Recently (for my more international readers), the UK electorate was involved in a snap election because the Prime Minister, Theresa May, looked at her massive lead in the polls and saw that she was about to enter into vital negotiations with the EU over Brexit. In order to have the greatest mandate possible from her people, she decided to have an election in order to massively increase her majority of MPs (at the time quite a slim majority). Pollsters were predicting a majority of over 100 MPs, and a hugely effective majority in the House of Commons.
Oh dear. It didn’t go well. The socialist leader of the Labour Party, UK’s answer to Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, ran a far more effective campaign, completely energising the young vote. He put Brexit to one side and campaigned on hope of a better future with public services properly funded. The end result was that the incumbent Tory government lost their majority and now has a minority government.
The Tories lost 13 seats, the Scottish National Party 21, and Labour gained 30. It is yet another election that shows we need to change our voting system as the Tories came out with more seats than their vote share represented at the expense of the smaller parties (with the Lib Dems again probably getting the most screwed).
Indeed, under PR you would likely have had a Labour / Lib Dem coalition government. Labour’s proportion of the vote grew 9.6 percent in the election, being the biggest Labour swing since Clement Attlee (and his creation of the welfare state) shortly after the Second World War.
But the Tories were in trouble: they had to form a government with someone. The thing about the UK Parliament is that (and this is why the Tories keep getting in) almost all the opposition parties are left-leaning, hence why they can struggle because they split each other’s vote. The only party in England that would obviously align with the Tories is UKIP, and because we don’t have proportional representation, their vote share of 1.8% returned them precisely zero MPs. I don’t like UKIP, but that is not a fair democratic principle.
The Tories had to go elsewhere, and Northern Ireland it was. The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) returned 10 MPs with a tiny 0.3% of the vote (do you see the problem here?). These MPs held a huge amount of potential power. The DUP is a hard-right Protestant party from NI who are, for example, staunchly pro-life. More on that later.
The Tories then set about doing a deal with the DUP to get them across the half way mark. There are 650 MPs, and to get over half the votes in Parliament, they needed 326 votes but only had 318. This meant that the other parties could easily stifle any new law by voting in unison against the government. As a result, those 10 DUP MPs were hot stuff.
So the Conservative Party eventually (and reminding everyone in press releases and statements that they were called the Conservative and Unionist Party, rather conveniently) did a deal with the DUP on what’s known as a “confidence and supply” basis. This means it is not a formal coalition, but on areas where they agree, the DUP will confidently supply those 10 votes to the Tories.
But it’s not just a lovely handshake and that’s it. The deal cost the minority government, and the taxpayers, £1 – 1.5 billion.
Yes, you heard it, Northern Ireland gets an extra £1.5 billion pounds for their DUP MPs voting with the Tories. That is a staggering £100 – 150 million per MP.
Imagine if the government approached individual members of other parties and said, “If we give you £150 million for your constituency, will you vote for us?” This would be utterly unacceptable. But somehow, when it is open and agreed upon in broad daylight, it is supposed to be bona fide and acceptable!
This is bribery, pure and simple, and the government are being rather open about it.
When a previous Labour government was faced with a similar situation, they declined to be bribed:
I am old enough to remember how much more honourably James Callaghan acted in 1979. When his minority government was faced with a vote of confidence, he was urged (I’m sorry to say) by Roy Hattersley and the late John Smith to buy Northern Irish MPs’ votes by financing a gas pipeline between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. He refused, saying his government was not up for auction.
I am afraid that is more than Mrs May can now claim.
Scotland and Wales, quite rightly, are furious about this, asking why they are not getting extra funding in light of NI’s cash windfall.
Another fascinating point is that when the Labour election campaign was claiming it would spend money on public services, the Tories accused it of having a magic money tree, and the government simply doesn’t have that extra money. Then, a couple of days later, they magic up £1.5 billion. This has not gone unnoticed. Indeed:
Here is how the Telegraph sees it being spent:
Now, I’m not decrying the need for Northern Ireland to have money. It needs money, just like everywhere in the UK will argue it needs money. But this is bribery, pure and simple. Moreover, it is also problematic in terms of the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, long diplomatically fought for. The government is now in bed (openly) and buying the favours of one side in the peace process – the Unionist side. In the past, there have been all sorts of accusations of the government supporting loyalist paramilitaries. Now they are openly doing deals with the political wings of these groups. This seriously endangers the peace process. Regional power-sharing in Northern Ireland has recently broken down, with governance temporarily (it is hoped) returning to Westminster. The continued breakdown has been blamed on this deal:
Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill said the collapse of the talks was a “monumental failure” by Theresa May, and blamed the prime minister’s decision to do a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her minority government in Westminster.
