Three years ago, my long suffering friend Danny 'Teegan' Murray and I embarked on a long, tedious poring-over of the election manifestos and platforms for all the major political parties. The result was the now defunct comparethepolicy.com ; one would simply click on a tab (economy, health, social issues etc) and hey presto, all the actual policy that parties had decreed was neatly tabled for ease of comparison. It was useful to some people at least, being reported in Metro and the Sunday Business post amongst others. It was quite a labour to sift through literally hundreds of pages of policy documents and there was zero financial reward for us, so why did we do it ? Because, primarily, we are scientists and believe that facts and not lazy perceptions should be easily available to help us decide what is the best call. As we are both politically non-partisan pragmatists, we wanted to cut through the spin and detail what the actual policies of different parties were, which we had noted was often at odds with what the public and our peers thought. And perhaps naively, we figured that we could help change the country for the better by going to this effort.
- For undecided voters and non-partisan pragmatics, comparethepolicy helped them make choices based on evidence. Yet it was fairly clear that for many, the people or parties they vote are less about policy /evidence and more about gut feelings or pre-exisiting political ideology. This is precisely what we should strive to avoid - decisions made based on emotive reactions rarely lead to ideal outcomes. For example, it is very easy for a candidate to promise to change something. But unless that candidate clearly details how and why they intend to achieve this change, the promise is deeply suspect and should be treated as such. Of course politicians get away with it because despite our collective political cynicism, we're still not savvy enough to do a Paxman and ask the hard questions of "how" and "why".
- Certain parties had very clear political manifestos, with clear aims and methods for achieving these aims. Others had loose ideas but no coherent way of achieving them, and others still had zero concrete policy. In 2011, of the Irish Political parties, Fine Gael's 5 point plan was the clearest, followed by Labour's manifesto with Fianna Fail's in a distant third. The Green party policies were aspirational and interesting but had no clear method for achieving them. Despite Teegan and I reaching out several times to Sinn Fein and ULA, we we unable to get a clear policy document for either, though the ULA did send us their press releases. We included what we could from these, but in terms of policy they left much to be desired. We asked Sinn Fein for clarification numerous times on their economic policies (especially their much touted default line) but received curt unclear answers each time.
- The PR system is a rather excellent way for ensuring that the country get the people they elect in office, but people still seem to misunderstand how a coalition works; the influence of a government partner is decided by their share of the popular vote. Yet despite this, we have a recurring national habit of kicking the junior coalition partners (PDs, Green, Labour) despite their influence being relatively low, regardless of the quality of the policy they got through. This does suggest that we may not make the most rational of decisions, either based on a misunderstanding of how PR works or an emotive ideological reaction.
- Many people let their political loyalty blind them, despite not being that familiar with the policies of the party with which they identified; we received several irate emails from people claiming we'd misrepresented their party, despite the fact we'd included the links (or in some cases, scans) to where these documents could be found. This meant people were poorly informed of the actual policies their favoured party had.
|6 years presumably since the bank bailout, but this poster is gloriously confused...|
|Think like Paxman. Avoid ghosts like Pac-Man.|