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BLOW BY BLOW: The battle over the Chief Minister's future

BLOW BY BLOW: The battle over the Chief Minister's future

Tuesday 10 November 2020

BLOW BY BLOW: The battle over the Chief Minister's future


A debate on whether the current Chief Minister should be ousted burst into action this morning, with States Members heavily divided over whether Senator John Le Fondré should stay or go. Here’s the full account of what happened…

All indications were that the vote would be close.

An early Express poll exposed the deep divisions among States Members over Senator Le Fondré's leadership.

At the time, around 10 States Members said they were on the fence. That poll was taken before last night's shock announcement of the CEO's departure.

Senator Kristina Moore, who brought the vote of no confidence, opened the debate this morning by emphasising: “This is not personal, this is about principles, values and performance.”

While she touched upon the saga over outgoing Chief Executive Charlie Parker’s second job at UK real estate firm New River, she went on to explain that the reasons behind bringing the vote were numerous, and included:

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Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore described the failure to deliver a population policy as one of the Chief Minister's failures.

She went on to accuse Senator Le Fondré of “allowing a culture of bullying” to sweep throughout the public service.

Meanwhile, on the outside, the Senator said he had lost the support of the public during the pandemic, citing a statistic that confidence had fallen to 37%.

Drawing her speech to a close, she described waiting for a change in leadership until the election as “turning a blind eye” to the problems facing Government.

Fighting for his future, the Chief Minister opened by warning States Members that a “vote of no confidence is an extremely serious matter at any time, but especially in the middle of a pandemic, before taking the States Assembly through the ‘wins’ of his term so far.

He reminded States Members that, in the very first week of his leadership, he helped deal with an impending £230m lawsuit facing the Government with the help of Education Minister Senator Tracey Vallois by rapidly bringing forward new legislation, which eventually saved the taxpayer around £45m.

The matter, he said, had “sitting with” Senator Moore – then Home Affairs Minister – for two years prior.

Delving into the recent pandemic, Senator Le Fondré told his colleagues that Jersey had received “international recognition” for its response, despite initial fears of up to 500 deaths, and dwelled on the unprecedented package of financial support that was announced to help businesses and individuals through it.

He took credit for the £100 voucher scheme, as he addressed suggestions that he had “no vision.”

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Pictured: Senator Le Fondré spoke of the leadership he had shown during the pandemic.

Turning to his own character, he challenged “anyone who dares question my commitment to islanders” and his ability to continue to lead, speaking of how he had maintained “clarity of thought” despite “months of sleep deprivation.”

He admitted making “genuine mistakes” in the absence of having “full information to hand”, but questioned: “Have I really made such a large number of mistakes I haven’t tried to rectify?”

Senator Le Fondré concluded by emphasising that, to remove a Chief Minister in the middle of a pandemic with Brexit looming would swapping one crisis for another.

He was followed by Senator Sam Mézec, who resigned as Minister for Children and Housing in order to support the bid to remove Senator Le Fondré, alongside the rest of Reform Jersey.

The ex-Minister described today as a “sad day for Jersey”, explaining that – despite finding the Chief Minister a “good man”, who “does not deserve the flak he is given” – he felt he had to support the vote of no confidence.

Echoing his resignation letter, he said he had felt blocked from achieving his priorities as a Minister – both politically and by civil servants – which revolved around reducing income inequality.

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Pictured: The former Housing Minister said he felt let down by the lack of progress on reducing income inequality.

He blasted the Chief Minister for failing to support the Environment Minister’s plan to regulate landlords and later said: “If we are to salvage the next year-and-a-half, we need new leadership.”

However, he said he did not have anyone in mind as a new Chief Minister.

The Constable of Grouville, John Le Maistre, said he was supporting the proposition with a heavy heart, noting it was obvious the Chief Minister had lost the confidence of the general public. “The fiasco over the Chief Executive… is just an example of how he is not in proper control.”

He added that there was an element of truth to the idea the Chief Executive was running the island due to the absence of a “strong Chief Minister to provide political oversight and governance”. 

He rejected the idea that the timing to change leadership was not appropriate, saying any alleged risks did not stack up as decisions were now being made in a much more considered way following emergency decisions early on in the pandemic.

“If we have a Chief Minister that can inspire confidence in the public, and it’s clear we have not, we are more likely to manage the virus,” he concluded.

