Why can’t we make room for policy-driven debates during our election campaigns?

The first Leaders’ Debate took place on UTV during the week. It was a relatively tame affair, and Alan provided some notes and analysis from the hour long discussion on here.

Yet what was glaringly absent, once again, from an election campaign discussion and debate here was any sense that our political leaderships should be held to account for their respective positions on substantive policy matters that impact on our lives every day.

I’m far from naive, and understand completely as to why we vote with constitutional, identity and conflict legacy issues to the forefront of our collective minds, but I still do not think that it is too much to ask for political leaders to be challenged to produce and articulate coherent policies on the plethora of issues from education to health, economy, agriculture and transport that will dominate their daily agendas when assuming their roles as elected legislators in the Assembly and Executive.

An hour long discussion might not allow for each leader to be grilled in a substantive manner on their policies beyond simply the Irish language, Brexit and RHI issues dominating this campaign, but that should not mean the parties escape being challenged over their positions on such policy areas.

My own professional background is in education.

At present, industrial action is having a serious impact upon how schools operate on a day-to-day basis. That industrial action is primarily a result of teachers reacting to the Education Minister’s (Peter Weir) failure to provide them with a pay rise for 2015/16. The union representing principals and head teachers, NAHT, announced this week that it is to ballot on following the other teaching unions in commencing industrial action.

I would like to hear the different political parties’ positions on the industrial action and how they would seek to resolve it. Do they believe the teachers are justified, or is there merit to the position being adopted by the Minister?

Beyond that, there remains a large number of significant education-based policy matters that could be discussed- and that’s quite apart from academic selection at age eleven, which always gets trotted out for a quick one line comment that too many politicians seem to believe will suffice to cover them with the electorate on all matters pertaining to education.

How about actual strategies to develop shared education in a meaningful manner?

What about their different ideas and strategies to tackle educational underachievement?

Do we need to look at the issue of school transport again in a system defined by choice which has obvious cost implications?

Questions relating to the promotion of Irish medium and integrated education could be asked and discussed, ideas for the new Controlled Sector Support Council explored and strategies to increase the levels of children continuing to HE/FE outlined.

These questions relate to one significant area of public policy, but similar stand alone 30/60-minute discussions could be had over the breadth of issues relating to health, transport, environment and the economy.

There is no reason why policy-specific debates and discussions can not be facilitated by the media in a way that publicly challenges the parties by holding them to account for previous actions and present stated policy positions (or the lack thereof.) Parties could nominate spokespersons to participate in such discussions so that the leaders were not having to cover all the bases. I believe this would force the parties to sharpen their performance and ensure that the electorate was more fully aware of the complementary or contrasting positions of the political parties before votes were cast. It might not alter voting intentions, but it certainly would allow for voters, interested groups and party members & representatives to provide feedback which could inform discussion within parties and help shape policy matters.

Furthermore, identifying a unity of purpose with regard to the substantive policies of political parties across the constitutional divide is more likely to advance a voting preference pact culture in the short to medium term then the type of off the cuff initiative launched by Mike Nesbitt which seems to have gotten him into such difficulties with many in his own party.

 

 

 

  • Korhomme

    In addition to the above, what about social issues such as gay/equal marriage and abortion? Or are these simply too difficult, too contentious for our politicians?

  • Msiegnaro

    Too much focus on them.

  • aperfectstorm1

    The answer to your question is quite simple. The reason we do not get hard line policy debates is because the host doesn’t ask the questions. Why? Because the Green/ Orange debate is just too juicy for them to resist. We need skilled presenters with a strong arm who can grill candidates on bread and butter issues without allowing them to resort back to camp. Our politicians in the North are far to focused on sectarian politics while the middle ground parties fail miserably to influence the direction of debates away from ‘themmuns and ussuns’. The various TV stations and current affairs producers could correct this at the stroke of a pen, if they were bothered, but they are not. Simples.

  • hgreen

    Perhaps the reason we don’t get policy debates is because policy is set in London. For example the crisis in the NHS is the responsibility of the Tories and there is little a Stormont health minister can do to alleviate it.

  • Lionel Hutz

    An hour long 5 person leaders debate leaves 12 minutes per person for the questions and their answers to those questions. Maybe each person speaks for 7 or 8 minutes on average per hour.

