Tuesday, 8 September 2015

There is no such thing as a perfect manifesto

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Contrary to what some "perfect" people might believe, there is no such thing as a perfect party and therefore there is no such thing as a perfect manifesto.

1984, my Sociology Honours classmates said, “Why don’t you form your own political party?” Then, as is now, there wasn’t a single political party with goals and philosophy that I can completely agree with. Fast forward to 2015, having looked at their manifestos -- which is a reflection of the party ideals -- there still isn’t a single party that completely represents my values.

I like the emphasis on “freedom of expression” and a free press by the Reform Party, the call by SDA to return the use of CPF for retirement instead of for housing and education, the proposal by WP (and SDP?) for Parliamentary Select Committees to scrutinize bills, definitive objectives in reducing class sizes (SDP, WP), and support for Small and Medium Enterprises (Singfirst, WP, SDP, RP, PAP). I think the call for a “separation of powers” (particularly between the legislative and executive) by the PPP is laudable, but they still have a lot of ideology to work through. The NSP manifesto, while it resonates with down-trodden Singaporeans, is too vague.

I struggle, though, with many of the proposals calling for minimum wage and universal benefits, because I have to deal with the fallout from such policies week in and week out. These policies are not only about money and reserves. Development studies have shown that throwing money at people groups alone does not make them richer or more viable.

A simple benefits system might be a good short-term answer but it is almost impossible to prevent “mission creep”. A comprehensive benefits system requires an onerous social and bureaucratic infrastructure. Perhaps more about this in a different post.

There is also a lot of common ground amongst the opposition parties with regards to the Population White Paper, CPF, HDB, income gap, putting Singaporeans first, etc such that it is difficult to distinguish the minutiae of one party manifesto from another. Maybe they should heed the SPP call for “collaborative, collective Government” (ie starting with a collaborative opposition). Thankfully, there are few three-corner fights and voters merely need to decide on one or the other.

How much more difficult it is to vote with our feet and join a political party!

There have been mumblings about certain candidates who, on the party election platform seems to espouse one set of causes, but had, on another, clearly opposed them. Are these candidates true to themselves? Are they worth our X beside their name (or party)? These causes could be LGBT, smoking in restaurants, shelters for cats, or lowering voting age to 16, anything close to your heart.

This, again, illustrates the important distinction between party and the person.

Personally I believe that children thrive best in two-parent families of opposite sex. But as a volunteer at my charity I have extended my help without bias to numerous single mothers and fathers. Am I a hypocrite? Dishonest? Maybe. But at least I have trained myself up to help those who most desperately need my help.

When these individuals come to me at my charity I put aside my prejudices because I have signed up to the principles of the charity. If I were to discriminate against a client on the basis of his age, sex, religion, sexuality or illness, I will almost certainly be asked to leave.

Similarly candidates who support "your" cause might not be able to vote in its favour while those who do oppose this same cause  might be required to vote for it for so long as they are “under the party whip”.

So, a day may come when I decide, “Enough. The nature of this charity has changed from when I first joined it. We are spending too much effort in (just as an example) helping people who are clearly involved in benefit fraud. That is dishonest.” I can leave this charity. I might even join another.

Likewise, some candidates move between parties. Several British politicians (including Winston Churchill) have “crossed the floor”. Sometimes this is solely for personal political gain. Sometimes our personal values change. Sometimes it is the party that has changed. Always they are trying to find the party that best represents their personal worldview.

Otherwise everyone would be needing to form their own political parties.

We are all imperfect beings. Political parties are made up of imperfect beings. They have imperfect manifestos.

Come Polling Day, the thing that matters to us is which party manifesto better (best in the three-corner fights) reflects the personal values I hold and the direction I wish our government to take.

Video: This could possibly be considered the manifesto for a perfect world. Dream on.

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