Manifestos and how to avoid dealing in meaningless small minded political tropes?

Ah I think I have finally got my workflow right. So here’s an audio copy of this morning’s #SluggerReport Daily (213 LIVE viewers). You can pick up most of them on Audioboom here.

The local anchor for today’s report is the apparently bonkers proposal from the DUP manifesto to build a tunnel from Northern Ireland to Scotland, more broadly though it is this excellent piece from academic, former Labour spad and Southwark councillor, Patrick Diamond:

…it’s also important to ensure that policies can be delivered in the real world. Too many fiascos have originated from parties failing to adequately stress-test new policy ideas. Take, for example, the Conservatives’ “community charge” (otherwise known as the poll tax) from the 1987 election manifesto.

That later became unworkable due to its unfairness. Then there were Labour’s individual learning accounts, which had to be abandoned in 2001 following widespread financial fraud.

The problem is that once commitments are enshrined in party manifestos they are then difficult to break, even if they look increasingly unworkable, or do not provide value for money.

It’s a strong point which goes to the heart of cynicism not least amongst younger people that politicians are capable to doing anything to re-shape the environment around them.

Fianna Fail’s latest health policy gets mention, not least for the value of resisting pressure to report too early on a policy before it has been stressed and tested.

Diamond’s proposal is to open up the Civil Service to political policy makers before the election so that what goes into the manifesto is not simply costed but also realistic.

The civil service should have a formal role in working with politicians and advisers to scrutinise policy ideas prior to their inclusion in manifestos. At present, there are rules governing the process by which the major opposition party consults Whitehall officials, but in practice these amount to cursory discussions between shadow cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries. The terms of engagement remain too limited.

This fits neatly into the #OpenGovernment agenda which we’ve been working with the Building Change Trust to develop in Northern Ireland (see our ever popular Six Memos on OGP for NI).

Bonkers it may be. 21 miles is a very long way even by international standards. There’s the depth of Beaufort Dyke and buried munitions. There’s the complication of geology and drilling. There’s the poor transport infrastructure in Dumfries and Galloway.

But it’s notable for its focus on Northern Ireland’s future relative to the rest of the UK. Both big parties appear to be waking up to how development of London has come at the expense of the rest of the UK.

If the ‘northern powerhouse’ ever comes about, ease of travel between Belfast, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh may become critical, not simply for Northern Ireland, but the rest of the island. Without an adequately thorough and technical description of the problem what looks impossible now will still look impossible if and when that renewal is successful.

What distinguishes this from the six impossible things before breakfast is that the DUP aren’t selling it as a fait accompli, but as part of a feasibility study they have already bid for under the new European Fund for Strategic Investments scheme launched by Claude Van Juncker last November.

Bonkers yes. But hey, it is one, better than re-treading the past because we don’t have the imagination to embrace a different future, and two, you know what, we might not have the capacity to build it now, but the investment in testing its feasibility might allow a future generation to know that when and if it can.

Personally I’m a big fan of bridging projects, regardless of how modest or ambitious they are. They all contain a promise of transformation, whether successful like the Harry Blaney bridge in Donegal or the unsuccessful bridge over Narrow Water.

Transformation requires a whole series of smaller actions taken together but in a longer time frame. Just the kind of thing politics has been migrating away from since the 1960s.

Note: iPhone users can hear the ‪#‎SluggerReport‬ LIVE every weekday at 10am only on the Periscope app. This is a ‘redux’ version which you can also find on Slugger’s Audioboom channel: http://buff.ly/1F19vVv.

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  • Richard Gadsden

    My inclination for transport grands projets on the island of Ireland would be to first build a high-speed rail line from Belfast to Dublin. It’s definitely technically feasible, could be connected (at either end) to any future Irish Sea crossing, and would effectively double the size of the market that you connect to GB by that crossing.

    A Dublin-Holyhead tunnel would probably be somewhat easier in technical terms (slightly longer, but the Irish Sea is shallower in that region and geologically more suitable) and, combined with North Wales high-speed rail to Crewe (or, if we’re getting ambitious, via tunnel under Dee and Mersey, to Liverpool) would connect to the Northern Powerhouse / HS3, to HS2 for Birmingham and London and up the widely-trailed (not least by the SNP) high-speed England-Scotland line to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

    While Belfast-Glasgow would be a rather circuitous route, it would still be not much more than three hours, but connections to Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London (and to the Channel Tunnel for the rest of Europe) would all be far better than via Beaufort Dyke – and if you think that Belfast-Glasgow looks a bit daft via Holyhead, imagine Dublin-London via Ayr (which would be nearly four hours).

    The single biggest cross-Irish Sea flow of passengers is London-Dublin, so it would make sense to arrange any fixed link to be useful to those passengers.

    A technical feasibility and economic cost/benefit study, jointly funded by UK, EU and Ireland for the three main routes (Beaufort Dyke, Dublin-Holyhead, Rosslare-Pembroke) would be a sensible thing to fund, actually – it would cost no more than a few tens of millions (mostly on geological surveys) and would give a clear pointer to which route is most sensible to take forward.

  • mickfealty

    Thanks for picking this up Richard. I mentioned the narrow water bridge project which failed at the very last moment through a pernicious little trait called under bidding, in which the bidders hook the funders on and then ask them later to make up the difference.

    That project, despite all the criticism, had and has potential, but only if you rethink the opportunity on either side it creates that weren’t there before. So it is with the North Channel link (Chunnel2). The big drawback I see (we have to wait for the geological and tech surveys to see whether its a goer or not, is the starved infrastructure of SW Scotland.

    But that issue could be addressed over a longer time frame. Rail may be unfeasible. Dualing the road with some bigger bypasses more realistic.

    Linking the north on both islands could significantly incentivise capital and labour to move away from the south on both and re-balance to the north, on both, providing a greater incentive to build that fast route to Belfast.