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13 June 2017

The Tories’ DUP alliance creates opportunities for Labour

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales won't like free-spending in Northern Ireland.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May put in a contrite performance at the 1922 committee last night, telling MPs that “I got us into this mess and I’ll get us out of it”. The Guardian, Metro and i are all very taken with that quote: “I got us into this mess, I will get us out” is the Metro‘s splash, “May’s mea culpa” is the i‘s, while “May: ‘I got us into this mess, I’m going to get us out of it” is the Guardian‘s.

May’s show of contrition has significantly reduced the chance of an immediate leadership election, though the threat will never fade entirely. That David Jones has been sacked from the Brexit department while its Lords minister, George Bridges, has also left post is causing alarm

Next up: signing that deal with the DUP that will keep the government in office. That party’s personal antipathy to Jeremy Corbyn means that a deal will be struck, but don’t think for a moment that the DUP won’t be back for further concessions. It’s not just confidence and Budget votes where the government will need help – the party will also need to control the legislative timetable, and on any number of issues the DUP will be back for a second and third bite of the apple.

That raises an interesting opportunity for Labour. Forget the magic money tree – if this parliament sees out the full five years there will be a veritable forest in Northern Ireland. Yes, savvy Conservatives like George Freeman have already noted that discontent with public spending cuts partly fuelled their defeat, and May told MPs last night that the programme of cuts will be substantially altered. The planned cuts in school funding – a running sore in this election – will not go ahead. (“Austerity is over, May tells Tories” is the Times‘ splash.)

But politics is about feeling not fact, and if voters in England, Scotland and Wales feel that the Conservatives are spending freely in Northern Ireland to sustain their own majority while English, Scottish and Welsh belts are still being tightened, well…the next election could yield a much worse Tory result than 318.

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