O’Neill said the British prime minister “has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years … and it’s a consequence of the DUP supporting the prime minister and, in turn, the prime minister supporting the DUP.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party was “disappointed” and would continue working on a resolution during the summer.
In June, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams told May any deal with the DUP would be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, which established power sharing at Stormont. Former British Prime Minister John Major has also expressed concernsthat the Tory-DUP deal could threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland.
If the Labour government did a similar deal with the DUP’s adversaries, Sinn Fein, the Tories would go into meltdown. But the hypocrisy is conveniently ignored by the Tories. Well, at least most of them. Here is a very angry Tory backbencher (well worth a watch – advocating a socialistic view of the Conservative Party, going forward):
She mentioned abortion. This is very important. In their fervent Protestantism, the DUP are staunchly pro-life. They, yesterday, announced that their pro-life position should not at all be compromised – it is more important than their political deal with the Tories:
The DUP will not compromise on its anti-abortion views as part of its deal with the Conservatives, one of the party’s MPs has said.
Ian Paisley Jr, the son of DUP founder Ian Paisley, said his party’s anti-abortion commitments “trump any political deal” and issued a warning to any MPs who try to raise the issue in the House of Commons. The party has signed a formal agreement to back Theresa May in key Commons votes after she saw her parliamentary majority evaporate at the general election.
The DUP has consistently voiced its opposition to abortion – part of the reason why the practice is still illegal in Northern Ireland except in circumstances where the mother’s wellbeing is at risk.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the European Union (Approvals) Bill, Mr Paisley said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that, in my view and in the view of the people in my party and on this bench, the rights of the unborn child trump any political agreement that has been put in place.
“I want to make that absolutely and abundantly clear. If anyone thinks that we would trade that issue of life and the sanctity of life on a political deal, they do not understand me and they do not understand my party; they need to be aware of that. For it to be characterised in that way is grossly unfair to members of my party.”
The Tories have got into bed with a pretty heinous political party. Here is something of its history:
The party was founded in 1971 by Ian Paisley [father of the abover-mentioned Paisley], 88, a hardline unionist and firebrand Protestant minister.
Paisley opposed homosexual rights and set up the Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign in 1977, which sought to stop Northern Ireland from being included in a 1967 bill to decriminalise homosexuality. His campaign failed after a ruling in the European Court of Human Rights in the early 1908s.
Paisley was a staunch anti-Catholic, interrupting a speech by Pope John Paul II in the European Parliament to denounce him as the anti-Christ in 1988. He was anti-Europe and said that seat number 666 in the European Parliament building was reserved for the devil.
The party opposed the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s and withdrew from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 in protest against the participation of Sinn Féin. Nine years later, in 2007, Paisley agreed to a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Féin, to became First Minister of Northern Ireland. He stepped down a year later and left politics in 2011.
The DUP’s current leader is Arlene Foster, 46, who has been active in politics since 2003, when she was elected to Northern Ireland’s national assembly for the first time.
In January this year, the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed following a scandal over a heating scheme, set up by Foster, that cost the government hundreds of millions of pounds. Martin McGuinness resigned in protest after Foster refused to step down, causing snap elections for a new Deputy First Minister.
You will not find progressive politics with them. Indeed, here are some depressingly backward political/scientific stances of the DUP:
- Climate change: The party has a history of speaking out against climate change. Senior member Sammy Wilson has called climate change a “con”, and described the Paris Agreement as “window dressing for climate chancers”…. in 2014, DUP ministers tried to oppose proposals to introduce local measures against climate change in Northern Ireland.
- Abortion: [O]n taking leadership of the party in 2016, Arlene Foster promised to block any attempt to change [abortion] laws, telling reporters “I would not want abortion to be as freely available here as it is in England.”
- Evolution: DUP assembly member Thomas Buchanan has previously called for creationism to be taught in schools. In 2016, he voiced support for an evangelical Christian programme that offers “helpful practical advice on how to counter evolutionary teaching”. He has expressed a desire to see every school in Northern Ireland teaching creationism, describing evolution as a “peddled lie”. Buchanan told the Irish News “I’m someone who believes in creationism and that the world was spoken into existence in six days by His power,” adding that children had been “corrupted by the teaching of evolution”.
- HIV: Last year, DUP assembly member Trevor Clarke admitted that he had thought only gay people could be infected with HIV, until a charity explained otherwise. He made the comments during a parliamentary debate around a campaign to “promote awareness and prevention” of HIV in Northern Ireland and to increase support for those living with HIV.
What we have here, then, is both massive hypocrisy (the money tree) and outright bribery, as well as the endangering of the Northern Ireland peace process. This is not a good way to start the new parliament.