It means a new parliamentary year is underway. And what do we think of the House of Keys 12 months after the general election?
What have they achieved?
That will be the sound of nervous coughs and shuffling feet, then.
The depressing thing is that the main achievement of the House of Keys is to cement the impression that it is a place of astoundingly smug insularity.
The self-importance and self-absorption of the elected branch of Tynwald is no longer an amusing by-product of a small island having its own national parliament.
The navel-gazing is nothing new. I have followed Manx politics since 1990 – the days of relatively prosperity under the stewardship of Miles Walker. There’s nothing MHKs and MLCs have liked more in that time than talking about what they do.
Unfortunately the global trend in politics is to produce a vacuous soundbite and worry about the substance of what you are saying later. David Cameron illustrated that last week with his initial comments about energy tariffs.
Media popularity is what it’s all about.
In my time, I have been berated by Tynwald members who counted the actual number of words of coverage they got in a newspaper compared with another. My old boss told me of an MHK who used to take a ruler to the newspaper to measure the column inches he and his rivals got.
If it all sounds rather pathetic, it is.
But in this multimedia age it is much worse. There’s a fine line between accessibility to your public and obsession with the headlines you make. Not all MHKs have worked out which side of that line they should be on.
The public has become a little more discerning and, thanks to instant media and debate, is a lot quicker to spot the difference between quality and quantity, in terms of what they hear.
Members of the public are better equipped than ever to form their own judgement. And that could be bad news for some MHKs.
The House of Keys is an ocean of mediocrity that lacks political fish who combine experience with talent – illustrated in a spectacular, if depressing manner by the performance of Graham Cregeen following his appointment as minister.
The truth we may have to face is that, in the current situation, we would have been better bringing someone into the cabinet from Legislative Council at this stage.
It may be that in a couple of years’ time some of the new batch have proven themselves to be capable of ministerial responsibility, but at the moment I’d rather see someone like Dudley Butt in the cabinet. If Graham Cregeen was the best available from the elected members to replace the inadequate Peter Karran, then I think his handling of the bus drivers’ dispute shows that the time was right for Allan Bell to turn to the Legislative Council instead.
MHKs won’t like suggestions that some of them are out of touch, but at a time when the economy is facing the biggest challenge in a lifetime, several members struggled to understand why the public were less than happy at their apparent reluctance to contribute to their own pensions.
We even had the astonishing situation of some Tynwald members taking umbrage at the fact they were even asked whether they were making the contribution – that only came in this year and is voluntary.
Meanwhile the news of a pay rise for MHKs at a time when others are asked to make cuts has again illustrated that, for all their obsession with the right headlines, members often appear clueless as to what really matters to the public.
The attitude of some that it is an affront to even question their actions displays a depressing arrogance that has, over the years, fed upon the self-satisfied attitude that can be found creeping around the corridors of power.
And where is the opposition within parliament? Truth is, we don’t have any opposition of any value.
Just recently we had Liberal Vannin producing a report opposing plans to place a sewage treatment plant on a plot of land near Peel. It was a pure oversight that Liberal Vannin neglected initially to mention that the author of that ‘independent’ report was also the owner of neighbouring land who has planning consent for a housing development.
At a time when an organised and credible ‘opposition’ party would be a crucial part of ensuring the government stays on the straight and narrow while battling with its budgetary difficulties, Liberal Vannin fails by some distance to be either of those things.
But the government itself isn’t really instilling much more confidence.
The Agenda for Change announced by our chief minister last week so far appears to be an agenda for more consultations and more debates, not a great deal of change yet.
Much has been made of the plan to redraw the constituency boundaries to 12 two-seaters. It may be a fairer distribution of the 24 MHKs but I suspect two things:
- Tynwald members will spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about this.
- The changes won’t happen for a long time yet.
More to the point, I wonder whether the money that will be spent examining this now may be better spent on something else for the time being.
I’ve not been stopped by anyone saying: ‘You know what this Island really needs right now? It needs the constituency boundaries to be redrawn.’
If the economic conditions are not right for introducing a Freedom of Information Act, something that has again found itself on the backburner, I’m not sure they’re right for spending time and money on this right now, either.
So, as our dynamic 24 MHKs gather for a new year of policy making and problem solving, I finish this by expressing the hope that I will, in fact, be proven wrong in my belief that if the electorate gets the representation it deserves, then the Isle of Man populace has clearly done some pretty bad things.
Follow Paul Speller on Twitter: @Norbertsdad
More articles by Paul Speller