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.