Sunday, October 10, 2010
The paper work was about 10 inches deep and I read every word. I certainly did not understand every word. Some of the Social Security orders were so complex as to be unintelligible and could only be understood if you read every Socal Security Act in the IOM and UK for the last thirty years. I copped out by contacting a friend who worked in Social Security who gave me the Beginner's Guide. Five years on, they don't get any easier.
So, my first Tynwald sitting, on the Ides of March, but there were no thunderstorms the night before. The omens were good. The venue was a room in St. George's Hall in Myrtle Street, being used while the Wedding Cake was being refurbished. My view of one half of the members of the Keys was obscured by a vase of flowers, but I was too polite to ask for it to be moved.
They were three long days, where I concentrated like never before. I switched the brain into top gear and set it to Absorb and Memorise.
And here are the Highlights of those three days:
Notes from Members:
I had noticed that the clerks in the chamber, dapper elderly gentlemen dressed in tail coats, were buzzing around passing notes from member to member. What was that about? Must be very important I thought, and I was definitely not part of the Important Note Passing Gang.
And then I got one - handed up to me, addressed to me. It was from David Anderson, Minister of Education. It said words to the effect "You do realise that the reason you were elected to Legco was to make sure that Mr. ******** doesn't fall asleep?". I immediately looked at Mr. *******, who was indeed asleep. A nod to Mr. Anderson, a slightly noisy cough, and I had done my first duty in Tynwald.
My Maiden Speech:
What a nerve wracking event that was. I spoke without notes, - not always the most efficient way of getting your point across, but often more effective.
I spent ten minutes building up courage to make it, and another five minutes trying to catch the eye of the President. It was about the International Business School, and my view of the value of our children going across for their University education. I sat down afterwards, a particular type of virginity lost, with not a clue as to what I had said.
The next speaker, Phil Gawne, started his speech congratulating me on my maiden speech. That was embarrassing, but it turned out that was the traditional thing to do. Reading the speech back later it was amazingly coherent for a person making things up as he went along with no idea how each sentence was going to finish, or what his real point was.
Two more of the Important Notes arrived for me, congratulating me on the speech, and I began to feel a little less like an alien observing a strange planet.
More on making speeches in later blogs.
Being the new boy, with no Departments to work in, I was vulnerable to election to every Select Committee going. I didn't know that at the time, and after a debate about a cock-up by DOLGE in preparing financial accounts in respect of the Incinerator, a decision was made to set up a Select Committee to investigate what happened.
I was immediately nominated. My first thought was along the lines of "They must appreciate that I can investigate things and will be a valuable person for the job". The reality was, "Anyone but me, and give it to Butt, he has nothing to do".
Come the vote, I topped the poll with 22 votes and was on my first Select Committee. My thought was probably, "These people really need me". Their thought was "That'll learn him"
That Tynwald finished with me having learned a lot, but understanding much less. I found out on the third day that there was a room where several Keys members nipped out for a cup of coffee during the Boring Bits. I found out that I felt very much the Outsider and it was hard to slip into the conversations of longer established cosy relationships. I found out that it would be a move forward to impose the rules of Just a Minute to debates. I found some wonderful mixed metaphors and malapropisms. I found that writing them down had become my new hobby.
As to the Select Committee, that was a wise move by all concerned. I really did not have a job of any sort for several months and that gave me a real and early insight into both the workings of Tynwald and the Government. Starting my Tynwald career by investigating and questioning, my only real skills, was a bit of a bonus.
And I have to admiit, interrogating and challenging Civil Servants was a bit like playing a home fixture. I was starting to think, "I can do this"..... Even if no-one else was.......
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
And this is what happened next….. The following Tuesday I was sworn in. This involved a very ancient and I have to say, profoundly serious ceremony, and the words which stood out were “Without Fear or Favour” Best guidelines possible.
The ceremony was conducted with his usual dignity and eye-twinkle by my brother-in-law, Mike Kerruish, First Deemster. A couple of weeks earlier I had a shoulder operation following a football injury, and was supposed to be in a sling for six weeks. It appears to be in my make-up never to show weakness or pain, so the sling was discarded early, and I had discreetly to use my good arm to lift my left signing hand up to sign the official documents. Mike noticed, but no-one else. And it hurt.
As I arrived at the Swearing In, I was met at the door by Dominic Delaney, the member I had ‘ousted’ by my election. My intervention had put an end at that stage to his long parliamentary career. He shook my hand and wished me well. I really appreciated that generous gesture from Dominic.
