Most of us don't have time to trawl through the machinations of the Tynwald system. For a start it's not exactly user friendly and we have busy lives trying to put food on the table.
Instead we rely heavily on the media to keep us informed of goings on and alert us to policies that might affect us.
An innocuously sounding piece of primary legislation, the Communications Bill is currently winding its way through the Manx parliament.
According to the Isle of Man government, the purpose of the Bill is to modernise the Telecommunications Act 1984 and the Broadcasting Act 1993 and to bring the two areas that the Isle of Man Communications Commission regulates into one piece of legislation. Again that sound innocuous enough. Simplifying and modernising all seems sensible enough. In fact, there's nothing in the introduction to the explanatory notes to the Bill that alerts us to its ominous content.
Yet there are at least two major issues in the Communications Bill that at the time of writing this article are going to be included in the final version of the Bill and subsequently passed into law - independence of the media and free speech.
Independence of the Media
It is widely accepted that a free and independent media, or 'fourth estate', is a critical component of a functioning democracy.
The term 'fourth estate' has been attributed to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons.
A media that is government controlled lends itself to abuse by politicians who seek to further their own agenda (whether they be legitimate or not). Here in the Isle of Man, the 'national broadcaster' Manx Radio is dependent on the Isle of Man government for its economic survival via a subsidy. Furthermore, the chair of the Isle of Man Communications Commission is a politician (currently Bill Malarkey MHK a member of the Council of Ministers).
This creates an environment that would fail any decent governance test. This was something that was picked up on by Daphne Caine MHK during a debate on the Bill in Tynwald recently.
Perhaps a reflection of how little progress has been made in political reform on the Isle of Man, Daphne's motion to ensure regulatory separation of the media from government failed by 13-10 in the House of Keys.
Those who voted against it were:
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom to articulate opinions and ideas without fear of censorship or legal sanction.
Under Section 108 of the Isle of Man Communications Bill you are guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.
Under the current wording of the Bill you could be criminally liable and be sent to prison for 'causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety'. The bar has been set so low that once this Bill is enacted you could be jailed for tweeting your opinion.
James McConnell, 78, a born-again Christian pastor in Northern Ireland was arrested and prosecuted under the UK's Communications Act after making negative remarks about Islam when preaching in his church, Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, in May 2014.
Being free to express your opinions and criticise the government is the cornerstone of a democratic society. Our forefathers fought and died for us to have this freedom.
According to John Murphy, under the UK version of this law (no surprise the Manx version is has ben cut and paste!) 20,000 people have been investigated under the UK law.
As Rober Sharp wrote in the Guardian newspaper:
"Giving offence is a necessary tool in a democracy. It is an essential component in speaking truth to established interests. Following this principle does mean that poor taste jokes and unpalatable political opinions remain uncensored in the public domain. But it is preferable for offensive speech to remain part of the conversation, than for it to be criminalised and driven underground, where it cannot be challenged. And our noisy, diverse and often offensive culture is far better for progress than the stunted, straitjacket politics experienced by the people of China, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia."
Finally, we remember the legacy of Manx born Sophia Goulden, the mother of Emmeline Pankhurst, who led the suffragette movement in Britain.
"The young women of today can never know at what price their right to free speech has been earned"
Lucy Stone - Suffragette
I don't know if they still teach this stuff in school but Ramsey MHK Alex Allinson might remember the Odyssey:
"First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men's bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men's ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope's ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster."
We have a maritime history on the Isle of Man. It's one that includes our own sirens that tempt politicians with stories of fortunes and jobs. The Ramsey Marina project is its latest incarnation and predictably the entire Ramsey political class has come out in vociferous support within days of the announcement.
Andy Cowie, Chair of Ramsey Commissioners, could barely contain his excitement saying the proposals were fully supported by the local authority. Ramsey MHK Lawrie Hooper struck a more cautious tone but supported the development as he 'welcomed any investment in Ramsey'. Alex Allinson MHK was very enthusiastic believing it would make Ramsey a centre for shipping maintenance.
Let's hope they are right because not one of them consulted their constituents before publicising their support for the project.
How do I know? Well, because at the last election, Ramsey had 5,726 registered voters and, as no politician uses a democracy platform such as IserveU, there is no way they could have called on that number of people in less than a week.
This project is reported as being a £100 million development that will build 200 flats and townhouses on one of the Isle of Man's most iconic beaches. Something of that magnitude is going to heighten emotions on both sides of the argument.
No MHK or member of Ramsey Council should come out in favour of the scheme unless they have evidence that the majority of their constituents support it.
Politicians are representatives of the people.
They should respect their constituents and respect democracy.
