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There's something everyone has missed about the DUP and the Fixed Term Parliaments Act

The Unionist party has more scope to bully the Conservatives thanks to the 2011 law.

How much leverage do the Democratic Unionist Party have over the Conservatives?

The traditional conservative party that is Northern Ireland’s largest is negotiating an arrangement with the Tories to keep them in office, after Theresa May fell short of a majority in the election last week.

There’s one reading that says that the DUP have precious little leverage. Their antipathy to Jeremy Corbyn due to his historical meetings with the IRA during the 1980s means that, unlike with previous Labour leaders, they cannot do a deal with Labour. Nor can they go back to their voters having put Corbyn in Downing Street.

So they’re stuffed, right? Whatever the Conservatives put on the table, they have to accept. Well, not really.

The DUP have already agreed in principle to a “confidence and supply” deal – that is, they will support the government on budget votes and votes of confidence – but the details are still to be hammered out.

But what is being missed are the consequences of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, and the increased leverage it gives to the DUP.  Under the act, a parliament runs for five years unless there is a two-thirds majority for an early election or the government loses a vote of no confidence and no-one is able to form a new government within 14 days.

The really important thing about that is it significantly reduces the scope of what “confidence and supply” means. When Labour ran a minority government for five years from 1974 to 1979, they were both more vulnerable (they could have fallen almost at any time) and more powerful (as they could turn difficult votes into “back me or sack me” issues). And it was assumed that finance bills and Queen’s Speeches were confidence issues.

Thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, “confidence votes” have been explicitly drawn to exclude votes on the Budget or the Queen’s Speech. A government only falls if it loses a vote of no confidence. It no longer falls if it loses a major vote, a Budget vote or even the Queen’s Speech.

This obviously increases the leverage of the DUP – and Labour’s ability to harry the government day-to-day. The DUP can hold the government up, by backing them in confidence votes. But they can also let them down by deserting them on essentially everything else to secure bigger concessions from the Conservative Party.

Far from being trapped by the Conservatives, the DUP have more leverage over them than a minor party has ever enjoyed in a hung parliament before. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.