    What depth of policy is possible in 7 or 8 minutes

  • Brian O’Neill

    Really? We take no responsibility at all? ?

  • Brian O’Neill

    I wonder what the viewing figures are like? I would never watch these debates, they are a complete head wreck.

  • john millar

    The orange and green show dominates because apart from being the best/only one it provides an escape from dealing with “other issues” It helps obscure the facts of the NI tax deficit and allows the protagonists to avoid accountability for their failure to address it.

    “Beyond that, there remains a large number of significant education-based policy matters that could be discussed- and that’s quite apart from academic selection at age eleven, which always gets trotted out for a quick one line comment that too many politicians seem to believe will suffice to cover them with the electorate on all matters pertaining to education.

    How about actual strategies to develop shared education in a meaningful manner?”

    I regularly have to be resuscitated when I hear the words “integrated education”
    There is no intention to integrate education – apart from too many jobs at risk there is use of separation to promote ethnic identity and cultural preferences

  • Stephen Warke

    Health and spending on health is a devolved matter. We can’t blame the Tories for everything! 😉

  • john millar

    “the crisis in the NHS is the responsibility of the Tories ”

    Precisely why?

  • Stephen Warke

    Couldn’t agree more. My personal opinion is that whilst I appreciate the significance of those issues to they who advance them, I would contend that health, economy, education etc are higher up the ‘to do’ list of importance at this point in time.

  • hgreen

    Very little. It’s a crisis of funding. This is obvious.

  • hgreen

    The NHS has a funding crisis orchestrated by the Tories. To deny this is embarrassing.

  • hgreen

    The total budget available is a Tory matter.

  • Msiegnaro

    Are you John Millar of NB TUV?

  • john millar

    “Are you John Millar of NB TUV?”

    Not as far as I am aware -what is NB TUV?

  • john millar

    “The total budget available is a Tory matter.”

    The total budget available is a government matter that the government is now Tory is a fact of life no different were the Government Labour

    It appears that the “government” already provides NI with funds far in excess of its Tax take To repeat
    Health and spending on health are devolved matters
    What is your solution?

  • hgreen

    Thanks for stating the bleeding obvious. To continue stating things that are obvious, the UK needs to spend more on health. Thus the UK govt needs to raise more money. Your comments on NI are irrelevant.

  • Korhomme

    Those are also important. These social issues have been waiting for action for decades, the merits/demerits have long been discussed. If an Executive really wanted to sort these issues, it would take very little time. To put them at the back of the queue because health, education etc are more important means that they will never be sorted — which is perhaps what out politicians want. (After all, though you might think that they are there to represent our issues, the reality seems more like representing their own issues.)

  • john millar

    So

    The government needs

    1To raise taxes and/or reallocate from somewhere else?
    2 Send even more money to NI?

    Health and spending on health are devolved matters what about a little local tax raising /reallocation?

  • Msiegnaro

    He was their North Belfast TUV MLA candidate.

  • john millar

    I need a name change fast

  • hgreen

    1. Yes
    2. Yes (they’ll also be sending more to Cardiff, Glasgow, Burnley etc as I’m sure you are aware)

    If the govt raises more tax NI tax payers will be paying more.

    Is this all new to you?

  • Msiegnaro

    Sorry just felt your tone didn’t coincide with John Millar’s of the TUV.

  • john millar

    Is this all new to you?

    I`m all for it –the only problem I can see is NI has a poor contribution record on taxes and would not make a pro rata contribution but would still expect pro rata extra allocation and even more dependency

    What taxes would you increase?

  • hgreen

    What NI pays or doesn’t is a separate debate. The NHS has a funding crisis throughout the UK. Good attempt to try and shift the debate.

  • aperfectstorm1

    I love watching them to see what they are wearing, how they accessorize and their style of make up etc. Its fun.

  • johnny lately

    How much does Northern Ireland contribute to the treasury from taxes ?

  • aquifer

    “There is no reason why policy-specific debates and discussions can not be facilitated by the media” Lazy ‘incidents and arguments’ and dog-whistle journalism. It is easier to re-tell one sectarian ping-pong story that writes itself than many complex stories that require research and specialist expertise.

