Just what would the DUP want in Westminster and who could give it to them?
The United Kingdom is heading for a hung parliament. There is a real chance that the votes of Democratic Unionist MPs could help decide the next Prime Minister and influence the course of the next government. Whether or not the arrangement would be as formal as a coalition cannot yet be determined but the influence of the DUP within the next parliament will be greater than it ever could have imagined starting out four decades ago.
In terms of the party faithful it would not be possible to determine a consensus towards being in favour of Labour or the Conservatives. Anger exists at the perceived treachery of Tony Blair’s government in signing the Belfast Agreement and pressuring the DUP into government with Sinn Fein when the party replaced the pro-Agreement Ulster Unionists as the largest unionist party. DUP membership is typically working class and although the membership is not exclusively made up of this socio-economic background the core support is traditionally strongest within working-class Protestant-Loyalist communities. Consequently there is a large section of the DUP support and membership who would oppose the Conservatives over economic policy, welfare reform, spare-room subsidy (bedroom tax) etc.
The DUP have announced what they call “The Northern Ireland Plan” which sets out the party’s vision for where it wants Northern Ireland to be in 2021, one hundred years since the province’s foundation. Its more than likely that any wooing Conservative or Labour team would have to go some way towards satisfying these demands should they wish to secure Democratic Unionist support.
- Make Northern Ireland an economic powerhouse
- Deliver world class public services for our people
- Create a society based on fairness and opportunity for everyone
- Make politics and Government work better in Northern Ireland
- Strengthen the United Kingdom and protect and enhance our British identity.
The policy document elaborates much further on these points and can be found on the party’s website.
When the DUP say make Northern Ireland an economic powerhouse the key issue within that will be the devolution of corporation tax. The Republic of Ireland has a corporation tax much lower than that of the United Kingdom’s and as a consequence Northern Ireland is losing out on inward investment which more often than not opts for the more liberal tax regime in the Irish Republic. A Conservative or Labour team wooing the DUP would have to offer the devolution of corporation tax with few if any strings attached. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has not had a particularly good relationship with unionists and offering corporation tax without asking something that unionists might not want to give in return would determine who’d get the DUP backing on this one.
In terms of public services it’s fair to say consensus within Northern Ireland is generally against any form of privatisation for public services. Attitudes have changed amongst the youth but a large public sector workforce combines with an ageing population to give a society that is on the whole hostile to reform and/or privatisation of virtually anything. Most public services are devolved and ran from Stormont so the card to play here for Ed or Dave would be around giving a nice hefty budget to Northern Ireland to run its bloated public sector.
The next point is a bit vague and can mean all things to all people but there is a perception among certain sections of the DUP membership and support that they are losing out in society. Be it equality quangos forcing a Christian baker to produce a product to be used to promote backing legislation that would see same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland or quotas in the workplace that cause certain people to lose out at the expense of others; these are examples of what some people might view as equality and fairness but to the people on the other end, who make up large sections of the DUP support, it’s quite the opposite. A Conservative or Labour government would have to tip-toe very gently around issues such as these to guarantee DUP support. For example, whilst it is a devolved issue I’d say any further attempt to redefine marriage, relationships or family would be opposed by the DUP.
Reforming the system of government is a long term aim and vision of the party. The mandatory coalition that puts the DUP in bed with arch-enemies Sinn Fein is resented within the party’s core support and whilst in general most now view power-sharing as a necessary evil there is a large appetite not just within the DUP to see a gradual move away from mandatory coalition in NI. The Conservative or Labour government who would be most willing to pro-actively engage in reforming the Northern Ireland system whilst not risking the stability of the province would be onto a winner on this point.
“Strengthen the United Kingdom and protect and enhance our British identity.” – First off, I believe that any potential partner would absolutely have to offer a referendum on EU membership. Never say never but out of all the points made I believe this one would be a red line. Support for greater ties with Europe within the DUP ranks is miniscule to say the least and within the core vote support for the EU would again be hard to find. As with Blair on Sinn Fein, I’d say that typical DUP supporters would not be very trusting of Labour on immigration and consequently some serious convincing would need to be done on Labour’s part to gain DUP support on that issue. The Conservatives haven’t done much of a better job on immigration but they have the referendum card in their pocket on the sovereignty and identity issue to put them above Labour on this issue. Decisions taken recently in Northern Ireland have sought to diminish, degrade and whitewash the province’s British identity, heritage and future. The DUP would seek to use Westminster where appropriate to strengthen British identity, not just for Northern Ireland but across our entire nation. Whichever party plays the Orange card the best on identity will evidently get DUP backing.