The Constable of St. Helier, Simon Crowcroft, voiced his support for Senator Le Fondré, calling for stability. He also voiced concerns about the delay a change in leadership would cause to the hospital debate.

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Pictured: St. Helier's Constable gave his backing to Senator Le Fondré.

“It wouldn’t be fair to expect the Chief Minister to stand down halfway through his term,” he said. “When one looks at his career so far in a balanced way … he hasn’t done enough to merit being removed.”

John Le Bailly, the Constable of St. Mary, described the Chief Minister as “one of the nicest and most honest people you would wish to meet” but said he would regrettably be supporting Senator Moore’s proposition, citing the will of his parishioners as the reason for it.

“The important issue here is to be seen to respect the public view,” he said. “... hope this won’t cause too much a drift in the Assembly we don’t need animosity and resentment at the moment… to get the greater job done.”

St. Helier Deputy Russell Labey, however, rejected the view that States Members were there to do what their parishioners want, arguing their role was instead “to do what is right."

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Pictured: Constable John Le Bailly said his St. Mary parishioners had directed him to vote to oust Senator Le Fondré.

He said it was unfair to suggest Senator Le Fondré had no leadership given the pandemic and how it had been managed.

“What is the argument?” Deputy Labey asked. “Is he lacking integrity or not? Is he dishonest or not? From what I have seen I cannot say he is dishonest or lacks integrity.”

Constable Chris Taylor criticised Senator Moore’s proposition, referring back to 2017 when she rejected his own proposal for a vote of no confidence against the former Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst: “The reasons she gave that I should withdraw my proposal are contradicted most entirely by what she is doing today. It was of course the then Minister of Home Affairs and the proposer of this motion, so I’m sad to hear her bringing this motion today.”

On his relationship with the Chief Minister, Constable Taylor, who was previously Assistant Chief Minister, added: “We have a quiet but firm and evidence-based leadership, and it would be a very serious mistake to replace that at the present time. And I urge all members to reject this proposition and to support our Chief Minister and Council of Ministers.”

Deputy Inna Gardiner, however, said that “we don’t have a leader that all the Assembly can stand behind in collaboration and to take on the challenges we face. The Assembly is deeply divided under his leadership.”

She said that she thought it would be possible to continue with stability following the no confidence vote, saying: “The Assembly will have to pull together for the challenges we face. I want to ensure as much as possible that we have continuation if we are to do this adjustment." She added that she wanted the majority of the Council of Ministers to remain.

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Pictured: Chief Minister supporter Constable Chris Taylor spoke about a vote of no confidence he brought against Senator Ian Gorst in 2017.

However, she noted that “it was exactly the right time” for a change and that “in a crisis we need to have leadership that we’re all behind, it’s the logical thing to do.”

Deputy Scott Wickenden criticised Deputy Gardiner’s sentiments though, saying that it would derail the Government Plan: “You need six weeks’ worth of consultation, because it’s going to change in some way.

“You also have a 12-week lodging period – so it would be very hard to withdraw this Government Plan, change it for the new Council of Ministers and lodge it again to have any kind of plan lodged and debated before next year.”

As well as suggesting there would be “instability”, he directly attacked the motion overall too, claiming that “anyone who says this is not an opportunist political chance is not really being honest with themselves.”

For Deupty Louise Doublet, Senator Le Fondré’s leadership skills appeared to be the main issue. She asked: “Holders of public office should be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs – and can we honestly say that describes Senator Le Fondré? Because I cannot.

“He did not act in this manner during the recent episode with the Chief Executive, and I have seen him face other situations where he has shown when things get difficult or he is faced with a bully, he shrinks from it."

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Pictured: Deputy Wickenden suggested that the Government Plan would be derailed by a vote of no confidence succeeding.

She concluded: “We must look upon this question quite dispassionately, assess the facts and that is the approach I urge members to use to decide.”

Deputy Jeremy Maçon defended the Chief Minister, saying we “should be proud of” the Minister’s evidence-based approach to the pandemic, and that he doesn’t “want a new Chief Minister to come in and start slashing budgets left, right and centre and taking that money we need in the Education Department.”

He also highlighted that he felt the Senator’s opposition and the proposition doesn’t outline who the new Chief Minister would be, saying that “I don’t have an alternative candidate at the moment, and I certainly don’t think the bringer of this proposition exudes the qualities that she’s looking for, therefore I will not be supporting this proposition.”

