Monday, May 05, 2008

Guest Post: Guernsey elections

Thanks to John Angliss for this guest post on the heady politics of Guernsey.

On April 23rd this year, whilst the London Mayoral elections were beginning to hot up, a small island just off the north-west of France was holding its general elections. On May 9th, it will celebrate 63 years of freedom from Nazi rule. Guernsey has always been an anomaly, but it makes for interesting comparisons with the UK.

The electoral system is unicameral for all practical purposes, with 45 Guernsey members and two from the more northern isle of Alderney sitting in the 'States of Deliberation', which locals call "The States". There is a Chief Minister, elected by States members (or 'People's Deputies') from among themselves to represent the island abroad and heads the Policy Council, whose function is to 'steer' government and make sure that the long-term is taken into account. A Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Crown, rubber-stamps completed legislation in the Queen's place.

There are no political parties - instead all members stand as independents and none has to follow a party whip. Departments (roughly equivalent to Government Ministries in function) propose legislation and policies within their area of speciality, which can then be amended from the floor. Smaller Committees act as auditors and regulators of government, but are rather ineffective as they are run by politicians and subject to political pressures. Outside the States, there are 10 'Douzaines' which organise matters which are usually dealt with by parish councils in the UK, such as refuse collection.

For electoral purposes, the island is divided into 7 constituencies represented by either 6 or 7 deputies according to their population. Electors in 6-deputy constituencies are allowed to cast up to 6 votes, each of equal weighting (although all must be for different candidates); those in 7-deputy constituencies up to 7. The tally is then simple "first six-or-seven-past-the-post" once all the votes are counted.

This system has come in for increased criticism recently, and there is talk of replacing it with an island-wide voting system, or of electing the Ministers (Heads of Departments) and Chief Minister by some form of public vote.

The lack of political parties has also lead to some controversial outcomes. For example, for 13 years one Deputy was Tony Webber (right), a good constituency politician who had previously stood in two general elections in the UK for the National Front.

Anyway: what happened in the elections? Because an unusually large number of sitting deputies retired last time, there were 1) a large number of quality candidates looking to fill their places (88 people stood for 45 seats) and 2) a consequent electoral bias against incomers, since they split the anti-establishment in some places. Only two sitting deputies lost their seats, including one who had become unpopular by being the spokesperson for the introduction of Student Loans.

In the Chief Minister elections in the States, 6 deputies stood, but the two most likely candidates were Lyndon Trott, previously the Minister for Treasury and Resources (equivalent to Chancellor of the Exchequer), who was very much associated with the Zero-Ten corporate tax policy, by which companies based outside the island would pay no corporate tax, whilst those based inside the island would pay 10%. This was an attempt to circumvent new EU regulation (which the island does not have to follow, but does anyway in order to avoid financial blacklisting) on corporate tax exceptionalism, and both Jersey and the Isle of Man have followed suit with zero corporate tax policies of their own.

Challenging him was Charles Parkinson, formerly his Deputy Minister at Treasury and Resources, who was an adamant opponent of the plan. Trott won out and is now Chief Minister. This leaves the "right" in charge of the island, although one of the benefits of no-party rule is that a strong left-wing argument with popular support can become policy in a very short time: for example, the nationalisation of Aurigny, an airline serving the island, last year, which took fewer than two weeks from conception to completion.

1 comment:

Magnus said...

I am not sure if you follow anything that goes on in Canada, but I thought you may just find this interesting:

And also the BIll C-10 debacle that may just push us into an election if the opposition parties actually have the balls to force one.

Aside from that, thanks for the Guernsey post - I had been curious about the Channel Islands and how they were administered.