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.

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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 political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.