Straight after the Swearing-In, I took part in my first session of the Legislative Council. I was warmly welcomed by everyone, and proceedings were conducted sitting down, but it was hard to relax. It was all brand new to me, and very daunting. There were, to me, strange procedures to follow which I tried to pick up and memorise as the session went along.
I spoke briefly in my first appearance, making some comment about the wording of a clause in a bill dealing with Coastal erosion and control. That was in effect my ‘maiden speech’ The word “connivance” appeared in a clause and I commented that it seemed an inappropriate word to have in legislation. Not a sparkling start, but I was able to demonstrate (to myself) that I knew my way around legislation and how it worked.
Meanwhile, paper work of huge quantities was arriving at my home – and continues to do so. My next move was to Ramsey Mart, always a good and familiar place to turn to when you have a problem. There is always something very reassuring about the smell of cow-muck. It brings back the cosy candle-lit evenings of my youth nestling into a cow's flanks and drawing down the milk. By hand of course.
At the Mart I bought two second-hand four drawer filing cabinets. A futile purchase as they were filled within weeks. I later realised that I should instead have bought a shredder. You do learn.
The first hurdle was over, now for my first session of Tynwald - and that was a Different Country. Come with me sole reader, to that Strange Place next time....
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The light did not shineth in the darkness…..
I heard I had been elected into Tynwald from my brother-in-law, monitoring Manx Radio, a few minutes after it had been announced. My radio dial in those days was welded immovably to Radio 4 and twiddling the dial as far away as Manx Radio was too great a step into the unknown.
So, what to do next? Apart from to grin stupidly and wonder what on earth had happened……
I had loved the idea of sticking my head above the parapet for a couple of weeks, I liked the idea of the challenge, but I had no idea that I would actually walk on the pavement of politics.
Texts and phone calls then came in from family and friends and I was advised to get down to Tynwald.
I went for a pint at the Shore at Laxey that night, after a football meeting, and there met by chance Peter Karran who advised me not to join the ‘troughites’ and get clubby-clubby and matey-matey.
Sound advice, but five years on I am still trying to find out where this “Club” is.
I went into Tynwald Chambers the next day, politely enquiring at the counter. No-one had any idea who I was.
The Clerk of Tynwald, Malachy Cornwell-Kelly greeted me and gave me a few basic ideas of what would happen next, which soon disappeared from my consciousness. This was all so new, and of course, unexpected. I know that I signed a form agreeing to be a member of Tynwald and was then ushered into the Chambers.
In those days the Member’s area consisted of one room, about 30 feet by 15 feet, with six desks, and a lounge area with a couple of easy chairs. 33 members, six desks. And it later became apparent that each desk was ‘owned’ by certain members. Woebetide you if you sat at the wrong desk.
Actually… does a bit of a grumpy frown justify using such a wonderful world as “woebetide”? Not really.
John Houghton, who I had met before was in the room and showed me round. He introduced me to several members, most of whom I knew of, but had never met. I was introduced to one member who refused to shake my hand. That was a real ‘gulp’ moment.
What had I come into?
Another member greeted me brusquely with, “You’ve no right to be here” before walking off. John was himself a little stunned and apologized on behalf of the other members.
I was the first ‘outsider’ for many years, and it was obvious that an outsider would not be universally popular and that I would have to earn any respect.
I was warmly welcomed by the President, Noel Cringle, who has seen it all before and was quite willing to accept the Outsider. In fact, most members gave me a warm welcome in the subsequent weeks
Then I was in a bit of a limbo. I was given a second hand laptop – still got it. An ex-Water Board jobbie, stuffed with hidden files and with speeds approaching Billy the Sloth.
Oh, and a diary. A diary that has ruled my life for the last five years.
I was also given a set of Standing Orders - and a lot of mysteries to unravel.
I was at the end of a Spike Milligan Q8 sketch – “What are we going to do now, what are we going to do now?” and sidled sideways out of the room….
So much to take in, so little understanding of what was going on around me. It is strange to look back those five years, as now it all seems rational and structured. But I was in those first days, very much in the Dark, and waiting for the Light. I determined to find me a Torch…..
