Contributed by Joe Montero
British prime Minister Theresa May has finally struck a deal to form a government with the backing of the 10 members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland.
The alliance is controversial and is likely to prove to be may problematic. But short-term opportunist expediency means that May and the Conservatives get support for the budget, supply bills, stave off the success of a no confidence motion and get to operate as a minority government.
Although not a formal alliance, there is an agreement to set up a coordinating committee between the government and the DUP, which will give considerable power to the DUP over government policies.
Having clung on by the finger nails, the May Government’s position is shaky and is only there because of a combination of fear of change in the Conservative heartlands, the collapse of the racist and anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), an unprecedented media campaign supporting the Conservatives, and of course, the emergence of a Conservative pole in the pro Scottish political movement. This has not provided a solid base.
The truth of it is that the Conservatives suffered a serious blow in the 8 June election and their unpopularity has sunk further in the short time since.
The alliance with the DUP is not likely to lead to a stable government. Quite the opposite.
In the first place, the DUP is a vehemently pro unionist party, opposed to dealing with rival Sinn Féin . Its intransigence wa sthe main factor behind the collapse of the Belfast Stormont parliament and there is little doubt that its new status in London threatens the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement that brought about an end to the open Irish conflict.
This has set unease within the Conservatives ranks.
So far, May has offered the DUP a £1.6 billion sweetener, in the form of extra funding for the Stormont executive, which it will control, plus a further £1 billion of financial assistance over the next two years for schools, hospitals and roads, and greater executive control over spending £500 million. This means that the DUP will end up with £1.5 billion to spend.
Among the Scottish Conservatives there is opinion to distance from the British brand. The DUP deal will strengthen this tendency. There are echoes of the same in Wales.
An extension of the military covenant, so that veterans on the unionist side on the past conflict will be given priority access to healthcare is also problematic. This is a politically sensitive issue in Ireland, since in signals preferential treatment for one side, at the expense of the other.
Sein Fein, which has 7 members in the British parliament, but who refuse to take their seats, objects to the CUP agreement and is threatening to respond.
The deal has been branded as a bribe across the UK.
Put together, the generosity to secure the DUP deal, has cut though the capacity of the government to carry through its next phase of neoliberal austerity. The deal with the DUP also involved a stop on attacks on pensions and the imposition of a means test on the winter fuel subsidy. By buying support, the Conservative government has crippled itself and a combination of being a minority government dependent on the DUP and lacking real legitimacy, in the face of considerable economic and social challenges, is likely to lead to political paralysis. in application of its own economic and political agenda. There will also be consequences for the coming Brexit negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Jeremy Corbyn train keeps on rolling and gathering momentum. A consequence is that the expectations of a large section of the population are growing and this movement will exert increasing political pressure on a vulnerable government.
The DUP’s social conservatism will add to this. For instance, its position on issues like abortion and marriage equality rub against many, even Conservative Party supporters. This social conservatism is set to be grafted onto the government.
Opinion is moving in the direction of social inclusiveness, greater fairness and sharing the nation’s wealth more equally.
Getting in bed with DUP may well prove to be the greatest mistake that the Theresa May led Conservative Party has made. The writing is not set in concrete yet. But it could be the beginning of the end for the prime minister and the minority government.