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Angela Rayner's tuition fees victory reminds us the DUP has its own agenda

The DUP voted against the government for the first time since their £1bn deal.

The pound buys less and less these days, including in the House of Commons. The DUP voted against the government for the first time since their confidence-and-supply arrangement, backing Labour's opposition day motions on public sector pay and the planned increase in tuition fees from £9,000 to £9,295.

The Conservatives, in a move designed to limit the damage, gave the whole vote a pass, and according to Paul Waugh, will do the same throughout the whole parliament.

There's now a legal row about whether or not the tuition fees vote is legally binding or not. You can argue it both ways and there may have to be another vote, not on tuition fees but on whether or not the mechanism that Angela Rayner used to force the vote is kosher or not. (At that point, though, you'd expect the DUP to vote with their notional partners.)

But the vote tells us – or reminds us, at least – of a few things. The first is that Labour's shadow education secretary is the real deal – she has assembled an impressive backroom team and is good at the graft as well as the art of opposition.

The second is that Theresa May is getting a little better at this, or, at least, less prone to acts of avoidable self-harm. Retreating when she just can't win isn't a trait that the PM has demonstrated in the past but it is one that the new Downing Street is showing more and more.

The third is that the DUP aren't a mere adjunct of the Conservative Party – they have their own minds, their own agenda and, unlike the Liberal Democrats, they don't see their political interest as showing that coalition can work. Their interest is in showing the union can work for Northern Ireland and in delivering Brexit. Thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, they can prop the government up and let it down an awful lot of the time. 

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

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

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