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What's the DUP's price in a hung parliament?

The DUP's manifesto reveals what the party will ask for in exchange for its votes.

The DUP launched their manifesto on Tuesday and it reads like a party that has its eye on the possibilities that could come from this election. Polling figures suggest neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party are likely to come out of the election with a majority. This leaves a space for a smaller party to step into the breach, giving them an unusual opportunity to influence government policy. The DUP ruled out taking part in a formal coalition deal, however they can still take part in a deal with an incoming government. Nigel Dodds has predicted that the most likely deal would involve supporting a minority government on a vote by vote basis. The DUP are choosing to keep their options open, willing to support either Labour or the Conservatives. This manifesto shows they are willing and may yet prove vital to an incoming government, particularly if a minority government emerges from the election.

It’s with this possibility in mind that the manifesto sets out what the DUP want to see in the budget. This includes decreasing the deficit with the aim of eliminating it, but also protecting front line services such as schools and health services. They have already avoided introducing the bedroom tax and have committed to supporting the abolition of the charge for the rest of the UK. They will also support more aggressive pursuit of tax evaders. They will refuse to support increasing VAT. All of this suggests that the DUP really is every bit as willing to strike a deal with Labour as with the Tories, despite being seen as a more natural companion to the Conservative party. Further economic proposals also fall within areas that could come to fruition under a Labour government such as an increased minimum wage and increasing government provision for childcare, although the DUP go further than Labour and recommend linking it to household income as a percentage. The DUP have also laid out what they would like in economic terms for Northern Ireland. These include the British government assisting in encouraging FDI in Northern Ireland and increased infrastructure investment.

However the DUP also have a number of policies that would suit a deal with the Conservative Party. They intend to support a referendum on EU membership which they have already worked extensively on. Both major parties will need the offered support for increased immigration controls including limiting benefits to those who have not been in the UK for long.  Courting both major parties is something that has been avoided by other parties, the SNP have made overtures to the Labour party, UKIP have tied their fortune to the Conservatives and the Green Party claim they feel they can do better in opposition than coalition. The only other party to appeal to both major parties are the Liberal Democrats and they are in the entirely different situation of seeking to maintain power while most likely incurring a large loss of MPs.

They have included a number of measures to strengthen the Union, many of which seek to further integrate Northern Ireland in the UK brand. This is particularly interesting timing, Northern Ireland is often the most remote part of the UK, not just geographically but also in terms of attention and political interest. For example during the recent tv debates, no Northern Ireland party was invited despite the DUP having more MPs than UKIP, Plaid Cymru or the SNP. The DUP argued for their place but were ultimately ignored. Now the DUP are asking for a number of measures that would reinforce Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. These include a guarantee that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is a cabinet level position, renaming the Olympic team ‘Team UK’ in recognition of Northern Ireland’s contribution and the replacement of GB on driving licences with UK. While these may seem like unusually small demands, Northern Ireland has been on the periphery of the UK for a long time and as a unionist party it is logical that in a position of power the DUP would want to reinforce Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.  

The DUP have found themselves in an interesting situation and they appeared primed to take advantage of it. Their manifesto offers not just a list of policies that they might implement in the impossible situation of them taking government but rather a clear offer to the next party of government. It is a clear series of things that they are willing to support and what they would like for Northern Ireland and the UK in return. However they are not just offering a deal to support votes in exchange for funding or power. If the DUP manage to work out a deal with the incoming government, the manifesto shows they want to strengthen the union and emphasise Northern Ireland’s place within it. This is a unique election for Northern Ireland, never before has the DUP found itself in a position where they can have a serious effect on the next Westminster government. This manifesto shows that they have fully recognised this and are ready to deal with whichever party will give them what they want.

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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era