Thank you Monsiuer Baillie,
I am delighted that my maiden speech is on the proposition of Open Government, something that was central to my election campaign and given the other business that we have to deal with today, I will try to please all present by being brief.
Secret ballots were initially introduced in the UK as a result of the Chartist movement who stood in opposition to elections held in a public forum and those that didn’t vote according to the wishes of the landlords were evicted from their properties. In France the secret ballot was enshrined in the French Constitution of 1795 and when Napoleon attempted to abolish this in time for the 1851 plebiscite he faced such strong opposition that even the “petit despot” was forced to change his mind.
While the principle of a secret ballot is central to our system of democracy and I would never advocate a system of election such as that still adhered to in Appenzeller Switzerland, where the electorate gather in a square to elect by an open show of hands, one could fairly ask the question of why I stand here with an amendment that would make these elections open to public scrutiny.
The answer is accountability. None of us here in this house are in danger of being evicted for not supporting one candidate over the other. None of us here are in danger of contradicting a despotic leader, I doubt that Deputy Harwood’s vision of executive government extends to that amount of control.
These are not elections on the basis of our positions, these are elections on behalf of our electorate. When I cast my vote I will be casting it on behalf of the electorate of St Peter Port North, not in my own personal vested interest. A very different situation to that of the general election.
It is never easy or comfortable to be openly held to account for the decisions that we make, but discomfort is not a reason to deprive the electorate of the opportunity to scrutinise our decisions. These don’t stop with policy decisions, they extend to all issues of government and the election of ministers will arguably have a far greater impact on the electorate than that of the chief minister.
The amendment that I propose is a natural extension of the open voting that we adopted for the Chief Minister merely one week ago, indeed, when canvassing on the other deputies opinion of this amendment, deputy Perrot asked why I wasn’t going further by proposing an appel nominal system.
I firmly believe that we need to balance open government with human nature and that awful spectre of perception. The amendment as proposed holds all of us to public scrutiny for our decisions, but equally ensures that all nominations by ministers and chairmen for their respective boards and committees can only be done on the basis of what they believe to be the best set of deputies to assist them in their four year term. Whilst I firmly believe all of us in this chamber to be of strong character, mind and will that we would not be swayed by such matters as who voted for whom, the amendment as it stands ensures that the accusation can never be levied, something that the appel nominal system could be accused of.
Indeed we’re all here due to our strong opinions and our strong character, I somehow doubt that anyone could undergo an election campaign and be elected on the basis of being a shrinking violet. This strong character and conviction is one that I would expect all of us to subscribe to and that the prospect of having our decisions made public would not deter someone for voting on what they believe to be the best decision for the island, regardless of personal attachment. We aren’t here to vote for friends and should we lack the character to advise our friends that we don’t believe them to be the best man OR WOMAN for the job, what calibre of friend are we.
I would equally hope that anyone stating that their vote might be different should it be by secret ballot would ensure that they also hold by the courage of their convictions to cast their vote according to whom they think is best suited for the future of the island, not by tactical means or for the benefit of public adulation.
Many of us here have worked on boards and committees having been elected onto them. I have asked myself whether knowing who voted for me and who voted for another candidate would cause difficulty for me in the execution of my duties, the firm conclusion that I came to is that no, this wouldn’t cause additional difficulty. Those that opposed my initiatives did so for their own reasons, regardless of whether they voted for me or for another. Most realised that there was work to be done and that getting on with the job was the most important factor. Would those ballot papers be available to me I don’t believe that they would change the decisions that I made and there is always the option of not looking. If any potential minister here feels that they would find the details uncomfortable, as they say on the news, look away now. The availability of information does not compel us to seek it, for some,
ignorance is bliss and for the first time in my life, I would respect any deputy that would take that stance.
But to say that the electorate should be kept in the dark is frankly contemptible. The votes that we will cast today, assuming that we manage to discuss this amendment in one day, are on behalf of those that we represent and it is only right that those decisions are held to public scrutiny.
Given our commitments in our manifestos to open and transparent government and the bold move made last week for an open election of chief minister I would urge all present to accept this amendment.