I have been away from this “project” for a long time – firstly due to work commitments, then due to a quasi-despair at the poor level of the debate amongst the supporters of the various options – speculation clothed as fact, misrepresentation of facts as speculation and just plain bullying.
I almost washed my hands of the whole thing.
Then I became aware of the “politics hour” programme on BBC Radio Jersey this morning and my interest was piqued once again.
So this post is a snap critique of the programme, which unfortunately has largely reinforced my concerns about the level of debate that I raised above.
The programme went out between 10 and 11 this morning and the three campaign groups were represented as follows, in alphabetical order:
The A Team Jersey by Christine Vibert
The “B is Better” group by Ben Shenton (I'm not sure this is actually their official name but it was used by someone this morning)
The Option C Group by Lyndon Farnham.
It also featured a guest tweeter Malcolm Ferey @CABJersey (although why he was thought to be the ideal commentator for this subject was not explained) and was given the hashtag #bbcph
Each studio guest was allotted a short time to give a basic resume of their point of view.
Christine Vibert recapped on some of the principles of reform detailed in the Electoral Commission’s final report and as might be expected centred on equality of representation.
Ben Shenton began by plugging a “drop in” meeting for people interested in supporting Option B which is taking place tomorrow March 25th at St Paul’s Centre between 6&9 pm. He then went on to say how his experiences in States had led him to believe that the Assembly was inefficient and how he felt the Constables were an essential link to the Parishes but that the Senators role could be removed if the mandate for the Deputies was broadened.
Lyndon Farnham spent his time trying to promote Option C as a reform rather than being the “no change” option. He really does need to understand that Option C will not result in any further reform, The Option C position has already been decided by the States Assembly and it is where we will be in October 2014, unless the public vote for either Option A or B. It is as simple as that and no matter how Senator Farnham wants to dress it up as a reform option, presumably to try to gain support for it (he is a Senator, after all) he really should not try to disguise what it really is.
During the course of the programme, a couple of people phoned in – I recall Don Filleul called in support of Option B and someone called in to say that he was voting Option A “for his children”. There were others but without listening again to the programme, which was painful enough the first time around, I cannot recall anyone calling in in support of Option C. At least one other caller wanted to introduce a different option in line with his personal preferences and to him and others, I would merely say, read the full final report of the Electoral Commission.
I have already nailed my colours to the mast in support of Option B. However I didn’t think Ben Shenton did as well on this programme as he did in his interview earlier in the week when he made his points clearly and well. Certainly though, listening objectively, I could not find any instances of him actually misleading the listener or misrepresenting facts. That is not true of either Christine Vibert or Lyndon Farnham unfortunately. I did try to correct one staggering manipulation of fact that they both came out with, by tweeting the true position, but this was not picked up by the broadcaster.
Christine Vibert was repeatedly incredibly patronising about the ability of the Constables to undertake the workload of States Members. The fact that the Constable of St Brelade had resigned from a scrutiny panel was referred to in support of this and was endorsed by Lyndon Farnham. The impression given by these was that he had not been able to fulfil his Parish and Scrutiny obligations and so had abandoned Scrutiny. In fact, he was previously undertaking a very heavy workload serving on two panels and had decided to leave one of them to concentrate on the other. He is still very active on Scrutiny unlike a number of other States Members – including Deputies – who play no part at all. This tack was disingenuous and does neither of them any credit whatsoever.
Christine Vibert also made some extraordinarily sweeping statements about the Constables and the likelihood of them preferring to be out of the States. She continued to represent her feelings as facts. I again tweeted to try to find out how many she had spoken to about this but did not get a reaction. I myself have spoken to at least three Constables about this and have found that the reverse is quite true. There are also documented statements from Constables to be found on Hansard refuting Ms Vibert’s point of view. She also went on to say that some Honorary groups were finding it hard to function of late and that this would be assisted by the Constable concentrating solely on Parish affairs. She did not offer any evidence of this and it is again in complete contrast with my own extensive experience of the Honorary system and also with my own enquiries.
At this point I will introduce something which was pointed out to me recently, which I have no reason to doubt but on which I stand to be corrected. Christine Vibert is in fact, married to Centenier Hugh Gill, the Chef de Police in St Lawrence. I mention this simply because she has not. She is of course entitled to voice her own opinions which may or may not correspond with her husband’s but it does no harm to understand with whom she probably discussed many things on a daily basis. Mr Gill made a submission to the Electoral Commission which ends with this sentence “The Connétables need to go back to their parishes in an honorary capacity and put new life into the vitally important parish system.” This almost exactly mirrors Christine Vibert’s own position as expounded during the broadcast. However, from my own enquiries, Mr Gill’s views do not receive much support from others in the Honorary system.
At one point in the proceedings this morning, when Christine Vibert was reiterating her views that many Constables would be glad not to be in the States, she was challenged by Ben Shenton who said he thought many Constables would in fact individually support Option B. This was seized upon as being evidence of a “bloc vote” both in the studio and on Twitter.
In fact, it would simply be a factual rebuttal of Ms Vibert’s unsubstantiated claims about how the Constable’s feel about being in the States and about their supposed concerns about their workload. I also noted that at one point Ms Vibert herself rolled out the old chestnut about the Constables' bloc vote but also said they did not all vote the same way! She does seem a bit confused about the facts!
All in all, I found the whole programme to be very disappointing and I only hope that there will be more and better opportunities for debate between the groups. I also hope that they will all up their game and give the public less personal opinion and more substantiated facts.