Election Time In 2006

It started with a new chief minister but ended with the old boss back in situ – and one of them quitting politics and the other planning to.

It’s fair to say the 2001-2006 era was a turbulent time and saw a government mired in controversy, some of it of the historical kind.

The Mount Murray inquiry created international headlines that had been more than a decade in the making. Planning permission in principle was granted for a ‘resort village’ in 1991. A hotel was built and a golf course created, a later planning application for houses was approved and lots were built.

A long-running commission of inquiry ruled that the original proposals were approved on the basis of a tourist scheme, not residential. The inquiry said a residential development had always been the aim of the developer but that would have risked refusal if more open procedures had been followed. However, the methods used were lawful.

The tourism minister of the day Allan Bell was criticised for ‘unacceptable’ pressure on the planners to approve the scheme out of a ‘misguided’ sense of public interest.

There were even bigger headlines when Chief Minister Richard Corkill resigned after being questioned along with his wife Julie, as part of a police inquiry into alleged fraud involving tourism grants.

The exact timing of his resignation – as presses were rolling at Isle of Man Newspapers’ HQ – meant there were two different front pages of that week’s Manx Independent: one from the start of the print run, when Mr Corkill was still chief minister, and the other, after the press was stopped and a new front page produced in quick time.

His resignation led to the return of his predecessor Donald Gelling – by now an MLC – as chief minister. Concerns about an unelected Tynwald member at the helm were balanced against the need for a sense of calm. 

That was in 2004 and, in a cruel irony, the subsequent court case concluded around general election time in 2006. Mr Corkill was not charged but Mrs Corkill was convicted on three counts of false accounting and one of deception, which related to a £47,000 grant for a holiday cottage.

Mr Corkill chose not to stand for MHK again in 2006 and Mr Gelling also signalled he was quitting politics, revealing plans to retire as an MLC.

The 2001-2006 era saw the emergence of the Liberal Vannin Party under the leadership of Peter Karran, while the influence of the APG dwindled. The Positive Action Group came to the party, although it didn’t want anyone to use the word party when describing its role – it has stuck to lobbying group. Mr Karran called it a party.

A court battle was looming over loans worth £120 million for MEA subsidiary the Manx Cable Company, while, as the election approached, it was reported 40 jobs were set to go at the authority.

There was potentially even worse jobs news in the airline industry following news that Flybe was to buy BA Connect, the regional arm of British Airways, and was likely to move its engineering base from Ronaldsway to its headquarters, causing uncertainty over 300 jobs.

A mobile phone price war was predicted, with the imminent arrival of Cable & Wireless and Cloud9 to take on Manx Telecom.

An independent report called for the National Sports Centre, Villa Marina and the Gaiety Theatre to be run by a private operator under contract, although that was not a view shared by Tourism and Leisure Minister David Cretney.

The prospect of the Nunnery site becoming the Isle of Man’s higher education campus, as part of an overhaul of over-16 education, was mooted, with the possibility of some courses on offer at the Isle of Man College being moved to the International Business School.

The 2006 election was the first time that 16-17 year olds could vote, but they weren’t getting everything they wanted elsewhere, with the Trades Council calling for the minimum wage for that age group to be increased to £7.60 per hour.

Crisis talks were called at the Department of Health and Social Security after the medical staff committee passed a vote of no confidence in minister Steve Rodan and chief executive David Killip after a decision by health service chiefs not to provide funds for a drug that treated sight degeneration.

Meanwhile, the DHSS ruled there was no case to answer for whistle-blower Trevor Cowin who had faced the threat of disciplinary action – for alleged breach of rules – after speaking out about handling of planned changes for civil service pensions.

On the plains of Jurby, the new £38 million jail was taking shape. Little did we know then that it would feature in a slightly more jovial than expected documentary series that did not bring a smile to everyone in the island.

As for the election itself, Richard Corkill was not the only high profile departure at election time. Local Government Minister John Rimington lost his seat – replaced by the baby-faced 26-year-old Juan Watterson – and it was the end of an era in Peel, with Hazel Hannan ousted by Tim Crookall. Mr Crookall later became an MLC and stood down from that role last year, ahead of this year’s announcement this year that he was standing again for the Keys.

We must remember also, that the rule of 21st Century general elections is that Leonard Singer must stand in Ramsey. In 2006, this was complicated by the fact that he had moved up to Legislative Council from the House of Keys, in 2003.

However, he declared his intention to stand for the Keys anyway, initially not planning to give up his seat on LegCo in order to contest the election. That stance came under fire, and, with two months to go until polling day, he resigned as an MLC, stating this showed his commitment to Ramsey ahead of personal interest.

He then proceeded to not win a seat in the Keys. (Don’t worry, he’ll be back in time for the 2011 retro article.)

There are two sitting MLCs standing for seats in the Keys in the 2021 election.

With past and present chief ministers leaving the political arena in 2006, the way was clear for a new leader post-election.

But even that wasn’t straight forward.

John Shimmin, Steve Rodan and David Cannan stood, but none gained the minimum votes from Tynwald members required.

As a second round of voting loomed, Tony Brown was approached to put his name forward. In the end he was unopposed and we were left to wonder whether the next five years might be calmer.

* With thanks again to the staff at the Manx Museum Library for their assistance and to media chums of a similar vintage to myself, whose recollections were extremely helpful. 

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