The results of an online civic engagement campaign conducted by the Imagine! Belfast festival in March 2015
Its general election time across the UK and the political parties are busy selling us their wares. But do these reflect our individual, family and community concerns?
We can expect a close, hard fought, often negative election campaign and some of us may be thoroughly fed up with it by the time the polls close on 7 May. As for the sorts of policies parties will be campaigning on, we can expect few surprises with our politicians generally reluctant to publish manifesto commitments that rock the boat and expose them to risk.
Perhaps it’s a good time therefore to think about what we would change if we were in charge. As part of the Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics, we asked our website visitors to submit their ideas on what should be included in such an Alternative Manifesto
We asked – and you responded! Here are the 121 entries received and categorised by policy heading. We have tried to group the manifesto ideas into broad policy areas and included some of the more esoteric ones in a broad ‘society’ category. Obviously the usual strictures apply in analysing this campaign – it’s certainly not representative of the great NI public and a number of ‘hobby horses’ are evident from our small sample group. Yet, as a barometer of the views generated by our festival patrons, it is worth noting that issues such as the need for more integrated education; equal pay for women, bike friendly policies and help for child care, for example, have been highlighted.
We hope that this campaign can usefully augment the other manifestos produced not just by political parties but also by the many campaign groups and think-tanks trying to inject some innovative thinking on how to address current policy challenges. Thanks to everyone who participated. Further information about the submissions is available on our website. Let us know what you think by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org
arts & culture
Involve more disabled people in arts and culture: Take action to give disabled people opportunities to produce their own art. Ensure people with different disabilities are catered for at exhibitions, events and shows. Let people know what’s available.
End of aesthetic deprivation: Each citizen to be given an annual quota of tickets giving them free access to arts venues for pleasure and therapy. This will also reduce how some performance and exhibitions spaces are seen as elitist or out of reach.
‘Big Tent’ social/cultural events every 3 months: To challenge racism, sectarianism and foster inter-communities dialogue. NI is becoming more diverse. Let’s celebrate it, together!
Make arts and culture an integral part of life: Culture should be better integrated into society. In Europe, where arts funding is on a par with health and education, children grow up to view it not as elitist or unattainable but simply as an integral part of a healthy way of life.
Disband the Ulster Orchestra: Put the huge resources that have been ploughed into this organisation into establishing a new one that can provide an economically viable and more effective alternative. One that might promote classical music more effectively and give the broader population something to be proud of.
Invest in the arts: The Arts are good in themselves, but also encourage socialising and by providing a better environment, inward investment.
Arts: Higher priority for the arts.
Personal tax based on wealth rather than income: Rather than the usual lip service paid to having a meritocracy, this is the one measure that will actually ensure it – and the resulting rebalancing of incomes will provide a significant boost to the economy.
Financial freedom: Financial freedom should be part of living in a normal society, the right to have money to pay bills, feed yourself and your family, pay for a house, and pay for housing costs. Poverty should not exist.
A basic/citizens’ income for all over 18 and the integration of the tax and benefits system: Funded from savings from simplifying the administration of the benefits system and shifting taxes from ‘good things’ like income and employment to ‘bad things’ like burning fossil fuels, a citizens’ income would reduce inequalities, create more meaningful free time for people and help create a more prosperous, high wellbeing society.
Participatory budgeting: Participatory budgeting, the process of including citizens in budgeting, is proven to produce better decisions, enhance community – council relations and provide innovative solutions. It directly involves local people in making decisions on the spending priorities for defined budgets. This means engaging residents and community groups representative of all parts of the community to discuss priorities, making spending proposals, as well as giving local people a role in the scrutiny and monitoring of the process. Participatory budgeting should be at the heart of community planning and another element of all public agencies’ engagement strategy and commitment to openness and transparency.
Cut the cost of politics: Cut the number of MLAs to 72. Cut the number of Stormont Departments to five: Economy, Education, Finance, Health, Communities and pay Ministers by results with bonuses for reaching published targets across each Mandate.
Free childcare from 0-3 years: Countries with this provision have fewer children living in poverty. And this could help deliver equal pay as mothers would be able to work and have more discretion over their income use.
