To become a Member of the House of Keys, you have to be ’quite fiery, independent, quite passionate about things, passionate about the Isle of Man... [We’re] quite headstrong people - let’s be honest!’
Sarah Maltby, 36, became MHK for Douglas South on Thursday, September 23, narrowly topping the poll with 1,244 votes to Claire Christian’s 1,242.
Their victories, over other candidates Paul Quine and Gerard Higgins made history - Douglas South became the first constituency on the Isle of Man to ever elect two women to the House of Keys.
What does it mean to become an MHK? Are you thrown in the deep end and expected to swim? The Examiner wanted to find out, and so we spoke to Sarah about her victory, and what the first two weeks as an MHK actually look like.
She said: ’So, on Thursday (September 23) we had the election, and at the election you’re presented with a letter to say that you now need to attend the legislative buildings on Friday morning to pick up a pack [which] is basically your Bible for the new starters.’
The information pack in question contains contact details, information on various courses the MHKs can attend, forms to fill in and different pieces of legislation that they might need to be aware of. The newly-elected crop of MHKs were asked to read through it all over the weekend following election night.
Sarah continued: ’Then from the Monday it was quite literally this is your itinerary for the next two weeks.’
’Over that two weeks, we’ve had courses around mental health awareness, data security, working with information... And we had a meeting the media and communications day.
’We had different representatives from the media outlets come along to introduce themselves, give their contact details, tell us how they would like us to approach them with information to bring constituency matters to their attention, and so on, so it was really open forum.’
On this meeting in particular, Sarah laughed: ’It was actually quite nice to see the media people squirm for once because it’s usually the other way round.’
Alongside courses tackling the big issues, the new MHKs have also had to get to grips with the mechanics of how government works in the island; from how to draft legislation for debate in Tynwald, to the roles and responsibilities of staff in key departments, like the Cabinet Office.
Sarah explained that this information is not only helpful to the newcomers: ’We have had quite in-depth conversations about how you submit a question to be asked in the House of Keys - something that you’d think would be quite a simple process - but [they’re transferring] a lot of the ways they’ve done things in the past to a new system, so there has actually been education for old members as well.
’They’ve brought a lot of things up to date so a lot more of it’s online.’
She added: ’You’ve got to go through the process and you’ve got to do it right.
’If you don’t do it right then nothing will get done. There’s a process to follow and it’s making sure you know how to adhere to the rules in order to get what you want out of this role, this job.’
Whilst taking on board rather complex information around law, constitution, the history of the House of Keys and government functions, it’s easy to forget that for many of our new MHKs, this is their first term, and so they can’t forget about the small stuff.
’In the background of all these courses or awareness days we’ve had to be told where the toilets are; where the photocopier is; where the shredder is etc.’
In taking up her role as an MHK, Sarah has left a job as a senior education support officer at Ballakermeen High School. The change of pace between the two cannot be overstated.
’For me personally I’ve come from a background in a school for 14 years, with a close-knit group of colleagues, and you are kind of thrown into an office which feels very remote from what you’re used to,’ she said.
’Especially for me, I’ve not come from an office background, I’ve come from working frontline with children, so now it’s actually more independent work.
’You are sort of in your own zone and then you come together for the House of Keys sittings and the Tynwald sittings so just on a personal level it has been a huge adjustment.’
Sarah was able to leave her previous job and begin her new one without a notice period, however for some MHKs, the transition into the role can be even more complicated.
’You do have to have a conversation with your boss to make sure that they’re happy with it. Some employers will say no, you need to resign and other employers will say you just have to work a period afterwards. That’s the case for Joney.’
Joney Faragher, a member of the Manx Labour Party alongside Sarah won a seat in Douglas East, and is currently working a notice period alongside attending induction courses and sittings for the House of Keys. Sarah said she is working alongside Joney, helping to fill her in on any induction courses she may have to leave early due to these other commitments.
She said: ’I didn’t have to work a notice so it was really out of one job straight to another job. My colleagues actually said it felt a bit like I’d died, you know, I was there one day, gone the next.
’But it really was, and that definitely took a bit of a period of adjustment, because you have a huge build up to the election, then you get elected and then the next day it’s like right that’s it now, your old life finishes and this is where your new life begins.
’That’s really exciting but it’s also really quite daunting [and] that’s really when you feel the responsibility really hit you, especially at the swearing in ceremony, when you sort of feel like everybody’s watching you at this moment.
’It almost [feels] like you’re marrying the Isle of Man, you know like making a promise to the Isle of Man and the residents, and it honestly did feel like that, it was quite a surreal moment, quite a special moment.’
For those following their new MHKs in Douglas South, they will have noticed both Sarah and Claire out tending to issues raised by constituents within days of being elected - something which Sarah insists they will continue to do.
She has also taken up David Buttery’s petition regarding the island’s footpaths from this year’s Tynwald Day for the November sitting - which will see her make her maiden speech in the chamber.
She hopes it will be the vehicle to open up wider debates regarding the ways in which government departments are working, and how they are not.
She said: ’I feel like that’s what my duty is to the people of the Isle of Man because I’m very proud to be from here, but even I feel like the Isle of Man’s not working for everybody at the moment, and we need to do better.’