members or other parties to vote for their nominee for Chief Minister.

If a significant number of members of the new Assembly are affiliated with one of the parties, then the way that the Assembly operates will need to change. There may be a case for an official Opposition and there may be a need to change the way that the scrutiny function operates. It is important that all the elected members are able to play their full part in the democratic process, as ministers, or as legislators and the important function of holding the ministers to account.

Recently, the Privileges and Procedures Committee of the States Assembly published a thoughtful report on the implications of party politics for the operation of the States Assembly. It may be that some changes will be made in the Standing Orders of the Assembly prior to the election but one suspects this is an area where Jersey should feel its way and not rush into decisions.

Not having party politics served Jersey well in the past but it has not served it well in recent years, with effectively the Council of Ministers, the States Assembly and some scrutiny committees vying for power with the result of lack of clarity about where responsibility lies for particularly decisions and a tortuous and lengthy process for taking decisions.  If party politics produces more effective governance this will be a substantial benefit to the Island, but it is not a given that this will happen. There is all to play for.

 

Sir Mark Boleat, who has previously been the political leader of the City of London and Chairman of Andium Homes, the Jersey Development Company and the Jersey Competition and Regulatory Authority, is a member of centre right Jersey Alliance.  He was born and educated in the Island.  He has had a long career in business, academia and public policy and was knighted in 2017 for services to the financial services industry and local government in London.