In May, some of us will go to the polls to cast a vote on how the UK will be governed for the next five years. No doubt it will be a close, hard fought, often negative election campaign and we may be thoroughly fed up with it by the time the polls close. As for the sorts of policies parties will be campaigning on, we can expect few surprises with our politicians reluctant to publish manifesto commitments that rock the boat and expose them to risk.
Perhaps it’s an opportune 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 would like to kick off a conversation on what would be included in such an Alternative Manifesto.
Why not send us your top 5 proposals for change and we’ll publish them on our website? At the end of the festival we will collate the proposals for wider circulation and debate. We need your ideas to be concise and not too silly! So use the template to send us your proposals and we’ll post the best here.
This material will usefully augment the other manifestos which will be produced by campaign groups and think-tanks, many of which will be arguing the case for the greater use of data, facts and relevant evidence in public policy-making. Major players in the evidence ecosystem such as the Royal Statistical Society and Campaign for Social Science have already published their own ideas – trying to inject some innovative thinking on how to address current policy challenges.
As well as ensuring that politicians use the best available evidence to back up their promises, it is also important to monitor and review the manifesto commitments of political parties. The Conversation UK’s election manifesto checker will use academics to check the evidence made in policy manifestos, including those produced in Northern Ireland.
Other initiatives such as Evidence Matters, Vote for Policies, Full Fact, Education Media Centre, BBC Manifesto Watch and the Channel 4 News Fact Check blogs will alert the public to the claims and promises made by politicians in their electioneering. There are also other authoritative and non-partisan agencies playing an important role in checking the evidence base of election commitments, like the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UK Statistics Authority.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation believes the performance of future governments in tackling poverty should be monitored by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. JRF believes that the OBR – set up in 2010 to offer independent analysis of public finances – should be given a formal role in assessing and forecasting levels of poverty. This could be similar to the role currently played by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Analysis (CPB), part of the ministry of Economic Affairs, which independently analyses the effects of current and future government policies.
Still in transition from our violent past, I would argue our political institutions need to embed an inclusive and evidence-informed democratic culture and proactively engage with citizens about how to build a better society notably on addressing persistent inequalities, poverty and low aspirations. In the Imagine Festival we will be looking at other big issues such as ‘dealing with the past’, maximising the benefits of public sector reform, migration, and faith & politics, for example. Not forgetting the Great Big Politics Pub Quiz on 12 March!
So what do you think? Join the debate and submit your ideas as part of a shared conversation about what our future should look like.
Peter O’Neill, Festival Director – email@example.com