Political parties are here to stay, election study concludes

POLITICAL parties are here to stay in some form, according to researchers, but there is still some wariness about them.

The recount gets under way in the first island-wide genera election.(29634211)
The recount gets under way in the first island-wide genera election.(29634211)

In what they describe as the first-ever study into a general election in Guernsey, political scientists John Reardon and Chris Pich investigated the island-wide election of October 2020.

Candidates from the Guernsey Party, the Alliance Party and the Guernsey Partnership of Independents all stood.

And the study suggests that political parties, or looser groupings of some sort, are likely to be a continuing feature of Guernsey politics.

‘From interviews, it is evident that Guernsey’s political system is experiencing a period of profound change and uncertainty driven by island-wide voting,’ the report said.

‘No consensus exists on whether this is the most appropriate mechanism for conducting elections.

‘Several interviewees drew a distinction between the operation of running the first island-wide election, which was seen as a success, and the quality of voter engagement, which was far harder to measure and about which there were significant concerns.’

Concerns were expressed consistently about how individual voters could meaningfully assess 119 candidates and how a headline high turnout masked low levels of voter registration.

‘This fed into generic concerns about the consequent quality of decision-making by those subsequently elected. While political parties have appeared, this is embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm within the context of a voting system that for practical reasons now advantaged candidate groupings,’ the study said.

‘The wariness of political parties expressed by most interviewees underlines how this is a development that goes against the grain of an independent political culture.’

Examining Guernsey’s political parties, or even labelling them as such, is problematic, the study says.

All are organisationally thin, and range from centrist to libertarian right, with policy overlaps between all three standing in 2020.

And mass membership of parties is unlikely anytime soon, they concluded, with the culture of support for independents remaining strong.

‘With the exception of the Alliance, the two other parties heavily emphasised the individual qualities of their respective candidates rather than an over-reliance on a central platform, thereby building on the island’s tradition of independent candidates. Indeed, there may be a correlation between the Alliance’s poor electoral performance and its greater focus upon the party, as opposed to the individual, platform.’

No Alliance Party candidates were elected.

Mr Reardon said that Guernsey was of considerable interest to political scientists.

‘The aim of our paper is to shine a light on a surprisingly under-researched political system within the British Isles and it’s a good case study of how and why political parties emerge,’ he said.

‘Indeed, the Bailiwick has, up until 2020, been unique for a territory of its size in not having political parties although their emergence has, understandably, not been without controversy given Guernsey’s political traditions.

'Moreover, island-wide voting may well have a number of knock-on effects that are worth revisiting further down the line.’

About the report's authors

John Reardon is a teaching associate with the University of Cumbria in Carlisle and a secondary school teacher of social subjects in Glasgow.

Chris Pich, a senior lecturer in marketing at Nottingham Trent University, published the first study into Guernsey’s politics with his 2020 paper in the Journal of Political Marketing on how the island’s election candidates managed their unique personal political branding in a non-party environment.

. The paper, called The Strangest Election in the World? An Analysis the October 2020 General Election in Guernsey, is published in the open-source Small States and Territories Journal, https://bit.ly/2T6M9gA.

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