As I thought a few weeks ago, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last Saturday evening that England will enter into a month’s “lockdown” for the second time. The announcement came on the back of the UK passing a very grim milestone of having over one million coronavirus cases, along with the UK death toll passing more than 47,000, which is alarming.
The UK Prime Minister was forced to make the announcement after details of the plans were leaked to the numerous national newspapers ahead of a Parliamentary statement due in Westminster on Monday.
The month-long shutdown came into force on Thursday and will last until Wednesday 2nd December, but that date may be extended if the UK Government has not sufficiently got control of the Covid-19 virus during this period.
This announcement will result in the closure of pubs, restaurants and non-essential businesses including hair salons and gyms. Schools, universities and playgrounds will remain open in England, but these measures will only apply to England. This is because healthcare is handled by the devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which could be a serious mistake when the United Kingdom needs a single approach to dealing with Covid-19.
One thing is for certain, Christmas 2020 will be different from normal.
The other big story this week was the US Election, which changed from Election Day to Election week and could turn into weeks as the US President Donald Trump went head to head with the former Vice President Joe Biden who was looking to be the 46th President of the United States of America.
More people voted in this election than in any other US Presidential election, and win or lose Donald Trump secured an extra 3 million additional votes in this election than he did in the 2016 US Election, which he won.
It has been fascinating to watch this election unfold, but more on that in a moment.
As for my own activities this week, not much to report on Saturday other than catching up with some correspondence and going through a few reports, which only took a couple of hours.
On Saturday evening Ellen and I put on our Halloween costumes and headed West to a friend’s house for a party, which is always a wonderful event, where everyone gets dressed up, and there are always some amazing outfits and ideas on display.
A lazy morning on Sunday but in the afternoon Ellen and I attended the 40th Anniversary of the hallowing of the Cathedral in Peel. A beautiful evensong service and some of the musical pieces from the choir were fantastic – the only disappointment for us was the fact that we had turned up 30 minutes too early.
Monday was a strange day in many ways, because I was able to sit in the office and get through a mountain of reading, especially in relation to the new Heads of Terms in respect of the new Manx Gas Agreement.
Having spent part of the morning going through the Heads of Terms, a Market Report into gas prices, the 2015 Agreement for the Regulation of the Gas Market in the Isle of Man along with Gas Regulation Act 1995, I am left with more questions than answers. Yes, I understand that the return percentage will fall to 6.99%, but a lot of the information needed to validate the statements or proposals on the table is not in the public domain, which makes the whole process very difficult, especially when as MHK I am trying to explain the new agreement to Constituents.
The Chief Minister also called in my office for a general chat and catch up, which is always welcome, because it is very rare that the Chief Minister, Treasury Minister and other senior Ministers call in to see backbench MHKs without having a motive.
However, on this occasion it was just a general chat and catch up and it also gave us an opportunity to discuss a few topics including the Area Plan for the East.
On Monday afternoon I dialled into my first Commonwealth Parliamentary Association BIMR workshop group on Covid-19. This was a follow up from the Regional Conference back in September when it was agreed that a working group would look into the impact and the responses from Parliaments within the Commonwealth.
A very interesting meeting as delegates from Westminster, the Welsh Assembly, Falkland Islands, Guernsey, Gibraltar and myself from the Isle of Man discussed emergency measures and the legislation being passed by Parliaments throughout the pandemic, along with looking at public engagement, impact of Covid-19 on disability and location etc, as well as mental health issues.
We also discussed economic and environmental issues together with the challenges and opportunities. A very interesting meeting, I look forward to working on the group in the coming weeks and months, and hopefully it will produce some good outcomes and lessons learnt etc.
In the office just after 8am on Tuesday ahead of the House of Keys sitting that got underway at 10am with 2 emergency questions, one of those related to the “ Covid-19 Lockdown” announced in the UK over the weekend. This was followed by 16 oral questions and 15 written questions.
In advance of the Keys sitting, I needed to draft a couple of letters in relation to two ongoing Constituent issues, along with a general catch up. Once the question time had completed, the Justice Reform Bill 2020, Climate Change Bill 2020 and the Competition Bill 2020 all received their first readings.
My colleague from Garff, Daphne Caine, MHK then asked for leave to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to amend a section of the Council of Ministers Act 1990, which relates to the number of votes required to remove a Chief Minister.
In 2021 the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man will only be elected by the publicly elected members of the House of Keys, which is a major change from 2016 when the election was in Tynwald Court and Legislative Council Members had a voice and a vote, but not in 2021.
Therefore, any individual stepping forward for Chief Minister in 2021 will only require a minimum of 13 votes amongst the 24 elected Members. However, under the Council of Ministers Act 1990 at least 16 Members need to stand up to remove a Chief Minister from office.
The question is a simple one, should there be a greater weight applied when considering removing a Chief Minister or should it be a simple majority of the House?
Back in the Keys sitting this week, Chris Thomas, MHK then tried to establish a framework to enable the effective operation of economic regulation, which was defeated, but only just. For me personally I don’t think Chris really explained what he was trying to achieve, and unfortunately the information he sent to Members just before the sitting was far too late in the day.
