Manifestos: the Alliance Party

28 Apr 2022 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 28 Apr 2022

Next in our election series looking at party manifestos comes those most significant others, Alliance.

 

These articles are summaries of party manifestos. They will inevitably skirt over some of the detail.

That skirting is more substantial in the case of the Alliance Party, whose manifesto is a true doorstop of a document, running to almost 100 pages (and released only eight days before the election).

All manifestos have a flavour, a through line, a high-concept pitch to the public that lets everyone know your political vision and decide whether they like it or not.

What is the Alliance vision? Early in the manifesto is a section titled “Key Policies”. Maybe the answer lies there?

Alliance has 72 key policies.

For a snappier summary, we have Twitter, and what the party says are its “six key pledges” from the manifesto: end Assembly designations, implement Bengoa, more integrated education and housing, a Green New Deal for the economy, tackle paramilitarism and violence, and a home heating support scheme.

What does this tell us about the party?

Stormont overhaul

Alliance wants to build a more unified Northern Ireland. That’s not a surprise – but some of the proposed methods are. Their plans are not all based in persuasion. They will be happy to bulldoze their way to a brighter tomorrow, if that’s what it takes.

Ending designations at Stormont would represent a profound change for the institutions, and a significant move away from the Good Friday Agreement, much moreso than simply weakening Petitions of Concern.

The manifesto describes current procedures as “institutional sectarianism” but the party is not calling for the elimination of minority protections that could lay the ground for majority rule. Instead, it wants to see what it calls “a weighted majority system, free from sectarianism.” Regardless, these are ideas for major change.

More integrated education is a given, that is long-term party policy. Integrated (or shared) housing is a less-discussed issue. In fact, the party wants to try and dissolve sectarian barriers wherever they exist.

It wants to place: “An obligation on all Departments to actively encourage de-segregation and to promote cohesion, sharing and integration within their policies, strategies and spending plans, including capital investment.”

What exactly does that mean? Even the longest manifesto won’t finish every thought it starts – but the ramifications of such a commitment could cascade through policy everywhere.

The party’s strong line on paramilitarism is also long standing. It pledges to strengthen efforts to tackle gangs in every way possible, from more comprehensive policing to social policies that tackle the reasons why young people get involved with paramilitaries in the first place.

One interesting suggestion, however, is to “Mainstream tackling paramilitarism within government” with the party saying that “the entire public sector must adopt a similar policy-proofing process to that of Equality Impact Assessments.”

Other key pledges

Altogether, taking on Northern Ireland’s sectarian binarism – in the procedures of Stormont, in housing, in education, in dubious funding pots, and in paramilitary control - covers half of their six key pledges.

The others are a restatement of the party’s full commitment to Bengoa-style health transformation, a home heating support scheme, and its own Green New Deal.

For years, Alliance has been unwavering in its support for health reform so, while this is probably the biggest single policy issue in NI right now, there’s not much more to say.

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis gets an entire section to itself in this manifesto so the pledge to introduce a home-heating support grant should be seen as the vanguard policy in that wider area of interest.

Others worth noting include a £20 per week child payment “to protect children already vulnerable to poverty” and a move to bring home heating oil within the remit of the Utility Regulator.

Alliance’s Green New Deal is a massive policy portfolio that the party launched in April 2021. The manifesto effectively recommits to that, including its promise of 50,000 new and sustainable jobs by 2030, the creation of an economic strategy based on sustainable growth, and an immediate statutory ban on all current and future fossil fuel exploration, including fracking.

Details, sometimes

Those might be the tentpole policies, but the manifesto’s gigantic also says something about the party. They want to be the party of detail, and to be seen as the party of detail. They want to be across every jot and tittle of policy.

That itself is a vision, by implication. We want to govern. We have lots of ideas, and those ideas have substance. We believe in Northern Ireland, we believe in making it work, and so on and so on.

Yet content and detail are not the same thing. This document has a lot of both, but far from every idea is specific or fully fleshed out.

There is also a broad absence of costings – but, as with the other manifestos, while this is always a fair criticism, it is hardly a fatal one.

Fully costed and action-specific plans are what departments draw up, over months and months, with huge teams of civil servants poring over every sentence. Political parties can’t do that. And, even if they could, would it be in their interests?

Ultimately manifestos are trying to sell a vision. It’s nice if that vision gets beyond pure aspiration, which is the case here.

If you read the document, you’ll know what Alliance is claiming to be. Whether you’re buying what they’re selling is another matter – but at least you know what’s on offer.

The Alliance Party manifesto is available here.

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