Next blog – the first few weeks, and it will get more interesting……
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I was a Sniper. Not a conspiracy theorist, but definitely a Sniper. On the old ManxNet Forums during 2004 and early 2005, I was amongst those having a go at Government, and as soon as the MEA 'scandal' broke, the forums exploded with bile against Government. The MEA added to the list of such other alleged scandals as The Hospital, the Incinerator and any other White Elephants flying home to roost that you could name.
And how times haven't changed.
Read the forums nowadays, and exactly the same sniping is still going on. VAT , Reciprocal Health Agreement, spending on new schemes - these are the current versions of The Hospital, The Incinerator and the MEA.
I went into Tynwald for various reasons, but two of them were 1) To boldly seek out the Brown Envelopes 2) To find out how Things Work.
1. The Brown Envelope - I have looked hard, but there is absolutely no sign of such a beast. There may have been at one time, but everyone I have dealt with has been totally straight. Perhaps they know I am watching them....... The only 'perks' which come the way of a Member of Tynwald are a diary, and a sloth-like second hand laptop.
Having said that, there are mistakes, there are occasionally cock-ups. But, it turns out that the Incinerator works, it gives us energy for 3000 houses, we no longer have to bury waste in the ground, and it came in on time and on budget. Similarly the Hospital. It came in within the budget approved by Tynwald, even though there were problems with a contractor who went bandit. The MEA is another story, and as a member of the Select Committee investigating the affairs for the last five years, I think the public will be interested in the story when it comes out later in the year.
2. How Things Work - that has been fascinating - we have a great Island, and the infrastructure is superb. I have been behind the scenes at all the major water, electric and sewage works, the Incinerator, specialist areas of the Hospital, underground with the IRIS tubes and systems, and the power station. Much of it is like being on a James Bond set, but they Make Things Work.
We have the essentials of life which all work well, because someone - perhaps even helped by politicians - had the foresight to make them happen, and sometimes they did it when we had little money.
For example, Sulby reservoir was built when the Island was on its uppers. The projects of today - the new Bemahague School, and new homes for the elderly are modern examples of where we spend to invest in the future. And that must go on, and if it keeps people employed and off the dole, so much the better.
As for the current problems, most of them came at Government out of the blue. How they were handled may be criticised, but as Harold MacMillan said when asked what the greatest challenge was for a politician, “Events, my dear boy, events” Events happen.
Having realised that this is the second MacMillan quote in consecutive blogs, and that I only need a Wind of Change to complete the set, I leave this blog with my sniping rifle better focussed and a weather eye cocked for those pesky envelopes.....
Monday, August 2, 2010
Apologies for the last very boring post, that is if anyone is reading it.
So how did I come to be a member of Tynwald?
An interest in politics probably started with the family, where we got up for work one hour before we went to bed, lived in that cardboard box and shared out the gravel as the one meal of the day....
But a life not far removed from that.
I can remember vividly the excitement of the 1959 UK General Election. We had finally been connected to ‘the electric’ and moved from accumulator powered radio, to a real telly. The Tories won again for the third time, and in my then simplistic view, “the posh people” had won. Living on raw moots and cow's milk, we had "never had it so good"
An obsessive interest in politics developed over the next few years. I also remember being on nights as a young PC during the 1966 election and standing discreetly outside a house in Hilary Park for about an hour, watching through the curtains at the results flicking through on a tiny black and white screen.
Later in my career I spent a long time as a representative on the Police Federation, their Union, and got a taste of the cut and thrust of negotiation and conflict with Government.
When I retired in 2001 my plan was to stand for Garff in the General Election in November, but my sister, who had put in nearly ten hard years as a Laxey Commissioner, decided to stand, and it would have been wrong to stand against her.
Milibands - take note.
I was asked to stand for Legislative Council a couple of years later, but decided against it. In 2005 I was asked again, and gave it more thought. I stood with the view that there was no way I would be elected, but it would be good experience if I decided to stand for the Keys in 2006.
So I put my name forward. I now suspect that I was asked to stand as a ‘Stalking Horse’ a sort of Sir Anthony Meyer figure. There were possibly factions within the Keys who did not want some of the Keys and Legco candidates who had put their names forward, and my involvement would have at least ensured there was a genuine contest and possibly taken votes away from the less favoured candidates. At the time I had no idea this may have been the case - and maybe it wasn’t.
In the event, I was elected first time, with 14 votes, along with Donald Gelling and George Waft. I was very surprised - and so I suspect were a lot of the Keys members who had voted that day.
