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Opinion

What are you voting for?

What are you voting for?

Monday 18 October 2021

What are you voting for?


If I had a pound for every person who has asked if I’m planning to stand in the 2022 elections, I could use the money to fund an electoral campaign.

Existing States Members have an advantage over most new electoral candidates, owing to name recognition and knowledge of process. Few people question that process.

I object to candidates being permitted to use private funding to boost their profile.

It hikes up the costs of campaigning for individual candidates to compete and favours possession or acquisition of cash over democracy and egalitarianism. Standing with a candidate who had a mobility disadvantage has made me question the practice of door-knocking too.

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Pictured: "I object to candidates being permitted to use private funding to boost their profile."

After the 2018 elections, I mentioned these concerns to the leader of a political party advocating social justice. Its campaign was partly funded by a union for public sector workers. He publicly dismissed these concerns and my suggestions to level the playing field… out of self-interest or by way of political irony?  

Whatever bothers you about government is the result of process: the way it spends or doesn’t spend, the way it recruits, manages resources or awards contracts… the way it taxes, communicates, or purports to represent you. 

If these processes lack the highest possible standards of ethical conduct, openness, transparency, enquiry, and objectivity, they offer some people an opportunity to gain an unfair advantage over others, or to abuse a position of authority. 

Aside from importing wealthy immigrants, Jersey’s economic prosperity largely depends on Islanders being productive. If States Members and government officials are not producing good results, how can Islanders thrive? 

Most States Members look to the senior civil service and the States Greffe for advice, but their role is to support States Members, not train them. Being apolitical, they advise on how things are done, not how they should be done.

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Pictured: "How can States Members improve standards if they keep looking to people identified as not knowing what good is… to tell them how the job should be done?"

Many government processes are unsatisfactory. The former Comptroller and Auditor General described the problem to a Scrutiny Panel as government not knowing what good is. How can States Members improve standards if they keep looking to people identified as not knowing what good is… to tell them how the job should be done?  

Lack of resourcing is not the problem. We are a small Island fortunate to have many professionals who are independent from government. Plenty have offered free time to both States Members and senior civil servants in the hope of improving government, only to be ignored or confounded by their attachment to current processes. 

There are States Members and voters who hang onto the illusion that skin in the political game outweighs the wisdom of new candidates with professional experience and technical skills relevant to good administration.

Yet these are the candidates most likely to regard processes of government objectively, challenge poor advice, and to identify and articulate what falls short of ‘good’ and what should be done about it.   

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Pictured: "Why has no political party or candidate yet articulated the key measures that need to be made by States Members to improve government processes (regardless of ideology), let alone pledged to help implement them? Is it out of self-interest?"

How many such people are likely to spend the time, money and effort standing for election, with the aim of improving government processes, unless most future States Members are demonstrably committed to seeking them?  

And if they are, why has no political party or candidate yet articulated the key measures that need to be made by States Members to improve government processes (regardless of ideology), let alone pledged to help implement them? Is it out of self-interest?

Might their supporters not want those changes because they profit from the current setup? Or are they too keen on pursuing a utopian dreamland to acknowledge how government itself is getting in the way?  

It’s a conversation we all should be having. Why does the ‘standard’ of honesty in the Codes of Conducts of States Members and civil servants not require them to tell the truth? Why are they allowed to make policies based on anecdotal evidence or to work divisively rather than collaboratively?

Is that overdue conflict-of-interest review promised by the Chief Minister being carried out? By someone not conflicted? How extensive is it?

How many States Members know the key measures they themselves should take to improve parliamentary and government processes? Or is the problem that we, the public, haven’t asked for those measures, let alone demanded them?  

Even though voting, as an act of political ambition, has dwindled in the Island, the public still has influence. Instead of blaming politicians who blame each other for dysfunction, how about we give them better direction?  

I won’t be standing in the next election. I have witnessed government processes first-hand as an independent (and unpaid) member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Statistics Users Group. 

Like most of the public, I’d rather let other people battle through the bog of current government processes, hoping they will improve them, while I enjoy the precious later years of my life more productively. 

In case voters don’t know enough to ask for the specific key measures that would improve government processes, I plan to set out those out in a single document that could usefully inform voters and candidates alike. 

It’s too late to change the process of electoral campaigning but not to change the narrative and to help people succeed. If you are going to expect people to work for you satisfactorily, tell them how to improve the tools they must use for the job. And make sure they commit to the task of improvement first.

The opinions of the author are her own. If you are not standing for election and are interested in contributing to her Better Island Government project, please contact her directly. 

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