The 2016 election ran as smoothly as a stormy winter crossing on the Ben-my-Chree.
It was a vote that, beforehand, was beset by incorrect information on polling cards and concern and confusion over the new constituencies. It went on to feature missing ballot boxes that almost caused the wrong person to be elected and uncounted votes elsewhere that fortunately did not make a difference.
Such chaos was a suitable bookend to a five-year period that had started with a fair amount of mayhem.
By the time the public went to the polls in 2016 Peter Karran’s tenure as education minister was becoming a fading memory, but it was eventful. Meanwhile, the best thing that could be said about Chief Minister Allan Bell’s initial desire to create a Government of National Unity was that it made for an excellent acronym.
Bell later tried to claim his comments about the Government of National Unity had been blown out of proportion, but that was GNUs to us.
As part of Bell’s mission for unity, Karran was welcomed into the Council of Ministers. Many eyebrows were raised as Karran was not exactly renowned for conforming to the establishment and had just failed in a tempestuous bid to become chief minister that took place during a bad-tempered sitting of Tynwald.
It was a turbulent time that saw resignations from the Education Department as state-run nurseries were closed and the Family Library cast off to rely on charity support.
Eventually Karran was sacked.
We say eventually, it was about eight months after his appointment – about seven months longer than some predicted – and it wasn’t actually for anything to do with education.
It was for opposing further investment in the film industry after, according to Bell, previously agreeing to it in CoMin.
The irony that that he lost his job for something that many people may now regard as prescient, as opposed to losing it for the turmoil and cuts in his own department, did not go unnoticed.
Even after Karran’s departure, there were more cuts in education as 2013 saw teacher-led nurture rooms axed. Although no-one could predict the pandemic, the department’s decision at that time to regard nurture as dispensable might be something it has since come to regret.
Fast-forward to September 2016 and schools were still making the news. Firstly, the shiny new £9.5 million Henry Bloom Noble Primary School opened its doors to about 260 pupils – a figure that has since gone up sufficiently enough for staff to no doubt wish those doors had been built wider.
Secondly, in case students were ever in danger of thinking they were not there to be a political football for others, instructions were sent out to head teachers to ensure that pupils knew the words of the Manx National Anthem, after complaints that some of them didn’t.
In other news, the Manx Government restated its commitment to press for the closure of Sellafield following renewed allegations over safety.
Billionaire John Whittaker submitted plans to erect three wind turbines on his headland property overlooking Port Erin bay, on land that used to be owned by Nigel Mansell.
The National Sports Centre bowls hall re-opened nine months after being damaged in devastating floods. Clearly a much simpler job than sorting out a leisure pool and flumes.
Howard Quayle bought himself a horse tram. Not for his own special take on future active travel initiatives, but to prevent it being taken off-island after the Corpy put a number of old trams up for auction.
Battle lines were being drawn for a new debate on women’s abortion rights, with CALM (Campaign for Abortion Law Modernisation) on one side and HEAR (Humanity and Equality in Abortion Reform) in the other. As we know, went on to take place after a long debate in the 2016-21 term, although there has been concern at how effectively and rapidly change has been implemented.
There was also a debate on whether the Isle of Man should provide safe haven for refugees. Plus ça change.
And pressure was growing for a reversal of moves to end free TV licences for over-75s – something that became a bit of a showpiece move for the next administration.
John Houghton was still railing against his suspension from Tynwald after he refused to apologise, following the standards and members interests committee ruling that he had ‘lied, bullied and inappropriately interfered’ in a staffing matter.
Tynwald had ruled that if he was to be successful in the general election, then any suspension would no longer count as he would have a fresh mandate. He stood. He lost.
In the run up to polling day Sally Bolton, who chaired the Boundary Review Commission that redrew the constituency map – turning it into 12 x two-seat constituencies and placing part of Onchan into Garff – defended its work against criticism and pointed out the public had had plenty of chance to comment ahead of the reform.
Meanwhile, a computer error was blamed for a polling card mix-up in Ramsey, with cards sent to nearly 6,000 constituents bearing the wrong polling station details.
The night itself did not run particularly smoothly. Misplaced ballot boxes almost cost Daphne Caine her place as a Garff MHK. She was 18 votes behind Andrew Smith when an observer spotted two uncounted boxes. When those were factored in, she was 20 votes ahead and joined Martyn Perkins in the House of Keys.
Have you had enough of election procedural misfortune yet? No? Good. Because it emerged after the event that more than 103 ballot papers – effectively up to 206 votes – had gone uncounted in Ayre and Michael. It did not affect the result that’s aw Alfred Cannan and Tim Baker returned.
There were even complaints about the timing of a pizza break for staff at one count, while prior to the election, one candidate got into hot water with the cabinet office after offering tea and biscuits at a public meeting. All food for thought.
As for the actual results, government minister Phil Gawne lost his seat, while Leonard Singer, John Houghton, David Quirk and Jon Joughin were also out of the Keys door.
Peter Karran, meanwhile, had decided to stand down and didn’t contest his seat in Onchan.
Five women were elected to the Keys – a record. Alongside Caine there was Kate Beecroft, Clare Bettison (now Barber), Ann Corlett and Julie Edge.
While the increase in the number of women was celebrated, the very fact that a lack of diversity in the Keys meant that five women out of 24 MHKs was deemed worthy of note, in 2016, did rather suggest what went before was less worthy of celebration.
Elsewhere a fresh faced youngster by the name of David Ashford found himself in the position of being MHK. Not sure what happened to him.
Onto the contest for the new chief minister that followed the election. It saw Howard Quayle, Alfred Cannan and Kate Beecroft go up against each other. The rest, of course, is history.*
(*If you’ve been living in a sound-proofed wheelie bin for the last five years, Quayle won.)
P. S. Get well soon Howard Quayle.
With thanks again to the staff at the Manx Museum Library for their assistance.