"Supporting and protecting democracy and our island" (Jersey Evening Post - 11 November 2020)

The first of a five-part series ahead of the Jersey elections in 2022 by Lisa Springate, Chair of the Jersey branch of the Institute of Directors.

Last week’s US elections focused the world’s attentions on the democratic process, both in respect of the positives and the negatives. It came at a time when we were receiving our voting registration forms in Jersey, preparations for our own elections here in 2022.

While arguments raged in the USA about methods of voting and who had won, what couldn’t be challenged was the record turnout of voters. Well over half of Americans either turned up in person at the polling stations or cast their votes via mail. Our last election in 2018, saw just over 43% turnout. This disappointing lack of engagement from the electorate prompted the States of Jersey to engage ComRes to undertake some telephone research in August and September of 2018*. The top five reasons non-voters gave for not voting was that they weren’t interested in the election (11%), they didn’t know enough about the candidates (11%), they were unsatisfied with the quality of the candidates (10%), deliberately decided not to vote (9%) and a further 23% said they couldn’t get to a polling station.

The IoD has been a part of Jersey life for over fifty years. We represent the diverse range of industries and businesses on the Island with our membership consisting of leaders of organisations and those who are aspiring to be leaders. We not only care about our community and want everyone to have a voice, but we recognise the importance of strong leadership – especially in the challenging times we now face ourselves in. For these reasons, we have decided to put together a campaign to help not only inform people about the importance of voting, but to encourage more people to stand for election – particularly those with the experience and aptitude to take on the role.

Another area that we differ from the USA is in our collaborative society. While the USA has become more divisive, we have pulled together as an Island in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the IoD, we’ve been working together with other stakeholders to support and inform the Government via the Economic Council, to ensure that a fully rounded and diverse view of our economy and the help it needs, is represented. That spirit of co-operation is, I believe, invaluable if we are to ‘build back better’.

This collaborative approach differs from the vitriolic campaign that was fought in America. However, we are not immune to it here, as we have seen in the run up to this week’s motion of no confidence in the Chief Minister and the conflation of this issue with a separate matter relating to the Chief Executive.

In the end, it should be the electorate though in a properly managed democratic process who decide who should lead, and confidence in any politician should be determined on the basis of policies and their effectiveness in implementing them.

However, against the present landscape in Jersey, who among those with the necessary substance and ability is going to allow his or her name to go on a ballot paper?

Previous candidates have complained of harsh social media comments which have not only attacked them, but also their families. This has been the case for a long while now and needs to stop, now more than ever. The toxicity in local politics needs to be eradicated, if we are indeed to “build back better”.

We need to start to put the steps in place to affect a mind shift and to try and change the culture and create a “Team Jersey”. As with any business, we will be much more effective with such an approach and affect change faster.

Some may say that I am an idealist but in response I would say, why keep repeating an approach if it is clearly not working, in the hope that it may one day soon? Why instead should we not try a different direction and build a platform from which to encourage and support people to stand for election, rather than discouraging them, if we really wish for our Island to continue to flourish.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be rolling out information, features and a campaign to support that democratic process. We shall be working with other local stakeholders to roll out a toolkit that we will use to encourage people to vote and to stand for election. We wish to work with those who lead our Island for the benefit of everybody, and we wish to ensure that the electorate knows it can choose high calibre candidates who will do just that. The team at IoD Jersey and I do hope that you will also get behind this campaign and support us. Your Island needs you.

*The full ComRes survey is available here: https://comresglobal.com/polls/states-of-jersey-voter-engagement-survey/

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