Thursday, 28 August 2014

All political careers end in failure

“All political careers end in failure” is a maxim usually attributed to the logical genius but politically ineluctably detestable Enoch Powell.

May 2015 will be the 30th anniversary of my first candidature in a public election. I had of course already been a candidate, and often successfully so, to various bodies and organisations, including the National Union of Students and the national Liberal Ecology Group. This year it happens is the 25th anniversary of my election as a County Councillor. Contesting elections is in my blood. I think it is a service to democracy when standing offers the electorate a distinctive choice they would not otherwise have. Given the peculiar first past the post voting system used in the UK, as here, that word distinctive is crucial. Having candidates of similar views standing against each other does not give more choice other than in the narrow sense of which person they 'like' more. In other places they either use primaries to sort out the differences upfront, or they use a preferential voting system.

People do not always stand to win the election. There are times when you are campaigning for a big challenging change and use the platform of an election to raise issues that are not otherwise being considered. I did that the last senatorial elections. And while the JEP delighted in repeatedly calling me a 'failed senatorial candidate' , it was only by standing that I was able to identify and contact like minded people and help use that to form Jersey Climate Action Network and Jersey in Transition.

Sometimes, however, the opportunity arises to go into the election with the purpose of winning and being in a position to argue and influence the course of policy and having a voice to raise issues in the public arena as they arise rather than being constrained to triennial  elections. When the current deputy of St Ouen declared he was not standing again, the possibility of standing with the aim of winning was clear. Of course there was much speculation about who might stand, and at least 7 names were mentioned. Of those only two were strongly progressive and ecologically minded. One was not standing for sure, the other I offered if they declared early on I would not stand against them. After some reflection they decided against and I then committed to standing , being as sure as I could be that I was likely the only environmentally minded  candidate, probably the only progressive.

Dutifully I notified the connetable so that I could be taken of the policing rota, I sorted out a proposer, who was very on board with the sustainability message (Thanks Mr R), and even had my pony tail cut. Helen and the children have never known me without it. Then things started to take a negative turn.

If you are unaware of it, a key prerequisite for standing, here as in the UK, is to have a proposer and 9 seconders on a duly completed form. I've never had a problem doing this, and it does not commit anyone to supporting you , to the extent I wonder if it really serves any purpose. Perhaps in the days when the number of electors would have been a couple of hundred, but not when it is in the thousands. I drew up a list of people in the parish I know and who have been supportive previously or made public comment in the past compatible with my campaign points. A couple had recently moved out of the parish, or taken a job with the States, and were unable or ineligible to sign. Fair enough. What did surprise me was that handful who said they were not prepared to sign as they were intending to vote for one of the early declared candidates because they were at school together, or think he's a nice person, even though they disagreed with them politically. I had no idea I was such an odiously disagreeable person that statement implies. Given what most people seem to think of politicians perhaps that should be taken as an unintended endorsement!

And then I heard the Russell Labey really was going to stand for deputy of the parish too. Given his high profile from the reform referendum campaign, and having been on local television for much of the '80's, I expected he would stand for senator where recognition is absolutely essential to being elected, and a real asset.

Having spoken to Russell about his standing it is clear we share a broadly liberal outlook on politics in general and would be campaigning on the same side on a couple of critical parochial issues, such as field 622. We would be seeking the same voters, and in doing so almost certainly let in one of the previously declared candidates with whom we both disagree on these points. So for some weeks now I have been struggling with the decision I have to make. Do I give up what is very likely my last and, until Russell declares, my best chance of being elected to the States, or not? From what I know of the declared candidates across the Island so far I do not see a likely champion for sustainable living, the organic growers, implementation of climate change plans, ending our mercury emissions, etc. There is no win-win scenario here. If this election is to be about personalities rather than policy then Russell is the better candidate. If it is to be about policy then both Russell and I lose if we both stand.

This is an incredibly hard thing to do personally. Assuming Russell does stand for deputy, as I believe , in effect it marks an ignominious end of my 30 year involvement in public elections. I feel wretchedly sorry and apologetic towards those people who desperately wanted to see a deep green voice back in the States (though Russell is far from a 'grey'!) . I have let them down. I am embarrassed at having to disappoint people in the parish who would have supported me. I feel so deflated. Much as I would love to carry on to have the platform and profile to raise in the States  those big issues on which our future depends, logic dictates the only sensible course of action for this election.  There are other ways of campaigning and there are other means to the end.