So I haven’t blogged in ages and that’s largely due to some personal upheavals I’ve had to deal with. However, I now have more time to publish my ill thought out and poorly conceived ideas so there’s likely more to come …
It’s the Isle of Man General Election in September and candidates have started their campaigning. This year is my 5th on the island and so I have been able to grow accustomed to the Manx lifestyle and appreciate the issues which the island has, which combined with a degree of experience of my time in the UK, has developed ideas in my head about how I’d like to see things done in the future.
The Isle of Man does not have a party system in its parliament, Tynwald. The island is too small for that mechanism. Instead, individuals are elected, each of which campaign with their own policies. In recent times, the Liberal Vannin party has emerged that does have a consistent “party line” and which is exerting pressure on Tynwald in new ways, which is clearly ruffling old feathers.
As far as I can see, although our parliament is one of the oldest in the world, it is fundamentally undemocratic. In the UK, if you want social reform, you vote left, If you want lower taxes and an enterprise economy, you vote right. Although this is very simplistic, these principles have more or less remained for centuries. By electing a party, you are enabling the “party line”. In electing individuals on the Isle of Man, you have only the policies held by the individual candidates to go on. The candidates have good intentions and strong messages but in reality, the results of these are often weakened by the requirement to “get the vote in” for legislation to be enacted. What actually happens is lobbying, meetings and debates occur in preference for a particular policy or “government line”. Individuals drop their policies, weaken their stance or change their line to avoid to be seen as being disruptive to parliamentary process. And being disruptive in the Manx community is distinctly an unattractive position. One individual who has a record for blocking this process is Peter Karran, of Liberal Vannin. He ruffles feathers because he creates friction in what is essentially a Boy’s Club.
So what value is my vote?
While I’m unsure which way to vote at the moment, the emergence of the Liberal Vannin party in 2006 is interesting and represents a real challenge to this status quo. As ever, it comes down to numbers of votes in Tynwald when introducing legislation and with a party line, legislation becomes more democratic. A number of individuals with individual policies, ideas and priorities clearly does not work; a party with a number of individuals (and therefore votes) is going to have more muscle. While at the moment there are just 2 elected Liberal Vannin MHKs, this number could surely rise this year with increased dissatisfaction with government policy. This will create a more effective vote for the electorate as individual priorities and in-dealing is [hopefully] reduced. However, this only works if Liberal Vannin have the “right” policies for all (not likely in a complex society) or a new party emerges. (Or individual candidates could get a backbone and stand by their convictions on which they were elected and are representing their constituents.) Our process seems to be a mixture of weakened stance and blocking.
Another area where democracy is weak is in the selection of the Chief Minister. Both the current Chief Minister Tony Brown and Richard Corkhill before him have had negative reaction and feeling about their performance and/or conduct in and out of office. Notice how I said “selected”, rather than “elected”. There is no public say in which MHK assumes the role of Chief Minister. In a system which eschews party politics, and where the individual is the representative, surely the Chief Minister as an individual should also be elected in some capacity by the electorate, maybe by candidate manifesto or Proportional Representation?
Transparency in public life on the island is not as transparent as the UK, as seen by the recent inability to implement a Freedom of Information Act which would have enabled public scrutiny in an over large, penny-wise-pound-foolish and somewhat ineffectual civil service. Plans have been afoot for a while for making the Legislative Arm of Tynwald to be elected, as similar efforts in the UK. Both these elements of making the process more democratic and less opaque have faltered, and it is ultimately down to personality and protecting one’s lot. Such attitudes need to change on the island, particularly as hard decisions needs to be made with regards cost savings, for which it is important to get the Manx community on-side or at least educated as to how decisions were made.