On 1st July 2016, I wrote my first Blog, which was entitled an “election blog” for the House of Keys General Election being held on 22nd September 2016.
It gave an overview of the pressures, the nerves and not forgetting the physical work required whilst holding down a 9 to 5 job at the same time. It also provided details on the decisions that needed to be made throughout the election campaign.
The original idea was for me to simply record everything and then to be able to review the information at a later point in time if I wasn’t successful. I didn’t think for one minute that other people would actually follow my election trail so closely.
After the election I was always intending to keep my social media accounts and website active etc, but I definitely had no intention of writing a weekly Blog until various people approached me requesting an insight into the role of being a Member of the House of Keys, which certainly got me thinking.
Having followed Manx politics for most of my life, and although I had voted every five years, read the odd article and listened to the news etc, I still couldn’t truly tell you what my MHK did from week to week or if he / she was representing my views or the overall view of the Constituency or simply their own agenda…
Anyway, at the time I thought I would give it three to six months and then call it quits, but I am here today almost four years later, posting my 200th blog…
My weekly blog has certainly evolved and changed over the last four years, which is very similar to myself in many ways.
In 2016, my weekly blog certainly made a few of my Tynwald colleagues and Government officials very nervous from the outset, but I think over time it has found its own place, because on occasion it does allow me to get key information into the public domain.
Although every Tynwald Member, and especially every House of Keys Member, has a story to tell, I am proud to have been able to share my own story and my journey over the last four years, although I am looking forward to writing my final blog in June 2021.
I don’t believe any elected Member has undertaken this idea before, and I doubt anyone would be foolish enough to try again in the future, but I do acknowledge that my colleague Jason Moorhouse, MHK does draft a monthly update on his activities, which I applaud.
Let’s move on to other topics.
The Coronavirus (Covid 19) pandemic continues to grip everyone’s attention at the moment, especially the media. You cannot turn on a radio, tv or even open up a newspaper without seeing the latest information and data on those affected, and unfortunately those who have lost their battle with this horrible virus.
Back in January and February this year the virus was on the other side of the world and daily life here continued as normal, but a couple of months later on, the UK is struggling to cope as the death toll continues to rise.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday more than 563 people had lost their lives to Covid 19 in the UK, along with a further 568 between Wednesday and Thursday, and unfortunately that figure has increased to a further 684 between Thursday and Friday as this pandemic continues to bring the UK to its knees. By Friday evening this week, the death toll in the UK alone has risen to 3,645.
The total number of confirmed Covid 19 cases in the UK has now reached over 38,168.
A little closer to home here on the Isle of Man we are now settling into our second week of “lockdown”, but I do wonder where we will be in 6 months, 12 months or even 2 years down the line, especially as this virus continues to strangle economies around the world, which will almost certainly result in recession and higher unemployment.
At this moment in time the only items arriving on island are vital freight and emergency personnel or equipment, and most of the island’s workforce is now working from home. I am sure any initial teething problems with the home environment have been ironed out and any boundary issues have been discussed with other family members.
In our little cottage Ellen has turned the spare bedroom into her office and I am downstairs in the kitchen, which is working well at the moment, but we are only into week two…
Unfortunately, the number of people affected by Covid 19 on the island has also continued to grow. Last Sunday there were 42 confirmed cases, but by 16.00 on Friday evening that figure had increased to an alarming 114, which will raise further concern amongst the Manx Community.
It was also with a very heavy heart that just after 18.00 on Wednesday evening the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK confirmed that a member of our Manx Community had lost their life to Covid 19, which is tragic news, and I certainly want to pass on my own thoughts and prayers for their family and friends at this difficult time.
Not sure how to follow that tragic news other than to look at a slightly lighter moment from last weekend. I don’t know if anyone else ran the gauntlet of going shopping last Saturday morning, because it was definitely something to witness.
I was heading into the office for a couple of hours and was in two minds whether to call into Shoprite in Onchan before or after the office.
As I drove into the car park, I saw 15 or 20 people waiting patiently outside Onchan Shoprite, and it was great to see everyone observing the social distancing rules.
As a typical bloke I don’t like queueing, so I thought not to worry, I will call into the Douglas store, but I soon discovered that they had a line of people going around store.
Surely M & S would be fine, I thought, at 8.45am on a Saturday morning – how wrong I was, as I drove onto the promenade to witness the M & S queue not only going along Regent Street, but also backing up towards the Coast Restaurant – I haven’t seen anything like that before.
In the end I went back to join the queue at the Onchan Shoprite and in reality I only had to wait 15 minutes to get in the store.
