‘Alderney needs executive government like a mackerel needs underpants’.
Nick Winder thinks the Island’s political system is ‘broken’ but giving greater powers to an already ‘authoritarian’ civil service will do little address the problem.
Here he pulls no punches with a personal opinion on what’s wrong with governance. Do you agree? Join in with the debate.
Almost everyone agrees that Alderney is a unique jurisdiction whose governance systems are broken; but how does our alleged uniqueness impact on policy development?
Well, it depends on what sort of business is put before the States.
If reforms are contemplated that might outlaw workplace discrimination, enforce minimum wages, improve public health, enhance civil liberties and protect employees from dangerous practices, then a chorus of States members, former States members and their cheerleaders will remind us of Alderney’s uniqueness and demand we slow things down. Apparently we don’t need minimum wages, anti-discrimination laws and workplace regulation because Alderney’s a unique jurisdiction.
But suppose the States want to turn capital assets like the forts, Alderney’s green spaces or the seabed into disposable income by flogging them off to the highest bidder. Or perhaps they want to outsource healthcare or public works to a contractor who will hike costs and cut corners; well that’s a very different matter. Now we will be told that the checks and balances built into our system of governance are outmoded and the island needs to align itself with other, better governed jurisdictions.
The political impact of Alderney’s uniqueness myth, then, is to block reforms that would improve the quality of life for individuals and their families, or provide a level playing-field for small local businesses, whilst making it easier to monetise the community’s capital assets by transferring them to developers, corporations and individuals of high net worth.
OK, so much for uniqueness. What exactly is broken?
Motions placed before the States, if they come to a vote, usually pass easily. Some members speak against motions and, rather surprisingly, vote for them, but there are seldom more than two or three who actually vote against. Consensus, it seems, is not a problem. Indeed, the level of consensus is so high that one suspects a lot of arguing and arm-twisting is going on behind the scenes. That’s certainly what happens in other jurisdictions.
The British parliament, for example, has political parties, each with a Whip’s office that coerces members into compliance and drives them through the lobbies. Traditionally conservatives have been anti- workplace reform and liberals pro-. It’s taken years of corporate lobbying, political ‘donations’ and lucrative consultancies to build a, cross-party consensus, but the current Labour party is now more staunchly Thatcherite than the Tory party was in Mrs Thatcher’s day. It’s a remarkable story and future historians will make much of it.
Here in Alderney, however, we don’t have parties; there are no Whips and no lucrative consultancies (bribes) for dissenters. Yet in private speech States members will tell you they oppose the party line; that they cannot speak openly because confidentiality laws are being interpreted very narrowly, and that the Code of Conduct is being used to silence dissent and deny dissident members access to the Law Officers.
When speaking to the States, the President increasingly emphasises ‘YOUR Code of Conduct’; ‘YOUR Rules of Procedure’. In truth they are the product of a Poker game played by successive Presidents, CEOs and P&F Chairs. It’s time States members called their bluff.
Code of Conduct panel members are political appointees, recommended to the States by the Chair of P&F and waved through by the Ruling Faction. Our community is so small that Panel and States members are known to each other, so political and interpersonal tensions are unavoidable, even when there is no manifest conflict of interest. It doesn’t matter how you frame disciplinary statutes and procedures, in a tiny community like ours, the Chair of that committee is effectively Chief Whip.
“Ah”, you may say, “he’s missed the point. The problem isn’t with the States as a whole or with disciplinary procedures, it’s those wretched committees.”
Well, there are problems. Sure, there’s too much timewasting business on P&F, as individual members put matters before the committee that should be dealt with informally or through the requête system, but that problem could be resolved by narrowing its terms of reference and requiring the President to put before the whole States, some of the business the Chair of P&F currently handles in committee.
The committee system isn’t broken, just mismanaged, but the Civil Service is broken at the highest level. With encouragement from Presidents and P&F Chairs, the last two CEOs have been working to wrest power from the committees and apparently evade public scrutiny. Alderney has become an authoritarian, one-party jurisdiction that uses the trappings of ‘good governance’ to stifle dissent. The only solution our current States will countenance is to increase the CEOs executive powers and destroy the committee system altogether. They seem surprised – some even resign – when voters explain that Alderney needs executive government like a mackerel needs underpants.