Nat O'Connor: Beyond the glitz of party leaders in TV debates, the very fact of a UK general election is likely to influence Ireland. Election fever in the UK, and its echoes in the media here, may or may not put psychological pressure on the Government and its narrow Oireachtas majority. Regardless, it is near certain that the UK election will be fought on the economy and this should present people in Ireland with a more robust discussion of economic policy options than have been presented domestically (albeit for the UK's recovery and future rather than our own). From that point of view, it is interesting to see what the main parties are proposing.
The BBC provides a General Election page where summaries of the policies of all the UK's parties can be compared, with links to their full manifestos.
I won't repeat the details here, but familiar questions arise in the UK debate: How fast to cut the deficit and national debt? What efficiencies and cuts in public service can be made without impairing frontline services, especially health? What minor tax/social insurance changes can be made to raise revenue and/or promote economic activity? What further reform of banks is required? Should banks' retail and investment arms be separated? etc.
There are not too many new suggestions, even from beyond the main threesome. The Greens are championing Tobin Tax (aka Robin Hood tax) on financial transactions. UKIP have taken up the flat tax argument (replace all income tax and national insurance with a single rate of tax). Plaid Cymru propose to "create a council of ministers, business leaders, industrialists and trades unions leaders to take a strategic overview of debt reduction". The Scottish Socialist Party propose replacing Council Tax with an income-based "Scottish Service Tax".
The DUP are contining their policy of a business rates freeze, whereas Sinn Fein want to "force banks to allow mortgage holders to reschedule repayments and allow movement from fixed to variable rates without financial penalties".
Meanwhile, the newer TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) "Oppose moves towards an all-Ireland economic policy" but "believe that a 'low taxation economy', with 'optimum business freedom', will maximise growth." So what part of Southern economic policy are they not converging with?
The third TV leaders' debate, to be held on BBC 1 on Thursday 29 April, will focus on the economy. The BBC will also be hosting a debate between Northern Ireland's party leaders, which may give insight into the future policies likely to be adopted by Northern Ireland's Assembly.