Howard Quayle, the current Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, stated in Tynwald this week:
"I was aware that there were difficult, unpopular choices that needed to be taken, not kicked down the road, in order to ensure that our children and grandchildren were not facing a bleak future on this Island" [emphasis added]
This was in response to a question put to him by Jason Moorhouse MHK on his three main priorities before the next General Election. This is significant because the Chief Minister's response is, in effect, a declaration that he will deliver policies that aren't supported by the electorate. He appears to justify this by saying that it's for our own good.
Now this raises the question to whether the Isle of Man is, in fact, a democracy.
Now democracy can, of course, be measured. Democracy simply means "will of the people". To measure democracy we simply correlate the decisions and policies effected by parliamentary representatives (which in the case of the Isle of Man are MHKs and MLC) with the will of the people.
Such a study was conducted a few years back by Gilens and Page entitled "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens"
(Gilens is Professor of Politics at Princeton University). It shows how ineffective representative democracy is at delivering the will of the people.
Now the counter argument I hear most often from politicians is that they are elected to be representatives and to make decisions on our behalf. I believe that to be true but I don't understand how the logic flows from that to imposing unpopular policies regardless of the justification - and I will get to that later.
Elections are exercises in popularity or, to be more accurate, relative popularity. To win an election you must convince people you will carry out their will or at least to a greater extent than the other candidates. Why would you vote for someone that wanted to impose policies on you that you don't want? That would be illogical.
It follows, therefore, that a politician that states they have as their priority policies that they believe are unpopular is acting undemocratically. In other words, it is possible to be democratically elected and then act undemocratically. Getting elected is not a licence to do whatever you wish. In a democracy, the duty of a representative is always to the electorate.
Now, you very rarely hear politicians argue against democracy without some sort of justification. The justification is normally that it is for the good of the people. This clings to a nobility of motive and a superiority of intelligence and decision making over the great unwashed.
Therein lies the justification for all types of authoritarianism, indeed used most effectively by the likes of Than Shwe, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot.
But we still have a choice between authoritarianism or democracy. Let it be an active decision not one that is cloaked in the warm coat of democracy.
Tynwald must be held to account according to democratic principles. It's our job as citizens to make sure that happens.
It's been a depressing week in Manx politics with Tynwald awarding itself a pay rise of more than £1,000 each. To be fair to Tynwald there wasn't a vote on it rather it was decided by the mysterious Public Services Commission (PSC) which is Chaired by none other than Minister for Reform Chris Thomas MHK (Douglas Central). Don't think that was the kind of reform we had in mind.
This comes not too long after the Tynwald expenses scandal covered by Isle of Man Newspapers in which it turns out members of Tynwald don't have to account for their expenses rather they are just added automatically to their salary. We then had Lawrie Hooper MHK (Ramsey) say that because MHKs don't account for their expenses they should just have it added to their salary. If he is successful in his argument with his colleagues in Tynwald (now there's a hard sell - let's increase our salary) one wonders what sort of conversation that will trigger with the Tax Office for back taxes as I imagine they haven't been paying tax or National Insurance on these salary/expenses.
I find it hard to imagine a job where you are just given a cheque every month for unaccounted expenses. I find it even harder to find a job where either you or a colleague can decide your own salary.
Certainly not as a postie. The Isle of Man Post Office has gone on strike over pay, pensions etc. MHKs are lining up to explain to Post Office employees how they need to knuckle down and take some pain to make the Post Office more competitive. These are the very same MHKs who have just received a pay rise and have the most generous defined benefit scheme known to man.
Yet again it is apparently one rule for them and another for us.
Like oil and water politicians and social media don't mix. Not because of their natural properties but because politicians tend not to understand it. Most members of Tynwald do not have public Twitter feeds which the more adventurous may graduate on to after Facebook. Some do, of course, but they tend to use them for official announcements typically with a link to some sort of government press release.
Once they have the hang of that they tend to use Twitter to show themselves in a good like - you know the sort of thing - 'here's me helping out at the foodbank' or 'did you know I plant my own vegetables'.
Some, but only a few, use Twitter to actually engage with the masses. To their credit some make a better fist of it than others.
Now and again we get a social media car crash like we had today with Lawrie Hooper MHK who tried somewhat forcefully to tell parents and students that they had a really generous deal from his government department and rather than whinge and go on Manx Radio to express their views they should get a second job and take on more debt to pay for their university education.
As you can imagine this went down like an unpaid student loan. Rather than temper his approach in the face of the onslaught of objections, Lawrie doubled down and blocked two of the tweeters and said the debate was over.
Well ladies and gentlemen that's not how social media works. It's not like Tynwald and there are no standing orders. All Lawrie managed to do was to alienate two generations of the electorate (students and their parents) and spark the birth of a new Twitter movement.
No wonder so many steer clear.