Monday, 12 June 2017

How Sustainable Is A 'ConDUP' Alliance?

As talks between the Tories and the DUP continue, journalists have made efforts to highlight the DUP's hard-right social conservatism and support from paramilitary organisations.

The narrative, engulfing a Conservative Party in disarray (hence unable to muster a strong enough counter), is that by cosying up to the DUP they are in effect aligning themselves with, even endorsing, the party's more extreme positions.

But, then again, ministers have made a point of suggesting the Conservatives "have a lot in common with our friends in the DUP" on sofa interviews this weekend, seemingly tone-deaf to the fact the only DUP positions being communicated to the British public are anti-gay rights, anti-abortion, and climate change denial.

While an alliance does not necessarily equate to an out-and-out ideological alignment, it is inconceivable that any arrangement will be forged without the DUP extracting some capital from the Tories; the DUP are known as "tough negotiators".

Moreover; the Conservatives are desperate. As the Liberal Democrats are no longer a viable option (for either party, and for obvious reasons), the DUP is the only voting bloc Theresa May can conceivably court to get her legislative programme off the ground.

Let's assume, then, they do work out a deal, and the Tories are able to move forward in government. The question still remains over how reliable the DUP will be in terms of day-to-day politics; with conflicting positions on universal benefits, maintaining the pensions triple lock, and others.

To make things more complicated, as the New Statesman's Stephen Bush points out, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act gives the DUP more leverage over the Tories than first thought because a government no longer falls if it loses a budget or Queen's speech vote, only confidence votes, meaning the DUP can extract concessions over the course of the parliament in exchange for its support on a host of minor legislative issues.

My assessment, of course, does not take into account the added complexity of domestic Northern Irish politics, the new clutch of Scottish Tory MPs with loyalties to Ruth Davidson, nor does it take into account the implications for the Good Friday Agreement.

Any arrangement the two parties reach cannot possibly be sustainable in the long-term. Either we will have a lame duck government for the next five years, or the Conservatives will become frustrated enough to agree to calling an early election. My guess would be after the Brexit negotiations.

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