In the end the vote was 12 in favour and 12 against, and although the Speaker, Juan Watterson, MHK had initially voted to support the Motion, his casting vote had to be for the status quo so the Motion was lost.
The final two items on the Order Paper related to the third reading of the International Maritime Standards Bill 2020 and the Manx Care Bill 2020 before this week’s House of Keys sitting finished just after 12.15.
There was also a presentation at lunchtime on the Justice Reform Bill 2020, but I had to give my apologies as DEFA had a pre-budget meeting before going up to the King Orry Room for the budget meeting with Treasury, which lasted just over an hour.
I was back in the office just after 15.00 and with Boardpapers back online I was finally able to access the DEFA department papers ahead of two meetings on Wednesday. Although I left the office just after 17.10 I continued to work on the department papers until around 20.00, but I didn’t get everything done.
With the US Election getting underway very late on Tuesday evening, I was up for around 4am to watch the latest results coming in, and the US election results were far closer than most US polls suggested.
I also kept one eye on the election, but by the end of the day the election was still on a knife edge with the US President, Donald Trump questioning the election process in a number of key States.
Anyway, for me I was in the office before 8am on Wednesday to finish off going through the heavy DEFA agenda packs.
I just managed to get through everything before leaving the office to head to St. John’s at around 10.30am for the Policy, Strategy and Department meetings that didn’t finish until around 15.00.
Straight back to the office to catch up with a few Constituent issues and with correspondence before leaving at around 17.15.
Woke up on Thursday morning with the news that the US Presidential election was still going on, but Joe Biden had secured 253 electoral college votes, which was still 17 votes short of his target of 270.
US President Donald Trump was on 214 and with only a handful of States remaining, it was still far too close to call.
Thursday was another day mostly spent in the office, which gave me an opportunity to get some project work done. First job was to draft a second letter in respect of an ongoing immigration case, which took a couple of hours.
I then had to work through a number of detailed planning appeals before a meeting scheduled for Friday, along with going through the House of Keys Order Paper, because it is unlikely that I will have the time at the weekend with various Remembrance services.
Just after lunchtime I walked down to the Sea Terminal for a second meeting on the policy and strategy for setting social housing rents. Again, a very robust and challenging meeting, but also a very professional meeting as we explored and discussed all the different components that have to be factored in when looking at social housing rents.
I still believe the current policy and strategy isn’t right. I came to that conclusion after a single meeting on the topic in the Department of Infrastructure recently and I am surprised that it hasn’t been challenged more robustly over recent years.
Hopefully, we have made the right decision based on all the evidence and data available, especially when taking into account the economic climate we currently find ourselves in.
Back to the office to go through a presentation and briefing notes before going over to the DfE at 16.00 for an online meeting with a president of a world sports organisation which is looking at various locations for holding a World Series event and possibly a World Championship between 2022 and 2025.
The tourism team gave a very confident overview of the Isle of Man and what we can offer in respect of facilities and a stunning location for sporting events etc. I guess it will come down to finances, but an extra 5,000 or 6,000 plus visitors to our island in 2022 would be a welcome boost for our tourism industry.
Back to the office before leaving just before 17.30.
Still no election result in the US Presidential Election when I woke up on Friday morning, but the language being used by President Trump was becoming very concerning as he continued to escalate his personal attacks on the election process by making a series of unconfirmed or false claims, which then generated a number of protests outside polling stations by his supporters.
On Friday it was all about a general catch up before walking over to Capital International to hand over some compliance due diligence documentation relating to my role as trustee on Manx National Heritage.
Back to the office to dial into a planning appeal meeting with the AG’s Chamber, DEFA Officers and an independent planning officer in order to go through a planning application and the decision made.
From there it was over to DfE for an Extraordinary Department Workshop, which included a presentation and update from the officers in Manx National Heritage. It was then a rush to get Enzo’s Restaurant for 13.15 to meet up with Gary Lamb, Chief Executive of Manx Telecom along with Chris Hall who rejoined Manx Telecom back in 2016 as a Non-Executive Director, but he is also the Chairman of Hospice Isle of Man, which is a wonderful charity that is supported by so many people on the island.
Both Gary and I were guests at Government House for dinner a couple of weeks ago, so it was great to meet up again, along with Chris who I have known since I worked in the finance Industry.
I have to say that the food at Enzo’s was fantastic, I had a beautiful piece of halibut, on a bed of asparagus and sauté potatoes, and it was definitely one of the best dishes I have had in an Isle of Man restaurant for a long time.
The last couple of hours were spent in the office drafting a couple of letters that I will need to send out next week and a constituent meeting, which meant that I wasn’t able to head South for the opening of the new office for Island Escapes but I wish John and his team all the very best for the future.
I left the office just after 17.00 and on Friday evening Ellen and I attended St. Peter’s Church film night, which was showing “Jersey Boys” along with offering a fish supper, which was delicious.
The event raised over £1,000 – so a big thank you to everyone at St. Peter’s church.
As for the weekend, Ellen and I will be attending the Children’s Poppy service at St. Peter’s on Saturday morning and various Remembrance Services in Onchan and St. John’s on Sunday.