What the manifestos of the Northern Ireland parties don’t say…

Practically everything of importance, as far as I can make out from the cloudy rhetoric. What unites them?  Yes!  Abolish air passenger duty!  But save us from tough decisions. Blame the Brits or seek their help or possibly both at once.

As befits the party’s expected numbersthe DUP’s manifesto is about positioning  for after  the election. It’s also a rehearsal for next year’s Assembly election that offers no hostages to fortune.   Whatever the DUP professes about even handedness between Conservatives and Labour, they tilt towards the Conservatives. Their tone is British patriotic and pro defence spending. They are not as militant as UKIP over immigration. While they support an EU referendum, they are not categorical about the terms. They’ve probably done enough to be wooed by the Tories, although Cameron is making it clear he’ll have no truck with their conservative position on gay rights. Labour refer to the DUP only to hold them up as part of the unacceptable right. They don’t seem to be impressed by their opposition to the bedroom tax.

None of the above gains or loses the DUP anything in terms of votes. Northern Ireland is linked to, not part of, the political world of GB. They’re right to stick to modest ambitions. To be fair to the DUP, they’ve at least made an effort to construct a narrative of economic efficiencies as a basis for asking for a bit more dosh. .   They are still wobbly on Corporation tax  and are intriguingly ”negotiating for more satisfactory  terms .”

The DUP are  attempting to grasp the nettle of wider reform but delude themselves if they think that can be achieved without big shifts in political position. Their hopes for East Belfast and guarding their flanks in North have left them in thrall to loyalist militancy. Demographics will further narrow their base. Perhaps then Unionism will face a real choice: whether to consolidate in a single party or diversify across community.

Sinn Fein are staying in la-la land to harvest votes.  Somebody in the party has thought  it was a good idea to keep pace with the  SNP by  calling for the  devolution of income tax  and a referendum  on unity .

I like the broad agreement apart from SF on ending confidentiality over political donations.

On dealing with the past, the familiar hypocrisy persists.  They all grind their axes but nobody goes for the necessary terms of immunity to make progress.  “The past” as a political issue appears to be receding into the past.

What aren’t the parties saying?

 They are mute about how specifically to break out of continuing deadlock over the Stormont House Agreement.  The DUP basically accept welfare capping, while the others pretend not to, unless they intend to continue defying the Treasury. Nobody of course wants to go near using existing revenue powers, to increase the rates or impose water charges. The SDLP and Alliance also wax righteous about the need for  more, more money . Sinn Fein continues to hold out –SNP style – for an extra £1.5 billion. As they chose to exert no influence in the Commons, their only weapon is to bring the Assembly down. This is bluff.  All will leave it up to the new government to impose a settlement  with a little more sugar coating on the welfare pill, at best without more raiding on the block grant.

There is almost no cross community appeal in any of the manifestos except Alliance’s

The DUP’s “ identity and tradition “appeals exclusively to that  quaint ” Ulster” version of Britishness.  You’d think nobody else died on the Somme. Flags should fly in government buildings 365 days a year. As this is undeliverable, will the lower Newtownards road be impressed?  The problem of parades is the “ bias ” against the loyal orders.” How  does that take Stormont House  forward?

Integration and sharing are barely mentioned . Nationalists are considered wholly in terms of economic opportunity in the DUP plan which accompanies the manifesto.

The SDLP are mom and apple pie about human rights and equality without saying how . ( Their document failed to launch in my browser) Human rights and equality are of course nationalist causes and a warning of looming majority in the mouths of Sinn Fein.

Alliance’s ambition is  oddly limited.  For a party that ought to appeal to the mass ranks of the politically disaffected, they rely too much on setting up studies into problems and  lifting safe bits  from the  Greens and other right-on material.  Are they a progressive or a liberal Presbyterian party?  They are to the right of Sinn Fein on abortion.  As a party largely made up of professionals, where is the comprehensive plan for  the reform of education?  A problem they have is that their championing of the integrated education sector  may  simply hold up sharing, mergers and broader integration between the state and catholic sectors.  They duck issues like the anti-equality religious qualification for teachers in Catholic schools The Ulster Unionists  say they would address the latter but nobody faces the clash of rights entailed.  Where is the vision of north-south social, cultural, and economic integration appropriate for a party professing cross community appeal?

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  • Sergiogiorgio

    I think it’s reasonable to assume that the uncertainty on the mainland as to who will lead the next government leads to this open ended/non specific approach by our local parties. Such a shame we lack the sort of leaders to grasp this opportunity to LEAD. NI and the rest of the UK are crying out for some sort of leadership, rather than this wholly, middle of the road crap. Reminds me a bit of when Blair got elected on a landslide of belief and we all remember where that finished up….ho hum….

  • “Sinn Féin are staying in la-la land to harvest votes.”

    Indeed, Brian.

    “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

  • GUBU

    Indeed.

    But credit where credit’s due – Sinn Fein are the only party committed to achieving a united la-la land.

  • tmitch57

    Re Alliance, as the only party not making a sectarian appeal, I believe they probably feel constrained by the limits put up by the other parties and this constrains their originality and specificity. They know that few voters will be willing to break out of their ethnic-sectarian boxes and vote for a different party so they are left competing with the Green Party. Why be specific and innovative if it doesn’t win you anything? Alliance has been reduced to staying within its box as well.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    You’re being way too generous to our local pols there serg. They have never had any details to change to vagueness. ..
    I’m surprised even now they can’t put simple costed figures against proposals.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Cheers for the summary Brian. As a committed non voter, I see no reason to jump ship.
    6th form school kids could put a better manifesto forward.