Reform Jersey's Deputy Geoff Southern argued the Chief Minister had not kept the pledge to reduce income inequality and that the public sector was still not being paid fairly, saying that “the root of the malaise in our society lie in that treatment of the public sector.”

He agreed with those who said that the change in Chief Minister would not have an impact on the island’s covid response, pointing out: "The fact is that [Deputy Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ivan Muscat] and his colleagues are the people who will get on with things, not the politicians.”

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Pictured: Deputy Louise Doublet suggested Senator Le Fondré was not tough enough to hold civil servants to account.

Deputy Rob Ward criticised the Chief Minister for not acting on the Common Strategic Policy, which he said he had been happy to support. He added it was fundamentally wrong for the Government to rely on officers “not only to enact policy but to create it”, noting it reflect the current “lack of leadership”.

The St. Helier representative also said he would not support a new Chief Minister who would want a new Government Plan and Common Strategic Policy, describing it as “unnecessary." He however said he would support a candidate whose default position will not be to oppose any amendments brought by the Assembly.

“The power of government seems to be used to undermine, detract and oppose real and often positive changes sometimes with very personal attacks from Ministers or Assistant Ministers, something that does nothing to improve the image of this Assembly and that culture comes from the top and needs to be acted on, otherwise it is left and it is dangerous for us as members,” he had said earlier in his speech.

Deputy Ward said he didn’t believe in the “doomsday prophets” who predicted the response to the pandemic and other projects would collapse, arguing that change would give “more clarity in decision-making” and the confidence that decisions are being made for the right reason.

The Economic Development Minister, Senator Lyndon Farnham, said he understood and shared the frustration of the island cause by recent events, but said islanders needed “certainty, stability and continuity” ahead of the second wave of the pandemic, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and the economic recovery. He also warned that a number of projects, including urgent support for businesses, would be halted if Senator Le Fondré was ousted.

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Pictured: Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham said islanders needed "stability."

The Constable of St. Ouen, Richard Buchanan, also voiced support for Senator Le Fondré, saying the timing for the vote of no-confidence couldn’t have been worse.
He said the Chief Minister had “sucessfully steered the island throughout one of the most difficult periods I can remember” arguing he deserved to retain the support of the Assembly.

Senator Steve Pallett described the Chief Minister as a “good decent man with strong principles” but added that “being a sound individual of good standing is not sufficient for the leadership of our island."

Rather than the no confidence vote being opportunistic, he said the proposers had been motivated by “the growing lack of faith and trust in John Le Fondré." “This is not about personality but about what is best for our community,” he added.

He described a “vacuum in leadership” and said the Government had “meandered turning from the promise of one review to the other”. “Recent events have only served to highlight the Chief Minister’s shortcomings,” he added.

Social Security Minister Judy Martin listed the achievements of the Council of Ministers during the pandemic, including the speedy formulation of the co-funded payroll scheme just days before the lockdown, the swift setting up of the Community Task Force, and devising a plan to support Islanders who had not been resident for five years.

“We didn’t have collective responsibility and we represented all parts of the political spectrum in the Council but Senator Le Fondré got a consensus with everybody,” she said.

Addressing Members who intended to vote to oust the Chief Minister, she said: “Don’t make suggestions that all the Ministers will dig you out of this hole. We are a small national government which punches well about our weight and we do this because we have stable government.

“I cannot believe where we are today. This vote is a nuclear option and you have to give serious consideration of what this vote could do to the reputation of this Island. If you vote for this today, your decisions will come back to haunt you. And if they don’t, I surely will!”

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Pictured: Social Security Minister warned that their decisions may come back to haunt them - and, if not, "I surely will!"

Senator Sarah Ferguson used her speech to air a range of criticisms she had of Government ranging from the running of the £1bn estate to the how the Freedom of Information Law works in practice.

Strongly supporting the Chief Minister, Assistant Treasury Minister St. Clement Deputy Lindsay Ash said that the Government should have blown its trumpet more because it had threatened to let a vocal minority undermine us its work on a consistent basis.

“The Chief Minister is steeped in Jersey tradition, who like his father before him, has served the Island to best of is ability. Could you honestly stand before, look him in the eye and say, John, I question your integrity.”

Similarly, Minister for International Development Deputy Carolyn Labey, gave her backing to Senator Le Fondré. She said that a decline in spending for international development had reversed under his leadership and he had also recognised its important by raising it to ministerial level.