  • hgreen

    Look it up yourself. I hear Google is good for that sort of thing.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    If somebody would come out with costed and time-boxed proposals on, for example, R&D for: Additive Manufacturing in Newry; Autonomous Vessels in Derry; General Purpose Robotics in Inniskillen; SMRs in Belfast Harbour Estate; supporting and building up the CGI and Media hub in Cathedral Quarter then I’d vote for them.

    I don’t give a toss what their policies on Orange/Green issues are.

  • Kevin Breslin

    It’s not the Orange and Green show … It’s down to fiscally limited governments basically seeing dog whistle politics, mudslinging and personality politics dominating over the fine details.

    Britain and the United States have been quite good at using platitude politics and character assassinations too.

    We’re due a massive crisis in our health service due to inflation coming in from the massive reduction in the pound, this means our austerity is going to get worse.

    So rather than talking about even more reform and frugality in Health we’ll get more politicians saying we need to lower demands on our health service, we need to do more as individuals to reduce this burden, we need to take care of our own physical and mental well being.

    We need to find people who can solve these problems outside the scope of politics and politiking … scientists, engineers, managers, business people, financiers, public sector works and our charity and community sector.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well there are Trade and Innovation vouchers and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships that boost some industrial investment.

    There are plenty of decent small to medium design engineering firms around that could provide assistance.

    I do think there may also be professional services organisations around Belfast that assist SMRs around Belfast that could work.

    The last election my own party (SDLP) stood on the position of trying to get a Digital Academy placed in the North West but I do think you get high attention to boosting skills from the Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party too.

    I’m not really sure how much Sinn Féin and the DUP have in the skills and investment policy, the DUP were offering bribes for STEM students a while back, Sinn Féin who probably have the largest number of local university student voters had promised a skills audit, the TUV/UKIP pretty much have the idea the unis would get extra money by charging EU residents the foreign rate … though of course that will disincentive for EU students including ROI students from coming to this area with this rate.

    I remember the Matrix panel asking probing questions on this, it would be interesting to see their results.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Regretably I see an Southern Irish General Election following this trend.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I don’t want to hear of any more studies or aspirations or hot air. I want someone to say we are going to invest £X here to attract and support Y and in Z years the investment will have generated 700 jobs with an average take-home pay of £35k and a return on investment of 24% and if they fail to deliver then someone is held accountable; hire in a private manager and make their bonus dependent on the hitting of the target.

    We need to spend some money to attract world-class mathematicians, computer scientists etc and start building something. I see too many public projects that have waffling and BS at their heart and by the time it goes tits up the people responsible have moved on.

    We need to have a 5-year; 10-year etc plan. I know that someone will say that these plans never work but the evidence from China etc it that, with the right support, they do. We need to do, rather than talk about doing.

    I don’t care if your party has a policy to strangle kittens live on-air to bagpipe music. If you actually do something on industrial policy then I’ll vote for you.

    SMR – Small Modular Reactor.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Social Market research is good for innovators too. 😀

  • Roger

    Cork?

  • Jeremy Cooke

    As long as you can make a time-boxed business case with a costed RoI but I haven’t heard one politician let alone party recognise that there’s anything we can do or should be doing other than grow cows. They need to deliver, rather than talk about, a real plan or, preferably, plans.

    As far as Film etc goes once GoT leaves then it’ll all slide away; we’re all acting as though tomorrow will be the same as today.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And 25 other counties.

  • hgreen

    … and we need to spend more on it. I’m sure you just forgot to mention that.

  • hgreen

    If it was that easy everyone would be doing it.

  • Katyusha

    Only if you’re talking about an independence vote.

  • aperfectstorm1

    Well it wont be delivered coutesy of FF because they have come out and said that its a bad time for an election with Brexit etc and the fact that they need to be a little bit higher in the polls before they chance it.

  • hgreen

    Sorry but you haven’t got a clue. Innovation is risky. I’ve never seen a business case with a guaranteed ROI. You cannot put any guarantees around new technologies.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    You’re right I haven’t got a clue – we’ll just carry on as is as it’s all working out so well, unless you’d care to step up and tell me what we should be doing?

  • murdockp

    Sorry. But there is no austerity in northern ireland nor is any planned. newton emerson covered this well last year in the following link.