  • Move Along

    Not much comment on the UUP, but given their electoral pact strategy I guess their manifesto probably reads – ‘Don’t worry about policy, we’re unionist, that should be enough.’
    And it won’t be.

  • Move Along

    I would agree that Alliance approach is limited which is frankly a shame. I think there is a large number of disaffected voters and non-voters who would be interested in a more progressive approach to local politics which removes past sectarian divisions – which so many of our politicians seem determined to maintain. Only Alliance appear positioned to leverage these voters but need to appeal to a wider base with policies which challenge and provide thinking on the economy, health and education in particular which aren’t simply centre ground compromise positions. Maybe they need to stop worrying about offending and be direct with policy positions which appeal rather than being the least worst option. But a ground swell vote for them might at least encourage new thinking – by them and others. Can’t hurt.

  • Gopher

    Looking at it objectively the DUP are in the best position to actually get something for Northern Ireland at this election which is sorely tempting me to vote for them for the first time ever. Henry IV said “Paris is well worth a Mass” well if I could be sure the DUP would not waste my vote on putting flags up a pole or getting Morris Dancers up and down roads, getting rid of passenger duty would be worth my X. Whilst a feasibility study on a tunnel to Scotland does fire the imagination a proper mass Transit for Belfast (not that crap the assembly came up with) linking both Airports or a motorway to Derry would have a more tangible feel and would make putting that X easier

    The other parties are making my choice alot easier. Not picking on a Jihadi bakers (Alliance and Queens have alot in common), Orthodox Jewish bakers or asking a Catholic bakers to put Support Abortion on a birthday cake, that along with the poor negotiating skills lost Alliance my vote,

    The Ulster Unionists wont get enough if any MP’s so a wasted vote and keeps them on life support when they really need to go the way of the dinosaurs.

    SDLP. The old they are not SF dont wash any more. It should be the UUP and SDLP between them getting the deal for Northern Ireland at this election and leading us to nirvana but they decided on assisted suicide after the GFA. Running Alex Attwood (a bloodly gain, They say all political carreers end in failure well Alex’s just continues forever and ever in failure.) tells you all you need to know about the SDLP no ideas, no plan, nothing.

    SF. Somebody told me today the Ex Mayor is a great candidate I had to contain my laughter and nod because he was in earnest. It does not matter if Jesus Christ himself stands for SF in South Belfast he will still have to do what Gerry tells him to do, even poor Marty had to and he is from Derry! Secondly the manifesto was obviously written by a fourth former, anyone who believes in that nonsense should be auditioning for the muppet show.

    Greens, I kinda like flying, dont like taxes, recycle and dont use as much carbon as China so unfortunatly the best I can do is vote at assembly elections to maintain the opposition of Agnew and Allister to the farce

    TUV, apart from keeping Jim Allister in the assembly so it does not become the Reichstag the Monday after the Enabling Act is the only reason to vote TUV

    UKIP. It would be good if they could put the UUP out of their misery by voting UKIP but then I would not have a chance of losing that passenger duty now would’nt I?

  • Move Along

    I believe in voting at every opportunity and at least making a choice or indicating a preference. I’m not sure the least worst option of an X for the DUP makes sense given their tired tribal approach – something I believe we should kick out on both ‘sides’ of the house. Does the mess of the ‘Cake’ issue really warrant a voting decision in any direction or a deal breaker for a progressive centre ground Alliance position? So setting it aside what represents value in changing the ‘old’ voting dynamic?

  • Gopher

    Ive voted centre all my voting life, Alliance most of it and it has got me nowhere and changed nothing. Alliance did not go into opposition in the assembly. Why should I vote with my conscience when the party asking me for their vote does not have one? (niether did the SDLP or UUP so they deserve nothing either) My vote has a sporting chance of getting passneger duty removed if I cast it for the DUP and if the DUP behave (I sincerely doubt that) I might vote for them again. But if they dont I will choose someone else next time. But why vote for anyone in government in the assembly? It will be Green, UKIP or TUV then if the other parties remain in government. But at least after this election I will have the end of passenger duty in my back pocket.

    I dont care about gay marriage one way or another, dont have much time for Christains either but targetting that bakery was a low gutless move. Nope they just cost people who wernt bothering anyone stress, money and sleepless nights. As I said on the other thread flat track bullies just like mouthy Queens, “Mandela Hall” dont make me laugh!

    You have to play the hand your dealt and right now the DUP (though Im pro Dinosaur, Choice and dont care about gay marriage, ) stand the best chance of making me better off. There was tribal politics tonight there will be tribal politics in the morning and after the election Im sure there will be more. Passenger duty on the other hand could be transient.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I agree Move Along. Frankly Alliance need to grow a pair. Ditch their current leader and appoint the only recognisably talented politician this wee patch seems to have – Naomi! However it still doesn’t get them past their unfortunate neoliberal, socialist horse****, so no vote from me.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Costed figures Sir – they just need to sit down with a calculator and their Westminster handout and add the EU handouts. We’re a province of scroungers.

  • Kevin Breslin

    They say no publicity is the very worst of bad publicity.

    Critizing the DUP, SF, SDLP and Alliance was cynical enough but Not critiquing the UUP so obviously highlights the anominity they can get from making pacts with the DUP.

  • barnshee

    “Costed figures Sir – they just need to sit down with a calculator and their Westminster handout and add the EU handouts. We’re a province of scroungers.”

    Correction -some in the province are spongers -not everone is on DLA– there appear to be at least some taxpayers about