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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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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.