A Forced Political Marriage
Theresa May’s bid to increase her majority in the House of Commons by calling an unexpected general election backfired. The Conservative Party suffered a net loss of seats. It remains the largest party in the House but no longer commands an overall majority.
To bolster her minority government and enable some of her policies to become law, Mrs May has been obliged to form an understanding with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (the DUP). No one else would agree to an alliance with her, but the ten DUP MPs in the Commons are enough to give her a working majority – provided the agreement between the parties holds. It has taken eighteen days since the election to complete the negotiations between the Conservatives and the DUP, but the agreement was announced this evening. Mrs May is going to have to put some of her planned legislation on the back burner, or bin it altogether, and she’s had to agree to an extra one billion pounds to support the Northern Ireland infrastructure. Otherwise, everything is being portrayed as wonderful.
The billion pounds of extra funding is a contentious point. No reasonable person would complain about extra funding to offset the past seven years of Conservative “austerity”, which has (predictably) seen the poorer members of the community further impoverished, but there will be – indeed, there have already been – complaints that Northern Ireland is receiving what might be termed “austerity relief” while Scotland, Wales and Northern England aren’t. But of course, Scotland, Wales and Northern England aren’t hotbeds of Conservatism and would be broadly disinclined to support Mrs May’s government.
Many readers of this blog will know little about the DUP. One of my friends described the DUP’s political stance as “The Old Testament with fortnightly bin collections”, which perhaps isn’t far from the truth. The Nationalist and largely Catholic party in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, has been criticised for its historical association with the IRA; but the extreme Protestant DUP, apart from being staunchly pro-UK, is no less the political wing of at least one terrorist organisation, the Ulster Defence Association. (One might also mention the Ulster Volunteer Force.) It would therefore seem that Mrs May has elected to sup with the Devil in order to keep her government afloat.
The DUP is opposed to same-sex marriage, which is now legal in the UK. One of its MPs has lobbied to have Creationism taught in state schools as part of the science curriculum. Another has described homosexuality as “An evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”. These aspects of DUP philosophy explain my friend’s comment about “Old Testament with bin collections”. Meanwhile the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, to whom Mrs May is indebted for retaining the largest Commons party, plans to marry her same-sex partner. One can hardly foresee a happy collaboration between Ms Davidson and the government’s new DUP allies. The fault-lines in this forced political marriage are present from its inception.