For those who don’t understand the Manx parliamentary system, it is what we like to call a tricameral arrangement. That sounds rather like a nice chocolate bar, but in fact means that the Manx parliament of Tynwald – and yes, it’s the oldest continuous parliament in the world – is divided up into three.
It consists of the House of Keys, which is made up of 24 popularly elected MHKs.
There is then an ‘upper chamber’ of the Legislative Council – which is made up of 10. These consist of eight who are elected by the House of Keys, plus the President of Tynwald, who is voted in by MLCs and MHKs, and the island’s Bishop, who is appointed by Lambeth Palace. None of them are elected by the public, although a few have previously been in the House of Keys. You can add to the mix the attorney general of the island, who sits ex-officio.
These two branches are meant to have the primary aim of processing legislation, but most of the MHKs tend to forget this and spend as much time as possible navel gazing and asking largely pointless questions. The latter activity is not related at all to the fact that House of Keys question time is broadcast live on a local radio station.
Once a month, the two branches join together to sit as Tynwald. Tynwald is meant to be the policy making chamber, where government’s strategies are debated, approval is sought for spending on various schemes, motions of opinion are argued over and people are appointed to sit on committees that often we have not heard of before and will not hear of again.
Tynwald sittings are broadcast in their entirety, so political grandstanding is not restricted to merely the question time section of proceedings.
Anyway, that’s a little background. The eight MLCs are ‘elected’ in two batches of four and serve for five years. Often the candidates consist of sitting members MLCs wanting to carry on, MHKs wanting to move into the upper chamber and suddenly finding out how unpopular they are with their colleagues and people we have never heard of putting their names forward. This is followed by endless failed attempts by the House of Keys to give candidates the required minimum number of votes (13 of the 24).
So, for anyone considering putting their name forward for Legislative Council next February, here are a few things you should do:
- Don’t just clear your diary for the Tuesday when the House of Keys is due to elect the MLCs, clear all Tuesdays for the ensuing couple of months. It can take that long. (Also, if you’re successful, Tuesday is when LegCo sits, although you should have time for a good lunch.)
- When outlining your policies, make sure to say that, in principle, you are in favour of reform of the Legislative Council so that, in future, its members are elected by the public. Don’t worry that you’ll need to back that up; your colleagues in LegCo will be able to provide plenty of reasons why, even though they support the principle of reform, each and every specific proposal for such change always contains sufficient flaws that it must be rejected.
- If you are a chap, try not to have a full head of hair. You’ll look out of place.
- Do make sure you are – at least marginally – more intelligent than 50 per cent of the MHKs. That’s probably not too big a task but, while we may gripe about the fact MLCs are not popularly elected, we are grateful on occasion, for the fact that someone who is not desperate for populist support, and who has half a brain, has intervened to offer a voice of reason.
- Don’t let on to the above mentioned MHKs that you are more intelligent than them until they have voted you into office. They don’t like that sort of thing. It explains why one of the brightest minds to be present in the Tynwald chamber (former clerk of Tynwald St John Bates) didn’t get voted in by MHKs when he stood to be MLC. In fairness, he’s probably coped with the disappointment reasonably well, having been called upon by parliaments around the world, including Holyrood and Westminster, to lend his constitutional expertise. Clearly not the sort of chap MHKs wanted in the upper chamber.
- The good news, though, is that even if you are a clever clogs, unless your intelligence is overt*, as was the case with Professor Bates, the majority of MHKs’ egos wouldn’t contemplate the possibility that you know more than them.
The four MLCs whose positions are up for grabs next year are Tony Wild, Juan Turner, Eddie Lowey and David Collister. I’m sure we all wish them well, should they choose to stand again.
*If you know what the word ‘overt’ means without having to look it up, the chances are you know more than several MHKs, so please bear this in mind.
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