22 May

My Eye – The DUP’s Approach to the Westminster Parties

An interesting aspect of any Westminster election from a Northern Ireland perspective is the relationship between the UK parties and the DUP.

It’s an important relationship for the simple fact that, with only 18 seats up for grabs, no NI party will ever constitute a majority in Parliament. However, a party with enough NI seats can sometimes cast the deciding ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ during close votes – our parties, particularly the DUP, have used this as leverage for concessions from the Government.

However – and apologies if this is self-evident! – this means that for our parties to be truly influential, they need the Government of the day to have a slender majority, so close votes are more common. Regardless of tightening polls, or hyperbolic headlines claiming Labour could end up ahead come election day, this doesn’t look likely.

Upon the publication of the Conservative manifesto last week, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds put out a statement condemning the Conservatives plans to break the ‘triple lock’ on state pensions, and to means test universal benefits for pensioners. And today the DUP is expected to attack the Labour Party over Jeremy Corbyn’s comments on IRA bombings over the weekend.

This sort of rhetoric is a far cry from their approach to the 2015 General Election – in which the DUP essentially set out a list of their demands for breaking the stalemate of a then-expected hung Parliament. So is the DUP moving away from the UK parties?

I’d suggest that the party is instead simply taking a pragmatic approach.

While being close to the Tories is useful if they expect to have some leverage, the DUP know that the centre right, comparatively socially-liberal party of Middle England is not popular among its core vote. And, though the DUP’s core vote is lower-middle and working class, there is still little ingrained affection for UK Labour.

So, with little chance of gaining Parliamentary leverage, the DUP is instead looking for the next best thing. It’s realised that the best way to ‘get the voters out’, in a place so beset by ‘election fatigue’ as Northern Ireland, is through confrontational politics – an approach, it must be said, that has historically come easily to the DUP.

Doubtless, once back in Westminster the party will carry on as it always has. But that, after all, is politics!

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