Taxation: Restrict governments’ ability to tax to 29% of GDP. Dissolution of parliament follows when breached.
Wealth redistribution: Ask everyone who has private wealth in excess of £100m to dispose of the excess, i.e. spend it, give it away to charity or pass it on to the government exchequer, and evidence the fact that they have done so. (No passing it on to friends or relatives or hiding it.) Give the excess wealth holders exactly one year to comply. After that, anyone found to be holding wealth in excess of £100m will have ALL their wealth confiscated and added to tax revenue. And they will not be entitled to claim JSA for at least 18 months.
Childcare: Cheaper reasonable childcare for working parents.
Economy: Build a vibrant economy in NI.
Defence spending will be halved: Defence spending will be halved (Trident scrapped) and a totally new approach to Foreign policy developed with an ethical framework and human rights at its heart.
Building social capital: Prioritisation of, and funding for, leisure and social activities which bridge the religious divide.
Build a full scale replica of the superstructure of the Titanic: Build a full scale replica of the famous ship (superstructure only, it doesn’t have to be seaworthy) in Thompson Graving Dock. Have staff dress as actual crew members in period dress conducting tours. Use the state rooms and accommodation as a hotel, with dining every evening, as this would have happened on the original ship, including a Captain’s table. Have weddings take place on the prow. The shipyard has the original plans and the equipment on-site to construct the replica. The replica would at the same time be a testament to local craftsmanship, a museum attraction that would be full all year round, an employer of local communities and a must-see attraction for every school in the UK on a yearly basis. Build several quality hotels in the Titanic Quarter to accommodate visitors who do not wish to stay on board.
Tax pensioners’ benefits and use the income to fund education and training initiatives for people under 21: As a pensioner, I believe the pact of cuts has been disproportionately levied on young people and this needs to be redressed.
Education: Encourage integrated education.
Integrated Education: Time to educate our children together and to look at the best practice in good schools to help those lost by the system.
Shared education: Shared education.
Mandatory Integrated Education: Introduce mandatory integrated education for all children at all levels including merging Teacher Training Colleges. Make RE an optional subject provided at the end of the normal school day for parents who so chose. Make available fair facilities to the churches to deliver this but at their own cost.
Compulsory integrated education: NI currently wastes a huge amount of money maintaining two religiously segregated, publicly funded education systems – purely because of entrenched interests. Religion should still be taught in schools, but on a purely comparative basis in integrated schools.
Integrated education: All education to be integrated.
Integrated education: Specific action plan with timescales and resources for integrated education at all levels.
Integrated education: Immediate compulsory integrated education.
Holistic social education model across all schools: An education system that builds resilient and rounded individuals through focus on mitigating against the social problems of our day (poor mental and emotional health leading to unemployment/alcoholism/drug addiction/self-harm/suicide and so on) many of which stem from poor quality parenting and support structures. This should entail real-life and practical education that focuses on the root causes of social problems – positive psychology parenting, positive nutrition, the impact of smoking, alcohol/drug abuse, empathy, respect (for people and place), civic participation etc. This should form the early years of every child’s education and should carry into secondary schooling where it can be balanced with career-centred education. At least the next generation will be better equipped to cope with the crazy world we live in.
Building skills for peaceful co-existence: The inclusion of peace studies /non violent communication and emotional intelligence on the school curriculum.
Optimising our people’s talents: Strengths testing and personal development plans for all school leavers.
Building active citizens skills: Inclusion of, and funding for, citizenship studies, public speaking and critical thinking skills in all schools.
Free education: Education should be free from nursery school to University; schooling should be compulsory till 18 and should involve better links with the business world from age 16.
Free education: There must be a commitment to investing in our future. We want to see a commitment to free and publicly funded education. Any cuts to further and higher education could have a devastating impact upon students.
All school leavers to achieve ‘good relations’ qualifications: Ensuring that employers and universities actively endorse principles such as mutual respect and inter-cultural understanding will embed these as valued norms rather than being seen as peripheral. Furthermore, it will provide those leaving school with limited academic qualifications with an endorsement of their societal worth and significance.
