A Week in Politics

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Generally, it’ll be someone who’s just been on the losing side of a debate in which the democratically-elected Assembly has voted against them, but never mind that.

Because barely a cigarette’s walk from the Royal Square on Wednesday night, I saw some of the real stuff.

It’s a wonder, a bafflement and a mystery why more people don’t go to rates assemblies.

More than 28,000 people live in St Helier, and most of them have the right to vote at the meeting that sets out plans for parish spending.

But in the end, only around 50 people turned up at the Town Hall (including, somewhat oddly, two district Deputies who don’t live in the parish and therefore can’t vote).

All that aside, the low turnout meant that if 51 manual workers had turned up and proposed a 10% pay rise for parish staff, they’d have got it. End of story.

If 51 publicans had voted to reduce their licence fees to a quid, they’d have got that too.

If there had been 51 people who think like me – a long shot, I know – every street in the parish could have been renamed after ex-Chelsea players, and there would have been free beer for reporters who have to cover elections…

The point is this: the parish system elects policemen, it elects accountants, and it elects roads inspectors; ratepayers have a direct say in what rates they will pay, they can strip out items of spending from the annual budgets, and they can instruct their Constable to act.

And despite that level of democratic authority vested in ratepayers, no-one wants to get involved.

I mean, how much of a laugh would it be if they ran the States like that? Imagine if thousands of people signed a petition to make a park or stop a tax and presented it to the States and… oh.

Anyway, States Members – I love them. You’d never catch me having a pop at them, no sir.

Because God bless their pointed little heads, they’ve managed to cut down this week’s Order Paper.

Mammoth, epic, leviathan, gargantuan… at a certain point you just run out of words to try to describe the nightmare States session that was set to start today.

But for various reasons the censure proposal against Senator Stuart Syvret and the Depositor Protection Scheme have been pulled from the Order Paper – which might mean a four-day sitting instead of a five-day one.

This leaves us just 29 items listed for debate, including such uncontroversial matters as: the cancellation of the Waterfront development, a pay freeze for States employees, free television licences for the over-75s, the future of the Ann Court site and the reform of States questions.

To put it as politely as possible, these are not subjects that encourage great speeches. Or short ones.

You’d be best off staying away from the radio this week…

A mathematical curiosity – how do you get 53 into 15? We all know that there are some Members who’d vote with the Council of Ministers no matter what the topic.

There are also some who would vote against them no matter what was on the table. This is not news. But then there are some in the middle.

According to one Deputy I spoke to this week, there are about 15 Members who appear to make up their minds on the day, and on the debate – and that sounds like a fair guess to me.

The problem is that every States Member I’ve ever spoken to claims to be one of them.

So how do you get 53 into 15? This sounds to me like the sort of financial chicanery that the Comptroller and Auditor General should look into.

And on the subject of financial chicanery, I saw the new deputy chief executive in charge of resources in a Scrutiny panel hearing this week.

How much faith should we have in this new post making real change?


Given that three of the main areas where maintenance spending has been quietly avoided over the last few years are drains, roads and sea defences, surely the former chief officer of Transport and Technical Services is the perfect man to address the problems caused by the multi-million pound backlog…

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