Deputy Steve Ahier, however, said that the Chief Minister had not provided neither leadership nor stability. “We are in crisis entirely of the Chief Minister’s doing,” he said, listing the lack of progress of the Government’s office strategy, the delayed redevelopment of Mont à la L’Abbé school and the lack of youth centre in the north of St. Helier, and his record of attendance at Assembly votes as examples of Senator Le Fondré’s failings.

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Pictured: Deputy Steve Ahier listed the Government's lack of office strategy as a key failing.

Mounting a staunch defence of the Chief Minister, Environment Minister John Young conceded that Senator Le Fondré had “made an error and taken his eye off the ball” but added: “Are we allow him to make one mistake with everything else going on?”

He argued that changing the leader and his Council now would delay crucial policies and legislation, including the Island Plan, which had a series of imminent and important deadlines.

“This is an opportunistic proposition but let today’s debate vent the tensions. We will now be able to find a new CEO with a much less confrontational style, who has a style appropriate for the Chief Minister,” he said. “It is a time to heal, restore the Government to a happy place, end the distractions and look forward.”

St. Martin Constable Karen Shenton-Stone spoke of how she and other States Members had wrestled with the proposition, having received equally forceful messages from parishioners, explaining that those voting in favour are “disgusting” and those against “deplorable”. 

In the end, she concluded that, while Senator Le Fondré is a “hardworking” and “decent chap”, he had shown a “lack of judgment” in giving verbal permission to Mr Parker for his second role, noting that he had tried “in desperation to blame others” when the move become public. She therefore said she had “no choice” but to vote to oust him.

Education Minister Senator Tracey Vallois, who questioned whether ejecting the Chief Minister would stall the progress she had fought to make in her department, used her speech to pose challenges to the Chief Minister. She urged him to create a sub-committee of the States Employment Board to examine and improve HR policies, and called for him to clarify how long the outgoing Chief Executive will remain in post, and whether the Council of Ministers will get a say.

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Pictured: Education Minister Senator Tracey Vallois posed a challenge to the Chief Minister.

Infrastructure Minister Deputy Kevin Lewis, who enthusiastically backed the Chief Minister, praised Senator Vallois for her examination of the “machinery of Government.” Referring to the power struggles alluded to by other Ministers, he acknowledged that the concept of civil servants advising and Ministers ultimately deciding was one that in some cases should be taken with a “pinch of salt.”

Home Affairs Minister Constable Len Norman questioned, “Can any elected member of this assembly say we have never made a mistake?” before going on to defend Senator Le Fondré. He explained that he had, with the Chief Minister’s help, made great progress in addressing “issues” within the Police force, whose morale he claimed was at the “lowest ever” at the conclusion of Senator Moore’s term in the position.

In addition to blasting the handling of pandemic communication, such as last week’s warning to teens, St. Saviour’s Deputy Jess Perchard emphasised the “frightening” suggestions that civil servants have become the ones in charge in recent years, describing even the mere perception as a “threat to the state of democracy.” Any imbalance of power, she argued, lies in the hands of the Chief Minister.

St. Martin Deputy Steve Luce said: “I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed that we are where are we are. The Chief Minister should have given the CEO a clear “no” to New River from the start, but he failed to do so, therefore, he has no longer has my confidence.

“This is absolutely right time to change our leadership, and our fantastic civil servants will continue to go a great job on such important issues as Brexit.”

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Pictured: Deputy Luce said it was the "right time" to change leader and get on with items like Brexit's impact on Jersey.

Both St. Peter Deputy Rowland Huelin, an Assistant Chief Minister, and St. Lawrence Deputy Gregory Guida, Assistant Environment Minister, voiced their support of the Chief Minister.

“Beware what they wish for,” said Deputy Guida. “Covid is nothing compared to all of the achievements that our Chief Minister has overseen over the last two years.”

“Who will be elected as a new Chief Minister? What will they do? There will be very big changes, whether you like it or not. John Le Fondré has been the most collaborative Chief Minister in many decades. He embraced the furthest left and the furthest right that we have ever seen, and we have been richer for it.”

St. Mary Deputy David Johnson opened his contribution by saying that the “bloodletting will do us no harm”, but went on to argue that it is wrong to entirely blame the Chief Minister for the recent debacle over the CEO’s decision to take a NED role.