    But we do have politicians who won’t modernise public services, remove duplication of services, refuse to use the private sector for service delivery and are hostile to public private partnerships.

    Populist correctness is a big problem in NI.

  • johnny lately

    It won’t be on Google Hgreen no-one seems to actually know just like no-one actually knows the true cost of Britains presence in Ireland. Figures are bandied about but they’re just figures without substance.

  • john millar

    I am supporting your proposal

    What taxes would you see increasing and HOW will we get round the limitations of funding via the subvention system.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If only I had an animated video to hit back with

  • hgreen

    Not leaving the EU would be a start. Cutting university fees. Providing more university places for STEM subjects. Treating SW like a modern language in schools. Investing in green technologies and making NI a zero carbon economy as soon as is practically possible. Making our cities better places to live. Ultimately making N.I. a place where investors want to live and set up businesses rather than us having to attract them using tax cuts and bribes.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Agreed not leaving the EU or at least getting an EU light deal.

    Unfortunately you have intellectually stunted politicians in Westminster with journalist qualifications who think that the UK can get by on just salestalk and happy attitudes.

  • hgreen

    Again you bring up the irrelevant topic of subvention. The NHS problems are UK wide. As for taxes. Before looking at income tax rises corp tax cuts should be reversed and a serious crack down on corp tax avoidance should be initiated. Social care for the elderly should in part come from increased taxation on wealthy pensioners and inheritance taxes.

    Loads of options exist for paying for a properly funded NHS.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And here’s another one.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I’m not going to disagree with a word you say but to do it, I think, we need a formal set of plans that are specific and measured. What’s the cliché – if you can’t measure it then it won’t be done. We need to at least try.

    We do know that some technologies are going to be taken into the future – energy generation and storage, additive manufacturing, AI. Identify them, decide which ones we should go for then plan how we can get on-board.

    You’re right – it would be difficult and there’s no guarantee of success but doing nothing, as now, does guarantee failure and taking handouts from the UK, or anyone else, is looking less and less viable as a long-term strategy.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    “journalist” – I thought they were all PPEs and lawyers?

    You’re right we do need more scientists and engineers but there’s no way they would want to have anything to do with politics, UK or otherwise, that I can see.

  • Brian Walker

    Excellent idea to press the broadcasters to arrange policy debates rather than the usual ding dong. Civil society- the ngos and professional bodies -only complain and leave it at that. They hold one of the keys to creating better government and a more civilsed society. They should have the courage to use it. They don’t seem to realise how much they could gain and how much they have to lose.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Unfortunately all of the above, but particularly PPE’s and journalists … and not lawyers.

    I severely doubt though that there is a legal brain in the UK’s exit strategy either … because the UK’s hand waves over the customs issues risks turning thousands of border workers into criminals.

    https://www.rte.ie/news/analysis-and-comment/2017/0207/850683-tony-connelly-brexit/

    Seriously I think the Republic of Ireland and Stormont government needs to take legal action with the United Kingdom government if it continues this contempt.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    If I thought that there was any chance of success then fair enough but it still doesn’t change the list of things we should be doing as well.

  • Shane Frank

    This is exactly the issue. However how much heed was paid to policy content in US elections or Brexit campaign?

  • john millar

    Ypu are missing the point— the whole point is the subvention based system– How will NI get direct access to any additional tax generated We need tax increases to be “ring fenced ” FOR the NHS. The only way forward is devolution of tax powers and freedom to set own priorities

  • hgreen

    I don’t think you understand how tax revenues are allocated. If the overall UK tax take goes up then the amount distributed to the regions goes up.

  • T.E.Lawrence
  • Dan

    Listening to that clown Steven Agnew being nicely torn to peices by Nolan this monring demonstrates exactly why the politicians prefer debates which avoid analysis of the detail.

  • john millar

    !I don’t think you understand how tax revenues are allocated. If the overall UK tax take goes up then the amount distributed to the regions goes up.!

    I have worked both sides of the tax fence and know exactly how it works

    It ALL goes to to the centre (HM Treasury) and is dished out BY the centre as it decides. How much of any extra tax NI would get would be decided by others . (The forecast is for the amount to fall)

    http://www.agendani.com/no-recovery-without-radical-action/

    The buck will be passed back to the executive