With the general election called at late notice, getting the 2017 survey ready in time was always going to throw some challenges. What we have ended up with isn’t perfect, but given the time limitations and need to keep the policy summaries as relevant as possible, we’re pleased to be able to have made some improvements.
We had a lot of requests in 2015 for new categories to be included (Housing being the top one). We also made some changes upon reading through the manifestos and seeing areas of consistency across parties. The new categories we have included are:
- Equalities and Rights:
- Tax and Benefits*
* Tax and Benefits replaced the ‘Welfare’ section. Tax policies were previously in the Economy section.
There are lots more we’d like to add, such as Transport, Communities, Energy, Farming and other specific sectors / industries. We’d also like to represent areas like mental health, social care within the broader ‘Health’ category, as well as show break up ‘Education’ to show more detail for nursery and primary schools, secondary schools, further education and universities. In fact, the way we handle categories needs to be reviewed, which we will start doing after the election.
The main headline here is that regrettably we haven’t added policies from the Northern Ireland parties. This was a huge decision to make, and was down to a combination of factors.
After 2015, we knew it was important to do something more sophisticated for the devolved countries within the UK. Currently we have the same set of issues for every country despite the fact that responsibility for many issues such as housing, education, health and policing are devolved to the individual countries. This can mean that ‘local’ parties have fewer policies in those categories than parties based in England.
Without time to make this improvement, we decided to continue as before for Wales and Scotland given the majority of parties we include for these countries are the same as for England. For those parties based outside of England – Plaid Cyrmu, Scottish Greens and the SNP – we tried to make slight allowances for that by including more points on the same issue. It should be noted that UKIP published an additional manifesto for Wales. However, due to the technical constraints described we can only use one manifesto, so used we used their ‘full’ general election manifesto (we confirmed this with them too!).
For Northern Ireland however, with all five parties focussed on local / country-specific issues, many of the categories we are using just don’t reflect the manifestos. Sinn Féin don’t actually have a ‘Westminster’ manifesto which obviously has it’s complications, but for those parties that do the difference in categories is quite significant. That’s why this time it seemed all the more clear that creating the survey in the same way wasn’t going to provide much value to voters, or reflect the manifestos accurately. It was a decision we took late in the day, and we offer our apologies to voters from Northern Ireland that we aren’t able to help them this time.
We will focus on making sure we build in capability to handle local issues before the next election. Hopefully we’ll have more time to do it than 2 years to do it, but we’ll start this year just to make sure!
For reasons of transparency (and for those who are interested) we documented our approach for selecting and summarising policies from the 2017 manifestos. You can read our methodology here.