Politics of Jersey

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The States building in St. Helier
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The Government of the Bailiwick of Jersey, the nation being a crown dependency of the United Kingdom, is composed of the Queen of the United Kingdom, the Lieutenant Governor, the Bailiff, the Assembly of the States and various other bodies and officers. The Bailiwick uses an unwritten constitution, but a 1966 statute known as the States of Jersey Law outlines the general procedures of government.

Contents

States of Jersey

The Queen as head of state appoints the Lieutenant Governor, who serves as the Queen's representative and as commander of the Armed Forces, for such a term as she pleases. The Lieutenant Governor serves a ceremonial role. The Queen also appoints the Bailiff to a term that expires approximately when the Bailiff attains the age of seventy years. A Deputy Bailiff is also appointed to a similar term.

The legislative power of the Bailiwick rests with the Assembly of the States, of which the Bailiff is the President, or presiding officer. However, the Bailiff may cast no vote except for the casting, or tie-breaking, vote. In the absence of the Bailiff, the Deputy Bailiff or an individual chosen by the Assembly presides.

The traditionally non-partisan Assembly's voting members comprise Senators, Deputies, and Connétables. Twelve Senators are chosen by the whole Bailiwick for six-year terms; terms are staggered so that six senators are chosen every three years. Additionally, each of twenty-nine electoral districts in the Bailiwick chooses one Deputy for a three-year term. Finally, each of the Bailiwick's twelve parishes (which function both as Church parishes and as local government divisions) elects one Connétable. The Connétable is actually the head of the parish who sits ex-officio in the Assembly; he is not directly elected to the Assembly. Connétables also serve three-year terms.

In addition to voting members, the Assembly also includes three members who may speak but not vote. The Attorney General and Solicitor General are appointed by the Queen as officers of the state and serve in the Assembly ex-officio. Also, the Dean of Jersey, the senior Jersey clergyman of the Church of England, has a seat in the Assembly ex-officio. Additionally, despite not being a member of the Assembly, the Lieutenant Governor may address the body, but usually does so only on taking and leaving office.

The Assembly's passage of a law is generally not subject to any veto. However, any law that concerns the "special interest" of the Queen may be vetoed by the Lieutenant Governor. Additionally, if he feels that the Assembly does not have the authority to pass a law, the Bailiff may declare his dissent to that law. The bill is then submitted to the Queen, and has no effect until her consent is obtained.

A piece of legislation passed by the States is known in English simply as a 'Law', and in French as a Loi, not as an 'Act' as in the UK. An Act or Acte of the States is an administrative enactment and may be in the nature of secondary legislation.

According to constitutional convention United Kingdom legislation may be extended to Jersey by Order in Council at the request of the Island's government. Whether an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament may expressly apply to the Island as regards matters of self-government, or whether this historic power is now in abeyance, is a matter of legal debate.

Responsibility for government departments are exercised by Presidents of Committees. However, the decision has been taken to change this to a ministerial form of government, with a Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister, responsible to the States Assembly. Various proposals to change the composition of the States and methods of election are currently under debate.

Elections

Elections for Senators and Deputies occur at fixed three-yearly intervals. Elections for Senator (Senatorials) occur in October, with elections for Deputy (nicknamed Deputorials) taking place a month later in November. Sitting Deputies are able to stand for election as Senator without risking their Deputorial seat. Senators who lose their seats in the Senatorial election are able to attempt a comeback by standing for Deputy in the following election. Senatorials are generally better contested than Deputorials, as it is common for first-time candidates to gain an electoral profile and test their electoral appeal in an Islandwide vote and then, following the Senatorial results, to choose which, if any, constituency to contest as Deputy.

History

Jersey is a state in which political parties do not currently play an important role. This is likely to change with the introduction of ministerial government expected in 2006.

Historically, two parties dominated Jersey politics throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century: the Rose Party and the Laurel Party.

Originating in the 1770s, the Jeannot party formed around the radical lawyer and Constable, Jean Dumaresq, who opposed the cabal of Jurats who surrounded Lieutenant-Bailiff Charles Lemprière (whose supporters became known as the Charlot party).

The Jeannots rapidly adopted the nickname of Magots (cheese mites) after their opponents boasted of aiming to crush them like mites.

The Charlots and Magots contested power at elections until in 1819 the progressive Magots adopted the rose as their emblem, while the conservative Charlots wore laurel leaves. The symbolism soon became entrenched to the extent that gardens displayed their owners' allegiances, and pink or green paintwork also showed political sympathies. Still today in Jersey, the presence of established laurels or rose gardens in old houses gives a clue to the past party adherence of former owners, and the chair of the Constable of Saint Helier in the Assembly Room of the Parish Hall still sports the carved roses of a former incumbent.

By the time of the introduction of the secret ballot in 1891, party politics had waned. Blues and Reds contested local elections into the 1920s, but Islandwide party politics lay dormant until the post-Occupation elections under the new Constitution of 1948 saw a struggle for dominance between the Jersey Democratic Movement and the Jersey Progressive Party. Having achieved the political reforms it advocated the Progressive Party soon folded as an organisation, while the Democratic Movement, incorporating the tiny Communist Party of Jersey, continued in existence as a campaigning social movement until the late 20th century.

The Jersey Green Party succeeded in having candidates elected in the 1980s but the difficulties of maintaining a successful party structure in a consensus government system caused the organisation to fold.

With the prospect of ministerial government and the creation of an executive and opposition, the Jersey Democratic Alliance was formed in April 2005 at a mass rally with the intention of fielding candidates in the elections of October and November 2005.

Reference

  • Balleine's History of Jersey, Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1860770657

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