As for the rest of the weekend, Ellen and I managed to go out for a walk on Sunday morning, but most of the weekend was spent on a couple projects and drafting various letters that I wanted to send out on Monday.
With the clocks going forward last weekend, I had to wait until just before 7am, in order to ensure that there was sufficient light to go onto the promenade for my daily walk on Monday morning, which I am actually enjoying, and always have as a way of unwinding – there is nothing better than plugging in my AirPods and heading out for a walk and switching off from the world for a few minutes.
Prior to being elected, I genuinely thought I would have plenty of time everyday to walk a few miles, so if nothing else Covid 19 has made me re-think some of my own priorities and schedule at the moment.
From there I headed straight into the office just after 8am for a couple of hours to catch up with a few things and to go through the Tynwald and House of Keys order papers whilst the office was very quiet.
I was back home for 10.30am and I then noticed that the DfE Minister, Laurence Skelly, MHK had called a quick meeting for 11am to discuss a tourism paper online via “MS Teams”.
Under normal circumstances my calendar would set out my day, but at the moment everything is up in the air and meetings can be called at anytime, which means scheduling anything or trying to do something else is very difficult.
That particular meeting lasted less than an hour, so I was able to spend a few hours drafting some more letters that I wanted to send out. I also spent a considerable amount of time responding to messages and emails etc throughout the week.
As for Tuesday, it was a relatively easy morning, I was back home just after 8.30am after my walk along the promenade and most of the morning was spent drafting emails and returning various calls until around 11.45am, at which time I headed into the office.
At 14.30 there was an emergency sitting of Tynwald and the Motion around the “Entry Restrictions” Regulations 2020 generated a considerable amount of comments from Tynwald members, which were robustly defended by the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK.
Unfortunately, I felt many of the valid points raised initially by Bill Shimmins, MHK and then Lawrie Hooper, MHK, myself and others were lost in debate.
The Isle of Man closing its borders was the right decision to make, and at the right time, especially when you look at the events now unfolding in the UK at the moment. We should also be mindful that Covid 19 was introduced to the island by local residents returning home from holiday, which was inevitable given the number of confirmed cases across Europe.
In the end three Tynwald members voted against the motion, but I personally felt I needed to support the motion despite receiving many heartfelt pleas from island residents who were stranded .
That said, the Chief Minister, the Council of Ministers and other senior government officials have to acknowledge that these Manx residents cannot be left stranded indefinitely, so a solution has be found, but also a solution that protects island residents here at home.
On Friday the Chief Minister confirmed that an announcement on this particular issue that is splitting public opinion will be made on Monday next week.
In total there were 13 emergency motions on the order paper for consideration, but the sitting finished for around 16.30.
As for Thursday, I wasn’t able to get onto the promenade because it was raining, so I headed into the office just after 7am for a few hours to catch up with a few projects, because I know the office is very quiet at the moment and it also gives me access to my desktop computer, along with the printer etc.
It is surprising how quickly the days are going, and although the number of briefings and meetings has reduced significantly I am spending most of the day responding to emails, phone calls and messages until late into the evening.
On Thursday afternoon Tynwald had a trial run of a virtual sitting, which would take place for real on Friday morning. I also spent time going through the Tynwald and House of Keys Order Papers ahead of the sittings on Friday.
It was also announced on Thursday that this year’s Tynwald Day celebrations will be scaled back due to Covid 19. There will be no Fair, VIP guests or Military Guard of Honour, so the day itself will be a very strange experience with only those functions deemed essential going ahead.
We really are living in strange times…..
Again, any spare time was taken up answering a continuing stream of emails, phone calls and messages into the evening.
On Friday I was on the promenade for just after 6.30am before going into the office briefly to print off a few papers. From there it was home, in order to prepare for the very first virtual Tynwald sitting that got underway at 10.30am.
Tynwald began with a statement from the Chief Minister on Covid 19, which generated a considerable amount of questions.
Once Tynwald had finished there was also a sitting of the House of Keys, which got underway at 14.00 and lasted around 90 minutes.
I still had a lot of people to call back and messages to respond to before calling it a day, along with the House of Keys sitting again at 17.40 in order to consider the changes made by the Legislative Council Members in respect of the Emergency Powers (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill.
We finally finished at around 17.55, but I needed to return several calls.
I am going to finish this week’s blog on a positive note after what can only be described as a very difficult week, especially for those people working on the frontline at the moment, in order to highlight a campaign by the Isle of Man Post Office to encourage island residents to place a Manx Flag in their windows as a sign of unity and to remember this island’s motto – “Whichever way you throw us, we will stand together”.
We will get through this….