A little over two months after the world changed forever, with the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, the Isle of Man went to the polls in November 2001.

Then, as now, the election was taking place in a different international climate from the previous polling day.

The pandemic has had a direct and very local impact on the Island and the way the island is being affected by Brexit is being demonstrated.

The atrocities of the attacks of September 2001, are still remembered to this day, with recent events a grim reminder that the threat of global terrorism remains on the horizon.

Twenty years ago, a row broke out between the Manx Government and Manx Airlines – remember Manx Airlines? – after the carrier followed the suit of many other airlines by introducing a surcharge, of £2.50, to meet extra security costs, but the government argued it had already covered such expenses.

Elsewhere, a former MHK, Richard Leventhorpe, was threatening to take the government to the European Court of Human Rights in his campaign against the Manx Pension Supplement being based on National Insurance contributions.

Economic forecasts no longer gave the positive outlook that was present in previous years. In autumn 2001, it was reported that visitor numbers were down 2.8%, while the latest of the government’s quarterly economic report suggested the Manx economy may have actually peaked in 2000.

The future of NHS dentistry was in doubt after Craigend Dental Practice became the first to quit the National Health Service. Others were expected to exit the NHS, as practices switched to a Denplan Care Scheme, which managers argued gave dentists and patients better choices than working within the NHS dental system as it stood.

But there was more positive news for the NHS in that the new hospital – the figure for it had by now gone to £111 million – was only a year from completion. The argument about how it was funded had dwindled, although the overall costs, inevitably, came in for plenty of comment. 

Vicar of Lezayre Brian Shephard attacked calls for cannabis possession to be decriminalised. Twenty years later, we still seem to be debating what to do about cannabis.

Other things making the news as the island headed towards the ballot box included local firm Greenlight being awarded the contract to film the TT.

Plans for a new western swimming pool in Peel were submitted, although it was another two years before it opened it doors. But if you compare that with the speed of installing flumes at a national complex, it looks like rapid progress.

No one tried to sell off Manx Radio during this term (see the 1996 election retro extravaganza) but the station still seemed to feature in headlines as well as write them, after Tynwald approval was granted for a £400,000 review.

A route for a natural gas pipeline across the island was finalised, with work due to get underway in 2002.

The cost of housing and residence controls were favourite topics in the newspaper letters pages and on the hustings.

And, on a lighter note, the hype was building as the world waited for the first Harry Potter film to hit the screens. The franchise seemed to do rather well.

One question in the run-up to the general election was whether MHKs were worth the money we, the taxpayers, paid them. For the record, they were on about £24,000 basic salary with a further £4,600 in expenses.

After the 2021 election, the salary will be £65,000, although – get those tiny violins ready – the £7,000 tax-free lump sum for expenses will be gone.

If you’re doing a similar job to the one you were doing 20 years ago, feel free to check whether your salary has gone up by more than 200%. If it hasn’t, maybe ask an outgoing MHK which union they are in.

Or just ask to vote on your own pay rise.

Meanwhile, back in 2001 were told that e-elections were not far from being a reality. What’s that sound? It’s the collective spluttering into their coffees of all those who couldn’t attend to vote in the local authority elections earlier this year.

The House of Keys election itself confirmed the dwindling influence of the APG as a political force. Only three APG MHKs were returned – leader Edgar Quine, Brenda Cannell and Leonard Singer. Adrian Duggan and David Cannan – father of Alfred, the current Treasury minister, who is carrying the curse of being a hot tip for the top job in 2021 – had left the grouping that never liked to call itself a party.

Manx Labour returned two MHKs. Peter Karran was still in the MLP – Liberal Vannin not even a glint in his eye yet – and the other was Labour and Douglas South mainstay David Cretney. 

Big names to go included legendary-TT-commentator-turned-MHK Geoff Cannell and Glenfaba stalwart Walter Gilbey. Both suffered from Local Government Department connections and the glacial progress of local authority reform, which by this point had reached the stage of suggesting four district committees to run alongside the current boards of commissioners.

Despite a strong bid from challenger Anne Craine, Ramsey’s very own chuckle brothers, Allan Bell and Leonard Singer, retained their seats. Mrs Craine would be back another time.

Following the election, Tony Brown, after 15 years in various ministerial positions, was elected Speaker.

There were fears of a behind-closed-doors deal being brokered for the next chief minister. Donald Gelling, never one for keeping his cards too far from his chest, did not exactly rush to confirm he did not want another term.

In the end, there was a vote. Treasury Minister Richard Corkill trod the same path a few doors down to the hot seat as his predecessor, defeated APG leader Edgar Quine by 21 votes to 12. A year later Gelling’s fellow MHKs elected him onto the Legislative Council.

But as we’ll learn next time, things did not stay that way at the Good Ship CoMin and bids were soon being sought for the best deal on revolving doors for the corridors of power.

* With thanks again to the staff at the Manx Museum Library for their assistance. 

Leave a Reply