The situation in the UK is dire. The general election has produced a hung Parliament and I think a situation where the UK is moving leftwards. This is possibly very good news and I hope we may see some good results in the longer term. For now we are wallowing in a series of crises.
The calling of the general election looks very like arrogance on the part of Theresa May. She seemed to assume that she would get elected regardless of anything. Hence the awful manifesto, which , we gather, was only presented to the cabinet after it as at the printers. She was ill-advised and over-confident. Now everything is up in the air. I will set aside for now the peculiarities of Scotland’s results , except to remark that the Unionist vote seems to be hardening.
The Conservatives as the largest party had the chance to form a Government but needed a few extra seats to be a majority and it is telling that they homed in on the Northern Irish DUP. There was no attempt to get some sort of unity government coalition with other main stream parties. A degree of listening would have possibly made a workable minority Government possible. Certainly it would be case of negotiating each vote in turn and that of course would not give May the chance to get the sort of deal over Europe that she wants (amongst other things). That Brexit is looking shakier as we continue and the Government’s stance is a disaster is is beside the point. It looks like power for power’s sake.
I suspect that the Conservative Party is clinging onto May as leader for now as the least bad option.
It is a fair comment that the UK Government ought to be seen to be neutral in Northern Ireland. That they are prepared to compromise their neutrality, is very very worrying. This is all the more an issue with serious allegations of corruption hanging over the DUP leader and potential government involvement in public enquiries.
Of course there was much made by Tories of Jeremy Corbyn having dealings with Sinn Féin, and thus with terrorist sympathisers. It is necessary to deal with both sides. The irony of the Conservative position is their willingness to deride an English politician for being prepared to do just that, and then being prepared to actually involve one side in a position of great power in Westminster. I do not have any brief for either side in the Northern Irish situation. There has been great hurt on both sides and the roots of the problems that still exist go back a very long way into history.
How the Good Friday agreement will emerge from all this is anyone’s guess. As with Scotland, the politics and history of Northern Ireland are vastly different to the UK as a whole. It is an easy shorthand to call it tribal. One of my Ulster friends was wise, I think, when he said it needs at least the passing of a generation before any long term stability is possible. A lot of people grew up with killings and domestic terrorism.
I do not think many on the British mainland really appreciate the impact of growing up with the knowledge that you might be a target because you belong to a certain group; that people in the next village are potentially harbouring people who might kill your relatives; or that parts of your major towns are effectively no go areas to law enforcement.
Whilst there are good reasons why the DUP deal is bad; the rush to condemn the parties in Northern Ireland for having terrorist connections is ill-judged. I have the same frustrations about the commentariat and the on-line media regarding Northern Ireland as as I have over their approach to the Middle East. Being all nicely Western Liberal is not a lot of good when dealing with people who have faced civil war. Frankly it is a form of arrogance to tell any other society they must be like us, and adopt our values wholesale, just as offensive, in fact , as the idea of the “White man’s burden” in the height of the Empire.
I have written before about groupthink. It is an issue with Mainland attitudes to the DUP. We can all indulge in a bit of hate towards people we can label as reactionaries. No deal with the DUP because they are anti-abortion, or because they are anti-gay marriage is a common theme. Great, well done, but virtue signalling of that sort achieves little except division and creates a feeling of victimhood. It certainly never changes minds. Essentially the DUP represent one line of political thinking in Northern Ireland.
Thus I find the virtue signalling offensive, as I do the superficiality of many responses. The assumption of moral superiority has another name, arrogance. We really need to recognise it for what it is and deal with it.
There is a case against the deal with the DUP but for other reason than social conservatism. One is the delicate nature of the Northern Irish balance of power. The Unionist/Republican split is still there, and indeed built into the power-sharing arrangements for devolution. The devolved assembly remains suspended at present. Even if it were functioning normally the UK Government needs to be neutral. The DUP are going to be party to any power sharing deal that can be brokered at Stormont. The Government should be treating them cautiously and at arm’s length. In fact they have rushed in and promised large sums of public money.
Further the DUP have compromised themselves badly. The cash for ash scandal was a staggering example of bad politics. Those qualifying are paid to burn wood, and will get it for decades. It is beyond mere subsidy, it means it pays to build and heat an empty shed, so long as it falls within the rules of the scheme. As an example of public waste it is almost beyond belief. There are serious allegations of fraud. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_Heat_Incentive_scandal
In fact it is a massive scandal and the cost to the public finances is going to run into hundreds of millions. Arlene Foster was the minister responsible! Exactly who knew what is still hotly debated.
Part of the reason for the DUP electoral success, despite the allegations, was their strong unionist stance. As in Scotland with voting Conservative it was a case of voting for Unionism. I do not think the voters of Northern Ireland expected to be wielding real power over Westminster.
Now the DUP are aligned heavily with Westminster Government and vice versa. It remains to be seen how much real influence they will have over actual policy. Much of what they represent would be anathema to the more socially liberal Conservative MPs. It is a matter for them how far they will go to accommodate DUP ideas.
Again it is arrogance, on Mrs May’s part, to assume the DUP can be used as a prop for the government without wider consequences. We are in a situation where statesmanship is needed on many fronts, one of which is Northern Ireland. What we see is short-term politicking. So it is the Tories have spent something like £100 Million each for the DUP votes in the Commons.
It has all the markings of corruption on a big scale. If the DUP felt the Tory position on any issue was worth supporting they should have done so. If they need paying for the privilege then they are prostituting themselves for cash. The Lib Dems did not go so far, although they were heavily criticised for going into a coalition with the Conservatives in return for ministerial limousines.
How far there will be economic benefit to Northern Ireland, as opposed to the money benefiting a select few, is a moot point. We have the beginnings of a backlash from Scotland and Wales at not getting similar support, and it remains to be seen how English voters will feel at public money being used for party political aims, for that is what it is.
Two further points. The deal was signed by the Whips and not the leaders of the parties. That means perhaps the MPs concerned wanted to signal it is a PARTY deal in both cases. That suggests that both the leaders are seen as dispensable. May is visibly a liability anyway and Foster is very vulnerable over the cash for ash scandal. It is also likely that both parties are hoping to so a degree of success in Government, with the hope of doing better next General election. If it succeeds my guess would be an election at about the time Brexit is to take effect. It may be a forlorn hope that either party can look good by then.
Neither party to the arrangement of formal DUP support for the Conservatives emerges with real credit. I worry about the likely outcomes over the next few months.
As I said, the UK is showing signs of moving leftwards politically . It is waking up to the realities of both Brexit and “Austerity”. What we have is a right wing Government in office. I suspect it may not last long. I hope the damage done to the UK s a whole and Northern Ireland in particular is not too massive.