Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The DUP row rumbles on ...

It should be a statement of the obvious that no party won an outright majority in the General Election last week and therefore it is the duty of politicians to try to form a stable government on the basis of an formal or informal understanding between two or more parties.

The idea of a "grand" or "rainbow" coalition has some attractiveness when it can be made to work - indeed, I have served in such an administration at district level where it worked better than any of us had dared hope, and it is currently my preferred option as a means of running Cumbria County Council.

But being realistic, only in the most dire emergency would it be possible for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to sit down at the same cabinet table as Conservatives.

Anyone with a better command of mathematics than Diane Abbott should be able to quickly establish that the numbers simply are not there for a Labour-led coalition or minority administration.

So that leaves some form of Conservative led coalition or minority administration, for which the numbers are there if a deal with one or more of the SNP, Lib/Dems or DUP can be reached.

The idea of a tie-up between the Conservatives and SNP would not have looked as ridiculous a few years ago as it does today - in the early years of this century there was some common ground between the Conservatives and SNP at Holyrood. But after the general election campaigns the two parties have just fought, any sort of coalition or agreement between them would look preposterous.

If I thought it could be done, another Conservative & Lib/Dem arrangement would be my preferred option - the last one did a lot of good for the country. Unfortunately the Lib/Dems have ruled this out. It would be difficult to reach an understanding with them on Brexit, and after what happened to them in the 2015 general election after the last Conservative and Lib/Dem coalition they are, perhaps understandably, cautious about repeating the experience.

Which basically leaves an arrangement between the Conservatives and the DUP, probably a "confidence and supply" arrangement.

This idea has upset a lot of people, not all of them lunatics.

Dan Hannan gives a characteristically robust response to some of those who have criticised the idea or an arrangement between the Conservatives and DUP in the International Business Times here.

More nuanced responses have come from others such as Jeffrey Dudgeon, one of the founders of the gay rights movement in Northern Ireland, who wrote on Policy Exchange  here that

"Distress in Britain amongst liberals and some socialists at the imminent supply and confidence arrangement between Theresa May and the DUP is understandable – but much exaggerated. Ruth Davidson can rest assured things won’t be going backwards on LGBT rights in Northern Ireland."

and

"Progress on LGBT rights has and will continue to happen — deal or no deal between Theresa May and the DUP."

An even more heavily nuanced commentary can be found in The Independent here from Thomas Hennessey who is Professor of British and Irish History at Canterbury Christ Church University.

The title of his article includes the statement that the DUP are "Not as bad as you think" which could win a "damning with faint praise" award and sounds like a joke from a Ben Elton comedy. (That's because it is: the line was used in season two, episode two of "The Thin Blue Line", a Rowan Atkinson comedy written by Elton.)

Nevertheless, he writes that

"The DUP is no longer the party that Paisley created. The Good Friday Agreement changed everything. More than one quarter of the DUP’s current membership joined between 1998 and 2005, many from the traditionally more moderate Ulster Unionist Party, including its present leader Arlene Foster. It made the party more open to sharing power with Nationalists, something the DUP had opposed since the 1970s.

The political rise of Foster has also been an inspiration for younger female members of a party that has traditionally seen men dominating its key positions."

There are no easy answers.

But "Stop the world, I want to get off" will not provide Britain with good government.

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