Green subsidies for publicly funded schools: A per-pupil scaled subsidy for schools able to evidence incremental green and environmental commitment in its practice.
Higher education: Unification of Queen’s University Belfast and University of Ulster.
Remove religion from schools by law: The state should not be funding the promotion of one religion over the other. It should not also be ramming Christianity down my kid’s throats when I don’t want it. They learn more about Jesus than history.
Childcare: Affordable public pre-school day care.
An education levy on Corporation Tax: Primary School classes will have a maximum of 20 pupils in. This will be paid for by a 1% rise on Corporation Tax. We will develop the best education in Europe.
Young people with special needs: I think that all companies or retailers should have an expectation to give (paid or otherwise) employment to people with special needs. There should be a standard e.g. star status for all companies who achieve this that has prestige attached and pride attached to it. All council functions should have a social justice component and support companies with the star status preferably. Belfast City Council should show an example in this as well.
Living wage: Provisions to deliver a living wage must be created, and the apprentice minimum wage must be significantly increased to deliver minimum wage equality.
Equal pay: Closing the gender pay gap can lift low income families out of poverty; value women’s work; contribute to economic prosperity.
Equal pay: At least equal pay for women.
Equal pay: Equality for pay for women.
The right to work: Work should be a social responsibility, everyone who is able to work should work and have the sense of giving something to wider society by their job.
The right to bring up a family: It should be seen as a social norm for a parent to stay at home and bring up their children, either parent should have this right and this responsibility should be seen as a social job.
Provide increased job opportunities for young professionals: The current generation of young professionals are being failed by the system. Big multi-nationals in receipt of government incentives are not offering ‘real’ jobs but a conveyor belt process – particularly in the area of legal services.
Ditch the current system of job recruitment: Competency tests, psychometric assessments, formulaic interviews… none of these give applicants the opportunity to talk about their experience and aspirations. The best person for the job now amounts to a performing monkey who has cracked the art of the interview.
Living wage: Basic living wage to be paid to everyone in Northern Ireland. Paid for by cutting Stephen Nolan’s salary in half and a 95% tax on golfers!
End poverty forever: The Universal Citizen’s Income is a payment paid to every single citizen – perhaps around £50 a week – without condition. This would mean more part-time jobs, so people could enjoy life – more flexible working, and more time for family, friends, and creativity. We’ll be healthier and happier because we’ll work less. People won’t get stuck in the ‘benefit trap’ or have to live in abject poverty. As machines replace more and more jobs, we need to have a mature discussion about the nature of work, instead of just accepting that we should all compete for a smaller and smaller amount of jobs.
Increase the minimum wage for large companies: There’s really no point handing transnational corporations large tax breaks just to set up here if they simply offshore their profits and pay low wages. Forcing them to pay higher salaries is a simple way of keeping some of the wealth created by their economic activity in the country.
The right to strike: The UK’s labour laws are some of the most repressive in the western world. This harms us all – unions are suppressed, which means less democracy in the workplace, more zero hours contracts, more bullying, less job satisfaction and ultimately lower pay. The UK is currently breaking international law because its strike laws are so restrictive. Western society was at its happiest and most equal around the period 1945-1979 – it’s not a coincidence that this period coincides with a consensus that strong trade unions are a good thing, not some horrible bogeyman. If you want to transfer wealth from rich to poor, the most effective way in doing this in history has been through trade unions. A proper right to strike, encoded in law, is essential.
Living wage: The Governments will encourage all employers to pay the Living Wage by providing a kite mark. Buy your coffee from someone who pays a living wage!
Introduce tougher noise controls for Belfast City Airport: Have tougher noise controls which are properly enforced for George Best Belfast City Airport – i.e. a better balance between the commercial interests of the airport and the quality of life and health of local residents. Noisy jets taking off at 6.30am wake me most mornings 1 hour before my get up time.
Tighter Noise Restrictions at Belfast City Airport: There is no need to have International Flights at Belfast City Airport BHD. There is a far better alternative Airport at Aldergrove which impacts less people. Heavy, larger jets make more noise and there needs to be better balance between the convenience of the few and the health and well being of the many.
