Election 2005: the issues that never showed…

The Election Commission’s post election seminar took place at Queens just under a fortnight ago. It brought together a number of players from NI’s political and civil society to look at what might be learned from the experience of this year’s double election. I was asked to present a highly personal view of the main issues and outcomes of the campaign, which was followed by a fascinating series of presentations from each of the five main parties’ directors of elections.

All good realistic stuff. Tim Lemon gave few hostages to fortune, but presaged his shortish speech with the honest remark that his party had been the only true and visible losers in the election. The internal review arising is thorough and ongoing. Sean Kearney of Sinn Fein noticeably kept well away from his party’s performance and concentrated largely on the negative effects of recent electoral reform on voter turnout.

In the breakout group on politics and the media jointly chaired by Ciaran O’Kelly and Liz Fawcett led a spirited discussion between politicians and several members of the media. Both complained that the other was not sufficiently interested in issues, with one radio producer suggesting they’d had to manufacture a series of pieces on issues in the absence of any substantial response from parties. Politicians responded complaining that when the do put issue based material out, it is consistently ignored.

Even where PA, for instance, made efforts to garner issue material from each of the parties this resulted in poor take up from the wider media. One DUP representative hinted too that when policy material is presented to the media they often miss important difference in detail. A representative of another political party told the group he had had to resort to photo opps to get any interest from any of the media outlets.

It may be that without any significant means by which the local parties can formulate policy and drive it through the government machine – there is no real pull in locally written policy documents. However with both sides claiming the other is not listening, it may be time for the local media and politicians to get together and attempt to fill the communication gap?

  • aquifer

    It is questionable whether local parties and the media can be up to the avalanche of issues to be dealt with. EU legislation alone could bury anyone. I’ve seen obviously overburdened party policy officers fail to get to terms with the big issues at consultation events. Not having had local legislators for a long time, lobbying may not have developed enough to drive policy innovation and differentiation. The local parties have very meagre resources to employ specialists, and the recruitment of MLAs from local councillors may not have helped to raise sights either.

    A party list electoral system could help get policy heads into the assembly and out of the much more secure advocacy related jobs in the voluntary, business, and academic sectors.

    We are too fond, addicted even, to political back seat driving. i.e. Whinging.

  • beano; EverythingUlster.com

    I was really fed up that there was not a single mention that I could detect on the national stadium. Aside from one response out of about half a dozen letters I sent. (For anyone interested the one man who did respond was Tom Ekin who was Lord Mayor at the time.)

  • fair_deal

    A number of the parties launched issue themed leaflets e.g. crime so I don’t know where the media producer gets the ‘There was no issue stuff’ from.

  • Mick

    To clarify, I quoted a instance when the media ran a series on issues that the parties as a whole failed to respond to. You can’t run a programme on the content of a policy document.

    The report here is by no means comprehensive, but I think it’s fair to say that the upshot was that: “both sides [were] claiming the other is not listening”.

  • George

    It is very difficult for a party to go on about local issues when the local governance issue has yet to be solved.

    Voter: What about water charges?
    Party: We’re against them
    Voter: What are you going to do about it?
    Party: Nothing because there’s nothing we can do because we have no power to change this decision.

    One small thing,
    National stadium Beano? Are you trying to claim this new stadium for the Northern Ireland football team on its own?

    Using loaded terms like that could be considered an effort to alienate the GAA and IRFU, who already have national stadiums of their own, from the project.

  • Leviathan

    It is going to be the National Stadium is it not? Maybe not for GAA (if they ever use it) or Ulster Rugby, but certainly for the Northern Irelkand National football team.