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To party, or not to party

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It must be the summer. In the holiday vacuum the argument of party politics has surfaced again prompted by a colourfully worded post on an internet forum by Jersey senator Stuart Syvret.

It must be the summer. In the holiday vacuum the argument of party politics has surfaced again prompted by a colourfully worded post on an internet forum by Jersey senator Stuart Syvret

The response to Senator Stuart Syvret's diatribe locally was pretty much as expected from the usual suspects who will die in the trenches to protect consensus government – which is, after all, the Guernsey way.

Now the Syvret argument goes along the lines that neither system is perfect – but with party politics you have the lesser of two evils.

And in some ways he is right.

People frown on personality politics, but that is pretty much all the electorate has to base their votes on in a general election at the moment.

All manifestos follow pretty similar paths, promising better education and health facilities, a crackdown on crime, support for the environment and a healthy economy.

Nothing too outrageous, or too detailed, and certainly no promises, because with 47 individuals you could never be sure to keep them.

Under a party political system you should at least know for what you are voting, what the guiding principles will be, and expect to see them enacted because the membership will have a majority.

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It is an attractive starting point, and one that means accountability even within the party itself which can oust members.

And it would allow for an easier introduction to island-wide voting, that anathema which many support but have yet to find a satisfactory way of implementing.

Even policy formation and leadership might benefit as the party system allows a better forum.

But there are plenty of reasons to believe party politics will never, or at least not for a few generations, take hold in Guernsey.

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There is simply too little appetite for it, for whatever reason, among the electorate or politicians.

The flirtation with party politics across the Channel Islands has rarely proven successful or sustained in modern times, although Jersey has a bit more history with it.

Since the war they have had the left-wing Democratic Movement and its more successful opposition, the Progressive Party, which, after its initial success, faded by default into a government of key personalities.

Out of the ashes of the Democratic Movement came the Jersey Labour Party, there was also the Jersey Independent Labour Party, but it never really caught hold.

The Communist Party did have one successful candidate in 1966 – and more recently the Jersey Democratic Alliance and the Centre Party came and faded.

In Guernsey , three Labour Group candidates – Percy Rumens, Reg Hamblen and William (Bill) Forman – all got in, but it appears to have been a flash in the pan.

Those people who do back party politics sometimes fail to see that there needs to be a grounding for it to take hold.

Parties form out of a large groundswell of common opinion, not just a few like-minded people sitting around a table.

In recent times think of UKIP or the Scottish Nationalists.

We do see alliances in the States, for instance Deputies John Gollop and Rhoderick Matthews often work together, increasingly joined by David De Lisle.

In the old House there was talk of the Roffey and Falla wings, but nothing stronger than that.

Or we have the zero-10 and zero-20 camps.

But the lines of opposition are not firm or particularly long-lasting on political principles, even if they can be personally.

Look across the water. In Alderney there was Vision Alderney, now in Sark there is a Common Sense Alliance for Sark – both stress they are not political parties despite the whiff, perhaps because it is so unpopular.

One of the major concerns of those anti-party politics is the fear that cabinet government is an inevitable consequence.

Indeed it could drift that way.

The successful party at a general election would inevitably look to fill all the posts with its members, shutting out others from central policy formation, at least if it had a clear majority of seats.

Oppositional politics would be the reaction – not the genteel way of the past.

But then take on board the Barack Obama argument that politicians should be able to disagree about policy without getting personal or questioning someone's patriotism, and ask yourself if having clearly set out positions is such a bad thing.

It is an ongoing battle to engage people in politics and the question of party politics and its role in that should never be sidelined, even if you do have to whisper about it in case you are overheard.?

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