At a Young Farmers concert parody a few weeks later, I was depicted by a character with two large arched eyebrows painted high above the eyes.. Looking very surprised..... Surprised is perhaps not strong enough. I was amazed. I had no friends in the Keys, no connection through clubs or organisations, and had no idea why 14 Keys members would vote for me, or who they were. I still have no idea who the 14 were,
Next Blog - my views of Tynwald before I went in - The Search for Brown Envelopes, and What I Found Out.....
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
So, into the lion’s den....
My first post veering away from the Parish Walk will just be a factual resume of what I am up to, what my work is, and what I may write about. This will be an attempt to hook any political junkie, or my one reader, into reading again.
Being very aware that actually no-one will read this, and the whole exercise is narcissism writ large, I will nevertheless have a go, because I like writing.
My only real job was for 39 years in the Isle of Man Constabulary, mostly in CID where I really did have a life of adventure, and tales of those days would make a much more interesting read.
My Tynwald duties started in March 2005 - and I have worked in the Department of Agriculture - on two occasions - having responsibility at times for Forestry, and also Wildlife and Conservation and Fisheries.
In my early days in Tynwald I worked for a year in the Department of Trade and Industry, where I had a grounding in how Government tries to stimulate and support business.
I was then given a role in the Department of Local Government and the Envrionment (DOLGE) being responsible for Waste Management - it actually turned out to be a fascinating and rewarding experience. Working in three Departments at the same time led to Extreme Diary Juggling, a sport I have just about mastered. After the 2006 General Election, I kept my role in DOLGE, and moved into the DHSS, being responsible for Social Services in the DHSS, and that was an eye opener and equally fascinating.
Earlier this year, I had the dream job of being in charge of Sport and Leisure for a few weeks, but that disappeared with the re-shuffle of Government Departments.
My current Government jobs are in the Department of Education and Children, where I have particular responsibility for Youth Services, Special Needs, and Integrated Children’s Services, and the Department of Health where I have responsibility for Health.
I have also been appointed Children’s Champion for Looked After Children. That job is to hold Government to account for the way they look after children in care.
More importantly I have parliamentary duties as well, the main function of being a member of Tynwald.
I was appointed by Tynwald as the Chairman of the Whitley Council - a body of employers and employees set up to determine the pay and conditions of manual workers in the public service.
I am also a member of the Tynwald Standards Committee - a committee which looks into breaches of proper conduct by members of Tynwald.
My two most important jobs for Tynwald are as a member of the Select Committee investigating the affairs of the MEA - at the time when the power station was being built and the ‘loans’ were taken out. We have been investigating now for five years, with our first full report due out in the next few months. That really is a fascinating saga.
I am also a member of the Public Accounts Committee, a Committee given the task to investigate Government actions and spending, and to hold them to account after investigation.
The above all sounds pretty boring and bland, but behind those words are a multitude of stories, interactions and fascinating work.
If this blog should ever prosper beyond one reader, I will give an insight into all of those area, and others not yet mentioned.
This was just to set the scene - the next post will be much more interesting, honest....
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Friday, July 2, 2010
The change could be dramatic or gradual. It is like when you spend the day walking to Peel, surrounded by hundreds of happy people and then suddenly, as you walk out of Peel heading into the evening and night, it all goes very quiet and you anticipate the long loneliness ahead.
So it is with this blog - from sixty or seventy people reading it every day, it will diminish down to almost no-one taking any notice, and no-one caring at all.
The other change is from the Parish Walker, accepted, part of a happy group, to that of Tynwald politician. From one of a happy group to one who is despised by many, particularly as a member of the unelected (by the public) Legislative Council.
From hardworking Gregor to metamorphosis into a monstrous, smelly and feared insect...
But the Parish still looms large in the consciousness, so one final tip to success and a finish in the future.
For my first finish, one of my friends, when asked for the usual £10 towards charity, commented, "If you finish the Parish, I will give you £50". This was said in slightly sneering tone as if such a feat by me was not possible. And that kept me going through that night, knowing I would prove him wrong and claim the £50 for charity. That extra did make a difference, I finished, and he paid up with very good grace, with more admiration for me than before.
This year I raised about £60 for Bowel Cancer IOM in a very disorganised way - if I had done it properly and had a lot of money riding on it, I would have had a lot more motivation to finish.
Next year I will do it properly and have other than selfish reasons to finish....
