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Keys please me, oh yeah, like they’d please you

Cynicism meter

The CI Unit of Cynicism is the Keys Forum Post: a logarithmic scale

Having trained a few candidates for September’s general election, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts.

They all deserve our respect for putting their head above the parapet.

Let me qualify that before launching into my paean to democracy – as a journalist, it’s easy to be cynical about politicians. From comments I’ve seen on social media and some forums (guess where!) everybody who stands for election is a venal power-hungry idiot with an enormous salary on their mind.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some politicians who could shake my hand and I’d count my fingers afterwards – and I’d hie me to an astronomer for a second opinion if some told me the Earth moves around the Sun.

But what I’ve found in candidates I’ve trained is their desire to help and to serve, despite the risk of humiliation at the hands of the electorate. There are plenty of well-meaning candidates with decent policy ideas and the interests of the people of the Isle of Man at heart.

It’s my party and I’ll vie if I want to

Although I’ve not marketed training services to current MHKs (what’s the point, really? They’re used to dealing with the media), what I’ve found outside Keys is a rich vein of people who simply want to help their communities.

I find that quite touching. When I worked in the UK, people came forward for the same reason; but the demands of party politics subsumed whatever good ideas they had. Essentially, you play by the rules of the party or you leave the game. There’s no room for individual viewpoints when you face a party whip.

Here on the Isle of Man, we play a slightly different political game. Independents are all-important. True, we have at least two parties fielding candidates in September, but the vast majority of those on ballot papers will be unaffiliated.

I’ve got nothing against parties, don’t misunderstand me, but the fact the majority of our candidates are independent should be a source of pride. Here are people who stand – bravely – alone, in the hope of making a difference.

The Manx Unsure-ian candidate

Having spent time with a number of candidates, it’s abundantly clear policy and presentation are two separate issues. I’ve met people I’d vote for, but who aren’t necessarily the most polished when it comes to explaining their beliefs.

That may be the whole point of Chips Cheese Gravy Media training, but it’s still a nice surprise.

Why? I think it’s just Old Jaded Journalist Syndrome. Honestly, I’ve always preferred talking to local authority members because… well, because:

  1. They certainly don’t do it for the money, they do it for their community
  2. They’re generally ordinary people with modest political ambition
  3. Their sphere of influence is fairly small, and they rarely mind

In the case of national politicians, ambition can (at times, not always) bury that sense of service. The message is often that “we do what’s good for you” rather than “we try to do what you want”.

It’s a problem. And not just because the House of Keys and Tynwald has to make unpopular decisions – many parliaments have to do that – but because on the Isle of Man it so often becomes personal.

Hey hey we’re the Manx Keys

What’s been refreshing is meeting people who are a little less sure of themselves when they stand for election. They’re not arrogant or self-assured or confident. They worry about what people will make of them, what people will say about them on and offline.

To be clear, I know a few MHKs who worry about the same thing. However, I find it charming in people who haven’t been through the political meat-grinder and are anxious they aren’t expressing themselves as well as they’d hope. It’s a real pleasure to help candidates identify what their message is and communicate it.

HL Mencken (who admire for his wit, if not necessarily his beliefs) once said:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

I do have a confession – I’m a massive fan of our democracy. I’ve sat through every election count I’ve ever been allowed into (and I’ve always been the first to volunteer to staff a count) because it’s a privilege to see the nuts and bolts of our representative system in action.

To be in the room when votes are emptied onto a table from sealed ballot boxes, then tallied before the returning officer calls the result is an honour. It utterly nullifies all the nonsense about votes not making a difference because you get to watch every vote making a difference. Those who don’t cast their vote are, in my experience, the first to complain and those with least cause to grumble.

You have to stand (up) to be counted

I’ve been asked if by training candidates, I’m helping to pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes. I’d argue the other way around. By helping would-be MHKs to put their case clearly I’m helping voters make a better-informed choice. My OJJ Syndrome says I would say that though, wouldn’t I?

The truth is this – by standing for election, you choose to put yourself in the firing line. And no matter what you make of someone’s politics, they deserve respect solely for that reason. If you don’t put your head above the parapet, you haven’t earned the right to take cheap potshots.

By all means criticise policy and beliefs – but you can’t question a candidate’s courage.

If you’d like to find out more about what Chips Cheese Gravy Media can do to help your political campaign, click here to find out about our House of Keys candidate media training courses. We can help you express yourself clearly with professional, impartial and confidential sessions that will make sure you can put your case confidently and succinctly.

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