The NI Executive/Assembly should refuse the City Airport’s current request to change its planning agreement to relax the current noise controls: The NI Executive/Assembly should refuse the City Airport’s current request to change its planning agreement to relax the current noise controls as this would make the current noise pollution much worse.
Pollution: Tougher laws on litter, dog poo and enforce ‘no tyres on bonfires’.
Street art and shop fronts and city centre regeneration: In other European cities, when there are building works or renovation, they often make it a feature – even just simply having a stylised tarpaulin instead of a blight on the street face. Projects to clean up, smarten up and make a feature of all empty shop fronts. It really detracts from many areas e.g. Donegall Pass, Botanic Avenue. I think the existing retailers need this support. I think Belfast needs an art theme, a unique feature that makes it distinctive e.g. in Liverpool they have lamb bananas. I suggest for example that all the traffic light poles are a different colour or that more buildings are lit up at night like the Ulster Museum.
Litter: Anybody who dumps waste or drops litter to be made to lick the roads clean with their tongues.
DNA test dogs for fouling: Poo is everywhere. Current policing isn’t working. Suck up the upfront costs and you would solve the problem forever.
Pedestrianise Hill Street, Gordon Street, Waring Street, Skipper Street & North Street: Cars, stupid stupid cars. Be gone.
Free health care: All health care should be free, from attending the doctor, or hospital, getting treatment or prescriptions. Private businesses would be banned from setting up businesses in health care and no competition in this section of society should be allowed.
Everybody can donate blood and shack up with whoever they want!: Rather than import blood from gay brethren in Scotland let misinterpretation of religious texts not determine our policies in NI.
Blood donation: The blood donation ban on gay men in Northern Ireland must be scrapped.
Provide safe abortion options on home soil: Let’s stop sweeping our problems under other people’s carpets. Let’s embrace those who choose what is best for themselves and provide a safe supportive abortion service in NI. It is nobody’s choice other than the family concerned – let them choose without interference and get on with the challenges of life.
Reproductive rights: Legislation must be created to enable women in Northern Ireland to have choice on reproductive rights.
Elderly friendly city, especially for dementia: Emphasis on having well lit streets which make all of us feel safer but most especially the elderly and help prevent falls. Campaigning for supported care at home for elderly people and plans of action for when there is very cold icy weather or snow. Grants to make sure their home is dementia friendly – lighting, heat installed and safe. Allow better use of libraries for elderly people.
Security for people in sheltered accommodation and nursing/care homes: We worry about privately owned care homes and nursing homes putting profit before the rights and needs of the people who live there. Residents deserve to feel secure, safe and cared for.
Improve the provision of residential services for the elderly: There is a dearth of good quality residential homes for elderly people, who do not require nursing care but are no longer able to live independently.
Tenants’ bill of rights: The private rented sector is home to more and more of us – we’re often treated like dirt, living in squalor and paying through the nose for it – and if we complain, we’re evicted. A tenants bill of rights enshrined in law should cap rents, limit rent rises and introduce stronger basic rights for tenants.
Bring back Council housing: Council housing was once cheap and plentiful – but now we have untold tens of thousands on waiting lists, homeless, living in squalor, waiting for a Council home. A massive house building programme would raise revenue for the government as well as ending one of the biggest crises of our time. It should also be illegal to sell Council houses to private buyers – the Conservatives policy in the 1980s has devastated housing stock, and forces people into an under-regulated private rented sector, and there are thousands who go without a permanent place to live.
Build more social housing: This helps meet the severe housing need and creates real, useful jobs.
Abolish the rates valuation cap of £400,000: This is a subsidy from the poor to the rich and has no justification. Everyone should pay their fair share.
Mixed housing: Mixed housing.
Transparency on political party donations: Any donations over £1,000 must be made available for the public record. This is in order to break the link between those with more money having more influence over those with none. Anyone donating more than this to a political party must have a vested interest.