Monday, June 28, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
Drinks are all mixed, car packed with Jaffa Cakes, bananas and squishy Gels, and the most dificult task, getting those numbers pinned on my shirt, is done.
I am feeling pretty apprehensive - my knee is really Not Fit For Purpose - and there are other things going on which may prevent me starting. However, if all goes well, I will push on to the finish, but I suspect my aim of beating 20 hours will have to wait for another year.
And are you sitting there thinking, "this time tomorrow I will be heading out of Andreas" and will you wake up about 2am thinking, " this time tomorrow I will be hitting Maughold".....
And what have I forgotten? A light for the night time walking. I didn't do the exercises advised to make my knee better. Toenails are at present uncut. There will be something else
My daughter Rose Dugdale is walking again, with very little training, as she has been studying hard all spring at University in London. A friend of hers, Andy, from college has come over to have a go, with no conception, until this evening, of what he is taking on. He thought it was a bit of a light hearted walk around a tiny Island where the majority would be wearing fancy dress.....
My son Richard is walking for the first time, and when he puts his Determined Head on he could go on and on. My usual walking partner, Kevin Graham is entered again and I have no doubt he will get his sixth finish - his children Olivia and Alex are also entered for the first time.
All the best to fellow blogger Angie Aire - Angie is unstoppable - and the other blogger, Dave Walker has really inspired me with the amount of work he has put in. I cannot imagine him not making it to the finish, and he has a speedy technique which will put him amongst the early finishers.
Good luck to the other 1600 of you, and thanks to Murray for letting me talk nonsense on this site for the last few months. There will be more nonsense, but that will be After The Event.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Once again I approached finishing in a less than serious way - i.e. Not Enough Training.
I walked with Kevin Graham, getting to Peel in about 7 hours 30 - which has proved to be a reasonable pace, and leaves enough energy for later on.
By the time I got to Peel my feet were in agony. I stopped on the ascent out of Peel and took my trainers off to have a look, and saw a soggy mess. It looked serious, and as I said before, only my exposure to numerous post mortems over the years got me through that moment. I put the trainers back on and plodded on, putting each foot down exactly straight, and very carefully. When your feet are in a mess like that, or heavily blistered, it is agony to change direction, or to stop and start.
I was able to switch my mind off to the pain and we made good progress. Somewhere around Ramsey I realised I was having trouble standing up straight, and tried to walk in the crown of the road as walking on any sort of angle was a problem.
By the time we got to the Dhoon, my back was in serious trouble, I was lurched over sideways and had no real control of the direction of my feet. A can of Red Bull gave me enough energy to get from the Dhoon down into Laxey, but after that I struggled. Kevin went on ahead and I climbed slowly up Pinfold Hill, and then made a final effort up to Lonan Church. My wife was waiting with the car at Ballacannell to take me home after I got back from the Church. I made it up to Lonan Church by hanging on to the cars parked on the road.
Checking us in at Lonan was local athlete John Wright. I said to John, "I am knackered, I can't go on." He said the worst words possible to me, "No-one's ever packed in at Lonan before".
Bastard. (I think I said that out aloud).
So I struggled back down the hill, declined the offer of the longed for lift home, and trundled down into Baldrine. I had to hold the wall on the climb up out of Baldrine, and on the Whitebridge, climbed part of it on my hands and knees.
I lurched down Royal Avenue, stumbled into the Port Jack chippy, and then went the length of the Promenade holding onto the railings. I only let go when I saw the cameras at the finish and stood up straight. The picture shows me anything but straight.
The point of all that saga is, that although my feet were a mess, the back pain was far worse, and the feet were in effect a smaller problem.
After I got home, I realised my feet were beyond the pale, and there was a certain smell in the air which somehow made me think of the word "gangrene" so I rang my son, who just before taking me to hospital, took the now infamous pictures, which are now on web-sites across the world, and even appeared in the lads magazine, FHM.
The final, and worst pain, was when they put my feet in a bowl of water at Nobles - which caused pain like I have never experienced before or since. I knew the Doctor well, and he said words to the effect of "Serves you right, no-one needs to walk that far, that's why God invented motor bikes."
There was a lot more to the story of that night, and my tale of finishing owes nothing to bravery and a lot to stupidity. And to John Wright.
So, to all first timers, anything is possible - and all you need to do to finish is to just keep going, one foot after the other.
Ignore the pain, enjoy the thrill of a Finish.