Friday 16th September saw a very unusual open air sitting of Tynwald in St John's. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, we came together to hear the proclamation of Charles III as our new king. The Tynwald Special Ceremonies Committee had given us a briefing not long after we were elected, but in the whirlwind of everything else that was covered in that period, I suspect many of us had forgotten most of it, other than the clear instructions to read the briefing document and follow the guidance therein. As the situation unfolded on 8th September, the Clerk of Tynwald sent the briefing document out again so that all members would be aware of protocol.
Even though the Special Ceremonies Committee had obviously been at work on the protocol, there were a few anachronisms that clearly showed how it was derived from the last time a Proclamation Ceremony was held in 1952. The dress code specified that ladies should wear a dark day dress and black gloves (optional). I'm not sure specifying a dress and gloves is contemporary and feels very Victorian, so perhaps the guidance hasn't quite moved with the times.
Tynwald felt strangely small without the grandstand, the fair ground and the giant screen, but there were several hundred people in attendance. Given the historic nature of the sitting, I think that's entirely understandable and it was very welcome to see how many were in the crowd.
The Extraordinary Sitting of Tynwald called to discuss the response to the Cost of Living crisis was postponed from 13th September until 22nd September as the protocol dictates that parliamentary business is suspended until after the funeral. As autumn weather starts to take hold, and thoughts turn to how long we can hold off before the heating gets turned on, the discussions about how the Government can support our community has never been more pressing.
2022 has arrived, but in some ways it just feels a bit like a repeat of 2021. Covid infection rates are at an all time high due to the arrival of the Omicron variant which doesn't seem to mind much about previous infections and natural immunity, or about 2 doses of vaccine. The consequences of high levels of infection is that everyone is under pressure due to staff shortages, schools, businesses, health and social care, we are all suffering the effects of staff absences.
I'm starting to find my feet a little more now. Over at DEFA I have been asked to take the lead on Environment and Regulation, both areas which are right up my street. I hope to be able to bring the new Animal Welfare legislation to the House in the next few months, along with some secondary legislation with measures for controlling Avian Flu.
In Health and Social Care, the work to set the Mandate for Manx Care is ongoing. I've taken a particular interest in staff welfare and sickness, and in supporting those suffering from Long Covid.
Outside of Departmental roles, I've been actively meeting constituents and dealing with specific issues. I'll be running more constituency surgeries in the next few months, but if you want to contact me in the meantime, please give me a call or drop me an email.
Long political weeks seem to be a theme of late. I wonder when short political weeks ever happen? We continued our Induction training with sessions on data security, the work of the Cabinet Office, a meet the media session and some speed dating with Govt Departments to help us put names and faces together. I think it might have been slight overkill as by the end of 4 hours the names and the faces were becoming a bit of a blur!
And then we come to the first big decision, who should be our Chief Minister. I had been approached by Alex Allinson who asked if I would stand to propose him, and so I ended up this morning giving my maiden speech to the House in order to do that. By now you'll know that the vote went 14:8 to Alf Cannan and I think that reflects how very strong both candidates were. Both had ministerial appointment, both had recognised the need to reduce the use of Comin's block vote and to include a wider consultation to set the Programme for Government. I look forward to seeing how Mr Cannan's ministerial appointments shape up over the next few days. And then of course to getting on with taking decisions...
It's an oft repeated phrase that a week is a long time in politics, but I had never fully understood it until the last few days. After weeks of door to door canvassing, several hustings (some real and some virtual) and seemingly endless media surveys, the election finally happened on 23rd September.
Election night itself was highly stressful. The returning office marshalled around 30 staff to ensure all the ballots were accounted for and everything tallied. Rushen has 5884 registered voters and with a turnout of 59%, there were a lot of votes to count. The result came around 22:45 and BOOM I'd received 1386 votes (22.9%) and been elected alongside Juan Watterson (2384 votes, 39.5%). Part way through the count I'd been convinced that I hadn't polled well enough, so to receive the final tally capped a huge rollercoaster of emotions. I sat up with family and close friends listening to the rest of the results come through to see who my new colleagues might be. I'm so proud to be one of the most gender balanced House of Keys ever, with 10 women out of the 24 members.
What followed has been a bit of a rapid introduction. On Friday I went into the office to collect a whole raft of paperwork relating to my induction. On Monday I had my photo taken, got a security pass and found my desk and by the next day I was being sworn in as an MHK (and Steve even put on a suit to come and watch me!). By Wednesday I was attending the swearing in of the new Lieutenant Governor at Castle Rushen (he had rather more to say than we did!) and by Thursday I was in my first Tynwald Court sitting. Friday involved more induction training.
To be honest, I still feel very much like the new kid on the block. The Legislative Buildings feels a little like a maze where I often find myself in dark stairwells, not entirely sure where I will come out. I've been practising holistic navigation (all credit to Dirk Gently/Douglas Adams) and following other members who look like they know where they are going, with the knowledge that wherever I end up is where the universe intended me to be. I haven't gone too far wrong so far, apart from managing to inadvertently park in the wrong space in the carpark.
The coming week is filled with more induction training and a chance to get to know my new colleagues a bit more. Some of the returning members have been coming to these sessions and their insights are really helpful.