Friday, 27 March 2015
Unravelling the 'Gorstian' knot
Legend has it that Alexander the Great attempted to untie the Gordian knot. When he could not find the end to the knot, he sliced it with his sword. He solved a seemingly impossible puzzle using unconventional means. I wonder if the curious mechanics involved in the recent States debate on the successful proposition to increase funding to the Committee of Inquiry might have created a modern parallel.
Like all good mysteries, this play has several sub plots. It was notable that the six who voted against were ministers or assistant ministers. Add the External Relations Minister's abstention and a couple of ministerial absences and it was clear the Council of Minister must have been collectively against. We have the tricky position of the Chief Minister in bringing a proposition that, had collective responsibility been applied, he would have likely had to vote against his own proposition!
We also have the curious position of Senator Bailhache who spoke in the debate and then abstained on the vote as being conflicted. What one wonders does he think is the point of debate if not to influence it? If it is to influence it then surely if you are conflicted enough to abstain you are conflicted enough to not try influencing the outcome? There is also the strange item reported on BBC Jersey saying he said that there was nothing new arising in the Inquiry. How could the Senator know that unless he was privy to the internal workings of the Committee or already knew the outcome?
There is a further question that arises from the vote. When a majority of Ministers present vote together and against the overwhelming majority of the Assembly, one has to wonder about accountability and responsibility. Imagine had collective responsibility been invoked we should have had the whole Council of Ministers outvoted more than two to one. In any functioning democracy that sort of defeat would lead to Government resignation or a vote of no confidence.
But of course that didn't happen. The assembly voted with CM Gorst, so all's well that ends well. It shoudn't be surprising - he was elected by the Assembly to that post. But so too were all the other ministers, even if they were proposed by the CM. So to whom are they answerable? If the Assembly does not act when there is such a disconnect between them and the contres then ministers are all but unaccountable , except perhaps to the CM when collective responsibility is invoked. That is not good government.
I see this as the inevitable consequence of having a piecemeal patched together set of expediences and compromises rather than a designed coherently underpinned system. I dont hold out much hope of change. The Assembly is collectively too supine and those who hold office quite comfortable with the current arrangements. Things will rumble on as they are until an Alexander turns up and cuts through the convoluted and unsolvable knot into which the Assembly has twisted itself.