Petition of Concern to require outside ratification: An inter-government panel will meet monthly and have the case for and against a petition of concern put to them by an elected representative from EVERY party represented in the assembly (including single member parties). The party should consist of at least three members, one from UK government, Irish government and ‘other’. They will decide if a POC is being used to ‘protect the interests of minorities’.
Proportional, all-party, power-sharing government of national unity: Majority coalitions are based on the premise that decisions in parliament are taken/ratified by a two-option majority vote. The latter, however, is the most inaccurate measure of collective opinion ever invented. If a more sophisticated methodology were used, and if that methodology were non-majoritarian, there would then no longer be any justification for any form of majority rule. So just as parliament should represent everybody, so too, government should represent the entire parliament.
The UN Security Council should use a non-majoritarian methodology – a preferential points system: The weighted two-option vote used in 2002 in the UN Security Council in a debate on Iraq was, in effect, a cause of war. It should be replaced by a more inclusive Borda procedure.
The referendum clause in the Belfast Agreement should be amended to a multi-option procedure: The Belfast Agreement allows for a 7-year itch, a referendum every 7 years or so, until eventually it’s a united Ireland. Chelsea play Liverpool; they win. They play again; Chelsea wins again. They play a third time; again Chelsea. Then, in a fourth encounter, Liverpool wins. OK boys and girls, that’s it, Liverpool are the champions, forever. No more matches. What sort of a crazy competition is that? It’s a Belfast Agreement type.
Equal Marriage: Legislation to deliver equal marriage in Northern Ireland must be created.
Ban all flegs/parading and talking about the past: Northern Ireland is trapped in its past, its time to move on, draw a line under it and build for the future. Sack the assembly who are obsessed by flegs/parading and the past because they believe it wins then votes, true is probably does but it also alienates a silent majority.
Community Day – a new public holiday for NI: Community day – a new and extra public holiday in the autumn – maybe October – focused on enabling people to get involved in local community activity. We need a public holiday in the period before Christmas, if the focus was to enable people engage in volunteering, it would help existing activities.
Whataboutery: No more whataboutery.
Gender quotas: Gender quotas for all politics – no more than 30% male.
Disability rights: 20% of NI people are disabled: we want a society where all people are valued and where the UNCRDP and our human and civil rights are implemented.
Secret Politician: We propose that politicians spend time undercover, living, working and volunteering among disabled local people in deprived communities in order to have better insight into the issues they face.
An alternative to jury service is to make a voluntary commitment to mental health and dementia service support: There are those unable or unwilling to sit in judgement through jury service. They can aid reconfigure how we de-stigmatise and support those living with poor mental health, dementia, the challenges of substance abuse and their carers through buddying and support activities.
Equality between women and men in all forms of decision making: This could transform the kind of solutions proposed for political, economic and social challenges. Quotas are one way of doing it, overnight. And the women are there to fill these positions.
Media commitment to equality: The media will not refer to women decision makers’ dress, family or lifestyle. Instead media will focus on what women have to say. And will have a woman interviewed and on panels for each man interviewed.
Redefine ‘Britishness’: The way in which many loyalists demonstrate their loyalty to Britain and the Crown is the antithesis of ‘Britishness’. People across the water are appalled and bemused at the way the Union flag is abused and fought over – if, indeed, they think about the Union flag at all.
Victims: A day of atonement/sorry day to honour victims in Troubles.
Parading: Designation of one site for ALL marches and parades in Belfast.
Parading: 12th July and Pride to be merged. All marches to go wherever they want as long as they promise to be fun.
Parading: Ban ‘us and them’ politics and make protests and demonstrations pay for their own policing costs as English football clubs have to do.
Equality: Legislate for genuine equality.
Re-examine the role of the State: A rigorous, critical, profound and imaginative examination of what the state is for on both sides of the border, to include: the relationship between the state and its people, the social contract, national identity, nationalism (of both colours), the power of multinational corporations, the reductions in the state’s powers (external & internal forces), transparency & accountability, the EU and what the hell does (the often invoked) self determination mean any more?
Scrap Stormont: Bring back direct rule at a fraction of the cost, put the rest into the health service, education and job creation.
Reform Licensing Laws:
Good Friday? Pah
These are backward laws. I’m an adult.