“This nuclear option may be not the way forward,” he said. “We are perilously close to running out of time. Like an ocean liner, it takes a while to change direction and, at this moment in time, my inclination is to vote against the proposition.”

Deputy Kirsten Morel said that, while he was critical of the Chief Minister, now was not the time for change.

“The CEO has had us all dancing to his tune but we need stability through Brexit and over the next 18 months,” he said. “This Assembly needs to be working together and the next election is the appropriate time to decide this matter.”

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Pictured: Deputy Kirsten Morel felt that the next election was a better time to discuss leadership changes.

For Deputy Kevin Pamplin, however, it was the time for a change in leadership. He said he would be supporting the proposition.

Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf, like the Chief Minister a familiar face during the covid pandemic, unsurprisingly backed his political colleague.

He listed developments in Health and the new hospital project as evidence of the Chief Minister’s strategic leadership. “He is not a charismatic leader, but a man of substance and not of superficiality,” he said. “This proposition is opportunistic and harmful, and I urge Members to restrict it.”

St. Helier Deputy Mike Higgins said that the proposition was “built of revenge and self-promotion” and his urged members to reject it. “The plotting and intrigue is worthy of a Shakespearian play,” he added.

“Am I completely happy with Chief Minister’s actions? No, I am not. But this nuclear option is a step too far. He has made serious mistake but who hasn’t made a serious mistake in our lives? In my political career, I have served with three Chief Ministers and we appear to be holding Senator Le Fondré to a higher standard than the other two."

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Pictured: The Health Minister spoke of the progress made on the new hospital - for which the preferred site is Overdale - under Chief Minister Senator Le Fondré.

St. Lawrence Constable Deidre Mezbourian said that she did not believe that the Chief Minister had let her down. “I respect Senator Moore’s right to bring this proposition, but I respect Senator Le Fondré too,” she said.

“Some may not like the decisions that have been made but, in my experience, he has allowed everyone to have their say and reach their own conclusions. He has demonstrated to me effective leadership. Do I retain confidence in the Chief Minister? Definitely and without a doubt.”

Reform Jersey's Deputy Montfort Tadier, who resigned from his role as Assistant Minister with responsibility for culture to support the no confidence vote, said that his frustrations with Senator Le Fondré were not due to the fact he isn't also a "lefty" and has differing political views, but because he had "not stepped up" to challenges and "let down" fellow Ministers, such as by failing to support a bid to regulate landlords.

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Pictured: Deputy Tadier said his grievances with the Chief Minister went beyond the fact they shared differing political views.

Assistant Minister Deputy Hugh Raymond said that now wasn’t the time for change.

“The comments I’ve heard in the debate made about individuals being sole reason for change is not good,” he said. “Moving one individual is professionally not very good. The strategic view includes the timely view but many of us are not following through on what that means. We are in a middle of a pandemic and there will be twists and turns over Brexit. It is not the time for change, which should be timely, expedient and right.

“The disruption and cost of a change now would be colossal to the island. I agree mistakes have been made but we must look at the bigger picture. The general election in 18 months is the time for change.”

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst put his weight behind the Chief Minister.

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Pictured: Senator Gorst backed Senator Le Fondré.

“Every Government struggles with the difficulty of Government," he said. "We have heard from one minister in this debate that they felt that some officials obstructed them. Yes, I have found officials slow and the civil service bureaucratic, but I have I found officials understood democratic process and the fact that ministers is accountable to the assembly and the assembly is accountable to the people.

“Officers work for ministers; not the other way around. It is an open secret that I am the only conservative minister in Council of Ministers. I have had to fight for things I believe in that have not been successful.

“I am not happy where we find ourselves and things have to change. The Council of Ministers cannot sail on without taking on the considerations Islanders. If the Vote of No Confidence is lost, I would encourage the CM to give serious thought to a reshuffle across the jobs and bringing in new people to show this assembly can be brought together.

"For me, I have been entrusted to try to work through Brexit, and that is my priority at the moment.”

He was the final speaker before Senators Moore and Le Fondré summed up.

In the end, the no confidence vote was defeated.

You can watch this morning's debate HERE and this afternoon's debate HERE.

CLICK HERE to see the full breakdown of how States Members voted.

 

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Comments

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Posted by Paul Hadikin on
He must go.simples
Posted by IanSmith97 on
J Le F saved ONLY because Parker walked the plank, simples!
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