Bannana Republic Heading for Dictatorship, says Senator
published by Senator Stuart Syvret in Jersey Evening Post, 27 April
(JEP, 9 April) concerning the Jersey Democratic Alliance, Hugh Gill
criticises the very notion of political parties in Jersey. He goes on
to suggest that somehow political parties are 'less democratic' and
that what we need is a continuation of 'individual representation'.
correspondents have expressed similar views. These letters made me
wonder whether the public fully appreciate that genuine independence on
the part of politicians will effectively be over after the next
I am not a
member of the JDA, so what I write here is not in support of any
particular organisation. Rather it is an attempt to alert the public to
the fact that genuinely independent politics will simply not be
possible within the new executive government.
many of us like to think that 'independent' candidates are better than
members of a party. This is because such independent members are in
theory free agents, able to make up their own mind on the issues and
speak freely. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that
political parties offer no advantages. At present, in the absences of
parties, we have no real ability to choose the political philosophy or
the programme of policies by which we are governed. Nor do we have the
ability to readily identify and vote out a government that has failed
However, let us
assume that there is a wish to continue the cultural approach of having
a States Assembly consisting of independent members. Senator Walker and
his establishment colleagues have made certain that genuine
independence will have no place in the new executive government. They
have done this through two specific measures.
the Chief Minister will be able to nominate States Members to the
ministerial posts. Thus only those States Members who are pleasing to
the Chief Minister stand any chance of gaining an executive post in the
new system of government. The Chief Minister will have prime
In what can only
be described as a constitutional perversity, the substantive
proposition by which each minister is nominated will not be susceptible
to amendment. In plain English, this means that the States can only say
'yes' or 'no' to candidates proposed by the Chief Minister. No
alternative candidates can be proposed by other States Members, even
though their preferred candidates may be the best people for the job.
This means that
your elected representatives sitting in your parliament will have less
power over the composition of the cabinet that is going to govern our
Island than shareholders have over the composition of the board of a
company at an annual meeting.
establishment have made it absolutely plain that party political-style
loyalty and obedience will be required of all Ministers; they must 'toe
the line' or resign their post.
establishment have desperately resisted all attempts to introduce a
guarantee of free speech for ministers.
This means that
independently elected Members must surrender their independence to the
collective will of cabinet colleagues if they wish to be ministers.
faced by genuinely independent politicians will be this. Insist upon
retaining your independence and freedom to speak your mind, and
consequently be excluded from executive positions - or agree to 'toe
the line', join the cabinet and find yourself being required to
publicly and mendaciously support pol-icies you may not actually
These two ploys
by the establishment, to limit and control the political role of
'independent'' States Members, make it absolutely clear that their
objective is a party political style of government - by stealth.
from a democratic point of view, delivers to the community the very
worst of both worlds.
We get neither
free-thinking individuals as leaders who are able to speak their own
minds; nor do we get the opportunity to vote for parties which best
match our political views and which can then go on to form a government
with a coherent set of policies. The system that has been engineered by
the establishment delivers the advantages of neither approach and
instead manifests all of the disadvantages of each system.
This will be the
worst of both worlds - a party political-style government without the
voting public being able to choose the governing party.
So with the new
system of cabinet government about to start, the real choice we face is
not one of political parties or 'independent' members; the choice we
face is between openly declared parties, which are open to members of
the general public to join and contribute to policy formulation, or a
system of even more covert and clandestine de facto political parties
with 'members' in the cabinet obliged to observe 'party' loyalty.
could, however, be avoided if the States can be persuaded to safeguard
real independence in the new system of government through two measures
- namely ensuring that the States Assembly retains the right to
nominate ministers and that the freedom of speech of ministers is
I shall make one
final attempt to persuade my political colleagues that these two
safeguards are necessary.
attempt fail, the States will be voting for a party political future,
and the public will be able to tell from this vote just which States
Members are really in favour of genuine consensus politics.
In an interview
in the JEP, in which he attempted to portray, rather unwisely in my
view, his party political opponents as some kind of threat to society,
Senator Frank Walker spoke of the need for people of differing
political views to work together. He added:
forward, which is a Jersey tradition, is consensus. Is the Island ready
to abandon that sort of politics, that political culture, for the
divisiveness the Jersey Democratic Alliance are clearly putting
These words are
deeply surprising from a man who has fought tooth and nail to remove
from the States the right of your States Members to nominate their
colleagues as ministers and - even more divisively - has made it plain
that party political-style obedience will be required from members of
has vociferously fought all attempts in the States to secure a
guarantee of freedom of speech for ministers. But given the words of
Senator Walker quoted above, perhaps he has finally recognised the fact
- for it is a fact - that the system of prime ministerial patronage and
cabinet obedience hitherto favoured by him cannot be, and will not be,
compatible with independent politics.
and his establishment colleagues cannot have it both ways.
They must decide
whether they want independent, consensual politics or party politics.
What those of us
who care about the quality of democracy in our community cannot
tolerate - and will not stand by and accept - is the impending
worst-of-both-worlds situation in which we have a 'prime minister' who
is leading a cabinet under party political-style control without the
public having had the democratic opportunity to vote for the Chief