Who are the UK Conservative Party’s new governing partners?
As quickly as you could say ‘hung parliament’, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) became the kingmakers (or queen-makers as it were) in the aftermath of the British general election.
The leading party from Northern Ireland were expected to lose seats in the poll, when in fact, a crucial gain of two seats has put them in a very powerful position – combining the votes of the Conservative party and of the DUP allows Prime Minister Theresa May to reach 328 – a mere three vote majority in the House of Commons.
Australia is no stranger to hung parliaments – after the 2010 election, a ragtag of three independent MPs and one Greens MP kept Julia Gillard hanging on by a thread. In exchange for their votes, Gillard was pushed into a perceived backflip on the introduction of a fixed price ‘carbon tax’ – the political equivalent of Judas Iscariot’s kiss of death.
It then becomes interesting to think about what the United Kingdom could look like with May relying on the 10 DUP MPs to pass legislation.
Balance of power: DUP Leader Arlene Foster (Source: Belfast Telegraph)
Many people saw the election as a referendum on which kind of Brexit to undertake. The DUP support leaving the EU, but are cautious about the Tory party’s aspiration for a hard Brexit. This would, in all likelihood, lead to a strong border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which the DUP are firmly against. They are also supporters of free trade with the EU despite being skeptical about membership of the union and supporting the campaign to leave.
Despite being supporters of liberal economics and free trade, the DUP are also strong supporters of the welfare state, which could create friction with the Conservatives given some of their pledges to reduce expenditure on social welfare, including a reduction in the rate of increase for pensions. This debate could place Theresa May in a difficult political position – acquiescing to the DUP would inflame sections of her own party, yet refusal to yield would only increase the Labour party’s stocks after Jeremy Corbyn’s effective turnaround in the campaign.
On social issues, it’s possible the DUP will ruffle some feathers with their religious convictions. Like most Irish political parties, the DUP is fiercely anti-abortion, and has thus far been successful in resisting the introduction of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland, despite it being legal in all other areas of the UK, and in the Republic. Their parliamentary ranks also include one MP who has been accused of climate change denialism.
With the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats ruling out a coalition with the Tories, Theresa May had nowhere else to turn to form a coalition government. It remains to be seen how the government will perform, yet the slightest hint of tension will be enough to painfully remind Conservative MPs they didn’t need to be in this position in the first place.