As part of an Isle of Man Examiner series, PAUL SPELLER is conducting one-to-one interviews with each of the 12 new MHKs who were elected to the House of Keys in September. In the latest instalment, we talk to Daphne Caine, one of two new members for Garff
She may appear to be one of the more mild-mannered MHKs in our midst, but Daphne Caine is determined to make her mark.
The Garff MHK was not among the more vocal of the new entrants during the opening weeks of parliament, but she was always eager to make her words count when she used them.
We meet the morning after Mrs Caine’s maiden Tynwald speech, at the November sitting. She is still buzzing, although, in truth. that may have been the prospect of coffee: it plays a big part in her daily routine.
There is a slight air of sympathetic disdain when I confess my caffeine tolerance will not match hers.
In the spirit of transparency, I should declare an interest. Mrs Caine and I were once newsroom colleagues. We were actually desk neighbours. To give you an idea of how long ago it was, however, the questions we were asking each other back then were more likely to have concerned the right adjectives for Alf Cannan’s father David, rather than the policies of the current Treasury minister.
So, the coffee table is turned, ever so slightly, for our latest meeting. We settle in, quickly, to discuss events at the previous day’s Tynwald sitting.
Mrs Caine, 47, set out her stall, in doing so demonstrating her children’s champion priorities, during her maiden speech, on Howard Quayle’s Programme for Government.
But it was her next speech, during a debate on the report on reform of the jury system, put forward by select committee chairman Chris Robertshaw. On the proposal for a central citizen database, she was withering.
She told her colleagues she objected to a ‘a major overarching new policy being sneaked in through the back door of a select committee report’ and described the database as an ‘insidious way of keeping track of all our citizens because that is somehow considered to be better for us all’.
Although the Keys still voted in favour of the database, Legislative Council, supposedly the lapdog of the government, voted against, forcing the matter to go for a combined vote at the December Tynwald.
Reports of the temperature dropping, as Mrs Caine and Mr Robertshaw later walked the corridor taking them back to their offices, remain unconfirmed.
But Mrs Caine’s way with words, and an ability to research her case, may prove to be an extremely useful weapon.
She agrees her training as a journalist, all those years ago, has helped. Combined with her later experience as a civil servant, she is ideally placed to pore through government documents and see through any blather.
To put it another way, she should be able to cut the crap. Both in what she reads and what she says.
She admits to nerves during the speeches, however.
‘I write things down, then I edit them and add some comments,’ she says. ‘Then I talk them out, like a dress rehearsal.
‘I am not the world’s greatest orator. I like the written word. It was a case of “deep breath”, but I could sense my hand holding the paper was starting to shake a bit.’
Before and since her election, one of the accusations put against Mrs Caine is that, with two decades working in various departments of government, mainly in marketing and media relations, she is too close to the administration to be a good choice.
Her appointment as a member of the Department of Economic Development, her most recent place of work, may not have helped.
On the upside, it does mean that she’s probably used to saying ‘yes, minister’ to Lawrence Skelly. It’s whether he’ll accept her saying ‘no’ that is the real question.
She is very conscious that there could be a perception of conflict, but the truth is it was the one departmental position she was offered.
‘If at any point I feel conflicted, I will say so and probably step outside,’ she says.
‘I think when you have been in as many departments (as an employee) as I have, there are going to going to be small conflicts.’
Accusations of a conflict of interest do not just apply to her past employment, however.
Her name was put forward for chairmanship of the social affairs policy review committee, but it was argued by others there would be a clash with her position as children’s champion.
Nevertheless, it is the role of children’s champion, you sense, that inspires the mother-of-two the most. She rattles off a list of the people she wants to talk to and the places she wants to visit.
She knows I have strong views on education and the former journalist, briefly, turns the tables to ask questions of me.
The position is an unusual one for Manx politics: designed to ensure the interests of the child are considered across all departments, but what actual power it wields is open to question. You suspect it is well suited to someone who may not be afraid to become an irritant to other sections of government.
Her predecessor was former MLC Dudley Butt. So, it is handy, then, that Mr Butt is clearly one of her political mentors. It is not something she shies away from.
‘When I announced I was standing in Garff, Dudley Butt offered to help in the campaign team,’ she explains.
‘I have discussed various political issues with him. We, helpfully, agree on most things and he is now telling me all about the role of children’s champion. That was something I was very interested in putting myself forward for and I was really delighted the chief minister chose me.’
She has already spoken to many groups and the feedback, in particular from young people themselves, has been ‘eye-opening’.
‘It makes me very aware, as a politician, of the responsibility of planning the policies correctly, of working behind the scenes where necessary, to scrutinise and highlight the issues that people within the system have to deal with.’