Social Democrats have plenty of vision but little detail

Analysis: Party’s manifesto criticises Fianna Fáil while mirroring its economic policies

The Social Democrats launch their manifesto on O’Connell Street. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The Social Democrats launch their manifesto on O’Connell Street. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

George HW Bush used to refer disdainfully to the “vision thing”, acknowledging the charge that he lacked an overarching idea of what he wanted to achieve in power. Bush was more of a details man.

His predecessor, Ronald Reagan, had the “vision thing” in spades, enchanting the electorate with his idea of the US as the “shining city” on the hill.

The manifesto released on Friday by the Social Democrats has plenty in the way of vision but very little in the way of detail.

Indeed, the party’s three leaders - Stephen Donnelly, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy - said the document was an ideal of how they want the State to be governed.

“It is time for some honesty in Irish politics,” said Mr Donnelly.

“This isn’t a budget document, it’s a political manifesto. It’s about a better vision for this country for the next 10 years.”

However, such an approach will come unstuck if it is not supported by detail, and this manifesto is seriously lacking in that department.

Its central proposal is that taxation should not be reduced and that the resources available to the next government - the so-called “fiscal space”, which is estimated at up to €10 billion - should be devoted to improving services, including establishing an Irish version of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

Mr Donnelly said an initial investment of several billion is needed to create a modern health service, although he did not specify the exact amount, while Shortall maintained taxes will not be increased.

When asked for details of how their spending proposals for the next 10 years stack up, the party referred to its pre-budget submission, which it said showed how much could be done with €1.5 billion.

Tax cuts

The Social Democrats have warned against returning to the days of Fianna Fáil’s tax cutting, and accused the Government of going down a similar path by eroding the tax base.

However, Fianna Fáil’s problem was that it increased spending while reducing taxes.

The proposals put forward by the Social Democrats will involve a significant increase in spending without increasing taxes.

Mr Donnelly insists it can be done within the resources that are forecast to be available to the next government, but because of the paucity of detail in the party’s manifesto, we don’t know the colour of the Social Democrats’ money.

Honesty in politics means voters must be shown more than just the “vision thing”.

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