What’s important is the work behind the scenes with horse trading and deal making
Tuesday 23rd August 2011, 3:00PM BST.
THE obvious story, the one that would be easiest to write, would be the one about how Senator Paul Routier’s declaration that he’s in the running for Chief Minister has been the match that lit off a powder keg of infighting, horse trading and political gossiping.
It’d be great. There’d be some unnamed sources speculating here, a bit of background there, and then some strokey-beard musings on the meaning of it all right over here.
And it’s a real shame that it’s done none of those things, because it would have been pretty convenient.
What we’ve got instead is a characteristically decisive declaration, with Senator Routier saying he might be a candidate. Maybe. Possibly. Depends. And absolutely noone being surprised or bothered by it. And there, actually, is the story.
And it’s a story that goes right to the heart of how things work in the States, and it’s a story about two constituencies – one composed of a few thousand names on an electoral register, and another composed of the 53 names on the States roll call.
Dead easy, really. You need support in both constituencies – the first to get elected, and the second to get anything done. You can survive without the second, but you won’t be doing anyone any favours – you’ll just be losing fights week after week after week, and then making pathetic excuses for why you haven’t actually achieved anything in the last three years (and get ready to hear some of that at a hustings near you pretty soon).
The interesting bit is that the two constituencies don’t really have anything much to do with each other. It’s not too hard to think of politicians who had all sorts of pull in one of them but not so much in the other – and Frank Walker and Ben Shenton leap to mind as the immediate examples, but there’s far more besides them.
This all came to mind the day after Senator Routier confirmed that he was thinking about a run at the top job, and one of his States colleagues said privately that he thought that doing so was a mistake.
His point was that there was no angle in a public declaration, and only an opportunity to take more grief – because the constituency that’s important in this case is the second one, not the first.
What’s important, according to this unnamed speculator (found one!) is the work that you can do behind the scenes with horse trading and deal making – and it’s worth mentioning in this context that Senator Routier made his comments when asked, as opposed to making them through a spontaneous announcement.
Ministers are, after all, elected by colleagues, not by the public – this being a matter squarely in the hands of the second, smaller, constituency.
But it’s a remarkable point that we’ve got to when it might be a mistake to say publicly that you fancy, maybe, you know, possibly having a pop at running the Island’s government.
And that’s because with Jersey’s weird party-less but oh-so-tribal political system, it’s actually the choice of Chief Minister that informs most of the political direction of the next three years, and gives an indication about where we’re headed.
That’s not to say that the Chief Minister wields tremendous power or authority over the Council of Ministers. He doesn’t. In fact you could argue that the person with a lot more sway is the one in the Treasury job, particularly now that the Treasury remit covers all resources, including staffing matters.
You might then ask yourself whether it makes a lot of sense for the Treasury Minister to go for the Chief Minister’s job. You might then decide, actually, that it doesn’t. You might then stop waiting for Senator Philip Ozouf to get into the race.
The position of Chief Minister, in particular, might not be of momentous importance, but the positions of ministers in general most certainly are – you could build up a pretty good argument for saying that actually, they’re the most important decisions that the States Chamber is likely to make in a three-year term, deciding as they do the directions and policies of the various departments.
And all that said, you might ask the very reasonable question – is it actually sensible to leave all of this to the smaller of the two political constituencies? And what does it say about those that might stand for these ministerial positions that they’re perfectly happy to keep it that way?
And while we’re asking questions, who was the idiot who, around a month ago, declared the Senatorial race over? Since then we’ve had two strong candidates – Advocate Rose Colley and former Senator Stuart Syvret – declaring that they will stand. Their declarations will, if nothing else, make election night a bit more interesting than it looked like being.