It’s a question most people in the Isle of Man ask themselves at some point. It’s hard not to look at the House of Keys and think you could do better.
For those from beyond the island, let me explain.
The Isle of Man is self-governing (apart from when the UK Government decides it knows better) and is ruled by Tynwald, a parliament that is more than 1,000 years old and some of the members appear to have been serving for most of the time.
Tynwald is the debating chamber where policy should be set and approved
It then divides into two sub chambers. The House of Keys is the ‘popularly’ elected chamber, with 24 constituency MHKs, while the Legislative Council is the ‘upper’ chamber, whose members are appointed by the MHKs.
Think House of Commons and House of Lords, with fewer wigs. (Or Whigs, for that matter.)
The primary purpose of these two branches is meant to be the debating and processing of legislation. Unfortunately, most MHKs have forgotten this and much prefer to do a bit of showboating in the weekly question time session, when they take the opportunity to ask things of ministers. Normally it’s things they already know or could have looked up but it is an important part of the democratic process for these things to be asked in public and, pertinently, answered in public.
And it is a happy coincidence that question time is a great opportunity for soundbites and headline grabbing antics.
So it is that we in the Isle of Man are ruled in a democracy first founded by Vikings.
(Within that parliamentary set up, we also have a government. Unfortunately, due to a lack of party politics, no one knows when they vote in the general election who is going to run that government – it is elected from among themselves by the Tynwald members after each such general election.)
Of course, there have been attempts to introduce political parties, but the most recent, in the form of Liberal Vannin, has been so painfully poor, that it has probably set back by decades the likelihood of our system truly embracing what is seen as normal in most other democracies: party politics.
So, what are the key things you need to know about becoming an MHK?
Firstly, you must get elected. For that, you have to wait for a general election, which takes place every five years (next one 2016). If you’re impatient, you could suggest to one of the current MHKs that they avoid the risk of losing their seat at the polls and get their mates to elevate them to Legislative Council, thus creating the need for a by-election.
Once you have found an election, you must announce your candidature. It is helpful to have some policies, although a lack of such is not always a barrier to getting elected.
Then you must find enough people to vote for you. There are several ways of doing this:
- Connect with your public and produce a manifesto that the majority can support. Ability to deliver on such promises tends to diminish the moment you get elected, so don’t worry too much if you think it may seem rather difficult to follow through on what you’ve said.
- Try to ensure your opponents are even worse than you. Those of us who have had to vote in certain Douglas constituencies over the years know this is a tactic employed by many of the current MHKs.
- In the run up to the election get a job as one of the following: taxi driver, pharmacist, sub postmaster.
- Find a bandwagon and jump on it. If you manage to do this before your candidature is announced, even better.
- Don’t join a local authority. You really don’t want people to get a proper flavour of your ability before you’re on a proper political payroll. Have you ever wondered why so few of our MHKs these days come from the boards of commissioners?
Go for all of the above and you could find yourself elected as an MHK
Assuming you have actually given serious thought to standing for election, the chances are you have either the ego or the pomposity to prosper in the House of Keys.
The key thing to remember is that you need to forget, as quickly as possible, all those pledges to be different from the others. Unless it’s a by-election, you’ve got five years before you face the voters again, so as long as you start to show willing and really work for your constituents in the final 12 months, you’ll probably be fine.
Follow on Twitter: @Norbertsdad
If you’re wondering why Liberal Vannin does not find favour with the author, this is what happened when its leader was education minister: