The DUP Become This Election’s Unlikely Kingmakers

On Friday morning, the Democratic Unionist Party’s website crashed as stunned voters clamoured to find out who exactly they are. The 10 seat party have become the unlikely kingmakers of this election, set to prop up the Conservatives in what appears to be not a strict coalition, but some form of loose ‘confidence and supply’ deal.

The dominant unionist party in Northern Ireland, the DUP are among the most conservative major parties in Western Europe, and would undoubtedly sit on the right-most fringes of any alliance. They oppose abortion and LGBT rights, notoriously using 'petitions of concern' to shoot down equal marriage legislation. They once appointed a climate change denier as Environment Minister, and were heavily pro-Brexit (though they oppose a ‘hard Brexit’ or having a hard border with the Republic of Ireland).

What’s more, after a clean energy scandal that cost taxpayers £490m and dented their vote share in March’s Northern Irish assembly elections, the DUP have also been unable to form a power-sharing government in Stormont. Any future Westminster role seems shaky when they’ve failed to form a government at home: they’re hardly any stronger or more stable than the Tories.

Siding with them is an act of sheer desperation. It will thwart the facade of social liberalism cultivated by David Cameron, further inflaming the potent anti-Nasty Party sentiment expressed by much of the electorate yesterday.

In the worst case scenario, this also risks stoking community tensions in Northern Ireland. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Westminster governments have largely stayed a pace removed from Stormont. The DUP, like their nationalist rivals Sinn Fein, are more than just a political party – they’re tied up with community relations, identity and history. For the Tories to enter a formal pact diminishes any sense of neutrality.

A threadbare alliance needs little upheaval to fall apart

Throughout this campaign, several media outlets have used the Troubles as a political football when discussing Jeremy Corbyn’s interactions with the IRA. Whether May will be similarly questioned, given the alleged links between certain DUP members and paramilitary loyalist forces, remains to be seen. Certain tabloids who smeared Corbyn as a “terrorist sympathiser” will have to perform impressive mental gymnastics to support this new alliance.

How much the Tories and DUP might agree on is even less certain. May could find herself bargaining away cherished manifesto aims, and a pact that only affords a majority of two MPs will struggle to pass much in the way of legislation. Will there be any red lines? Will female or LGBT Tories protest the DUP’s regressive social policies, and could that in turn provoke the DUP into walking away? A threadbare alliance needs little upheaval to fall apart.

In her first post-results statement, Theresa May went so far as to specifically refer to the Conservatives as “the Conservative & Unionist Party”, making it seem that working with the DUP is perfectly natural. But it isn’t. Theresa May didn’t have to choose this option.

This opportunistic election backfired to such an extent that May has seized upon her only remaining chance for power. It’s a rash move, though – political straw-clutching from a chided leader, which far from guarantees any future political calm.

Coming from the folks that coined “coalition of chaos”, it’s more than a little ironic.

Harry Mason

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