What type of party politics for Jersey?

By Sir Philip Bailhache

With the emergence of the Jersey Alliance to join the Reform and Progress Parties, and the Jersey Liberal Conservatives in the wings, the stage seems set for the emergence of party politics in Jersey. But what kind of party politics? Will it be a UK-type system with parties constantly at each other’s throats, bickering, and exchanging insults rather than debating policy options? Will it be a US-type system where compromise seems impossible to achieve? Will politicians seek to score points in bouts of verbal aggression rather than work constructively with each other? The answers to these questions may determine whether this new political scene is what the Jersey public actually wants.

One must earnestly hope that we do not import into Jersey the kind of party politics where knocking out the opposition by one means or another is the principal object of the exercise. Cheap jibes about sections of the community and personal insults about one’s political opponents are not very uplifting. Political discourse should be about ideas and different ways of doing things for the public good. Criticism does not have to be expressed rudely or offensively. Most importantly, it is generally the ideas that should be criticised, and not the people who utter them. In footballingterms, one should play the ball and not the man.

It is why one of the values set out in the JLC’s Charter of Values and Aims is tolerance. We state that “differing views should be listened to with tolerance, and people should, above all, treat each other with courtesy and kindness. That is a path to a fair, just and tolerant society.”

That does not mean that political debate need be stiflingly polite and boring. On the contrary, verbose obfuscation and muddled thinking shouldbe exposed for what they are. Conversations and political exchanges should be vigorous, sharp, and penetrating. The rapier, and not the bludgeon should be the weapon of choice. Wit can also be useful.

Party politics in Jersey needs to be shaped by informed debate employing the qualities of courtesy, independence of thought and intelligence. One side does not usually have all the strongest arguments. Politicians need torecognise that the best solution can often be found by honest and frank exchanges conducted openly and with tolerance of the opposing point of view. The JLC aspires to mould party politics in Jersey in the shape of the ideals set out in its Charter of Values so that the States Assembly becomes a civilised and stimulating forum for debate.