Custodial sentencing for tax evaders: Taxes are simply what we’ve all agreed to collectively contribute, based on our means, towards the costs of running the country. If you purposefully go out of your way to avoid paying your fair share of tax, you’re effectively stealing from everyone else and should be penalised accordingly.
MPs should be paid huge salaries and pensions: And, in return, they should be completely banned from having any other personal or family business interests from the second they enter parliament until the day they die. They should also be forced to have some actual life or business experience before running as an MP.
A commitment to sharing, equality and interdependence: At the core of all policies (particularly education) must be the value of sharing. Sharing, in this sense, puts equality and interdependence at the heart of Government.
Additional member seats for the Assembly: The 1996 Northern Ireland Forum Elections needed to include as many parties as possible to get buy-in from the talks – particularly from the small loyalist parties linked to paramilitaries. For this reason, seats were elected not only by Single Transferrable Vote, but additional ‘top-up’ seats were given to smaller parties who had enough votes across Northern Ireland, but not enough votes in one place to get a seat. This was abolished for the first Assembly elections in 1998, but it’s a sound idea that’s sorely needed – with 105 out of 108 MLAs part of the government, we can’t have a healthy democracy until we have more alternative voices – this proposal would bring those alternatives – feminists, radicals, alternative voices – to the Assembly.
Measure every policy and practice of public bodies as to how they promote a shared society: We need to build in an expectation that public bodies promote a shared society and to measure their actions towards this.
Elections: No-one over the age of 40 to be allowed to stand for election in Northern Ireland.
Civic pride: Build civic pride amongst the people in NI.
Links: Build and promote links with the NI Diaspora.
Links: Build mutually beneficial links with the RoI, Europe and the rest of the world.
Social issues: Build lasting solutions to social issues in NI.
Fun: All government proposals have to pass a fun test.
Parking in Market Towns: The proliferation of out of town shopping centres with free parking is killing our Market towns where DRD impose charges for parking. Its time to end this for car parks on the periphery of towns and to enforce parking regulations in disabled areas more robustly.
Safe cycling infrastructure that encourages and incentivises all levels of cyclists: Build the knowledge base of all local and central planning authorities to ‘Think Bike’. Change the culture so that cycling is seen as a positive way to move about and not a hindrance/nuisance to the more important 4 wheel vehicles. Bike as a means to a healthier society – less polluted environment and more active population. Think Denmark!
Close all NI railways lines except Belfast – Dublin: Invest the huge amount saved into very high quality express bus services to / from Derry, Coleraine, Omagh, Enniskillen and Armagh.
Welcome for visitors: For many of the visitors to Belfast, the entry point is the train station, bus station or international airport. City airport is well designed and friendly. The other three venues are not inviting. Welcome in different languages and pamphlets and directions and people on hand to help. I am ashamed of the International Airport when people arrive – the investment and redevelopment unfortunately only increased its ugliness and the hostile energy it has. Let’s make Belfast feel more welcome and make people want to come here, stay here and come back again.
Bike friendly: The very new Belfast Met building in Titanic quarter, catering for hundreds of students has barely any cycle racks and they are not sheltered – this is very thoughtless and discouraging and unbelievable in 2013!
Remove the access barriers disabled people face in their town: Disabled people deserve to be fully participating members of their community. Reward towns which work with disabled residents to increase access to people with mobility, sensory, learning and physical disabilities.
Trams not bus lanes: Pedestrianise the city centre, add trams. Healthy, wealthy, wise.
Replacement of railways with a system of coach/bus routes: Replace rail tracks and stations with dedicated bus routes and stations, allowing those outside Belfast to get to Belfast safely and seated every morning.
Institute lane direction changing for the M1 between Black’s Road and Broadway: Please, please, please remember that there is a very large community who live outside Belfast and are forced to commute every day into the city. Proposal is to update the M1 to allow for switching lane direction inward and homeward morning and evening.
Make the country train, bus and bike friendly: All new infrastructure investment will be aimed at giving priority to buses, trains and bikes. We will become known as a place where you do not need a car.