Extending grassroots democracy

WHAT appears to have been a record turn out for Wednesday’s election for a douzenier in the Vale parish was a lively demonstration of grassroots democracy in action – something one of the candidates wanted to facilitate by calling for the vote to be deferred.

Rather than settling the election at a parish meeting, as many of the estimated 70 parishioners present wanted, a required seven electors or more requested – and had to be granted – a delayed ballot held along the lines of a general election.

The 10am until 8pm voting period certainly enabled more people to take part and a total of 569 did so, with steady streams of people turning up to select their favoured candidate.

Whether deferred ballots become the norm – parish constables will hope not, given the cost and effort involved – the Vale’s experience was that parish politics do matter and people recognise that selecting a douzenier is an essential element contributing towards the island’s administration.

And after years of central government weakening the role of the parishes, there is now a concerted effort led by deputy chief minister Heidi Soulsby to see how they can help central government provide essential public services.

‘We need to think differently about how we deliver our services and the parishes are well-placed to help in that respect. We have started a conversation about how we might go about involving them more in the future and changing the whole relationship with them,’ she said earlier this year.

That process has started, albeit slowly, but it has been welcomed by the island’s douzaines as an acknowledgement of the quiet but vital work they do for islanders on an unpaid basis, and often without thanks.

As Deputy Soulsby’s initiative, part of the Government Work Plan, progresses it will further underline the need for parishioners to engage in local elections. With increasing parish power comes increasing responsibility and accountability.

The Vale’s deferred election might have caused controversy but it certainly showed that people are engaged at a parish pump level – and that deferred elections extend the democratic process.

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