General Election ’17 – The DUP: who are they and what do they stand for?
On Friday 9th June the British public woke to the strong possibility of a coalition government between the Conservative party and the Democratic Unionist Party, a shock result that has left the British political system floundering. Not only did the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn (with, so far, 261 seats across the UK) take an immensely positive step in the party’s and movement’s history, the Tories failed to reach the threshold needed to form a government at 326 seats, ending the night with 318. Considering that the election was called by May to shore up her majority in the Commons, the results were a shock awakening for a party that appears increasingly out of touch with what the British public are feeling.
Effectively, the outcome of the election has left the Tories’ ability to remain in government more or less in the hands of the DUP. Up until last night, it is safe to say that a significant amount of citizens outside of Northern Ireland had heard very little about the hardline, right-wing unionist party (myself included prior to writing this): therefore, a brief rundown of what the party stand for seems useful.
The BBC describe the party as pro-union (UK, not EU), pro-Brexit (backing a soft Brexit), and socially conservative. Established by Ian Paisley and Desmond Boal in 1971 and now led by Arlene Foster, the DUP has strong links to Protestant churches, was founded around Ulster loyalism aiming to continue Northern Ireland’s inclusion within the UK, and has strong links to para-militarism. The party is undoubtedly controversial.
The whole potential (and very likely) coalition reeks with irony in light of the vilification by the British press and Tory party of Corbyn for his past relations with once-IRA members and his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process. The DUP have been both publicly and politically endorsed by the Ulster Defence Association and the Red Hand Commando. It seems questionable, therefore, as to who will really come out of this political shift around as the actual ‘terrorist sympathisers’ in the British government.
Beyond their links to terrorist organisations and paramilitarism, the DUP has a rocky (to put it mildly) relationship with the LGBT community and women, having frequently caused outcry for their anti-abortion and anti-LGBT stance. MP David Simpson stood against attempts to extend abortion laws to Northern Ireland in 2009, criticising ‘consumer parenthood and disposable babies’, and in 2012 the health minister of the time Jim Wells sparked fury when he suggested that rape victims should be denied access to abortion procedures.
Jim Wells has been no stranger to getting himself in hot water, also having been caught on record stating that raising a child in a same sex marriage increases the chance of abuse or neglect to that child. As Owen Jones pointed out in 2015, such claims, and their virulently anti-homophobic underpinnings, are all the more terrifying going forward considering that 47% of LGBT people in Northern Ireland have considered committing suicide.
Another immensely worrying aspect of the party’s political profile is their stance on matters of science, especially their known denial of climate change. Both the DUP spokesman on Economic & Finance matters and Education, Science and Technology, Sammy Wilson, and Mervyn Storey (who chaired the DUP’s Education Committee between 2008-2014) are devout deniers, with Wilson having hailed man-made climate change as a ‘con’. Storey has also previously called for the teaching of creationism alongside that of evolutionism in science classes across Northern Ireland and threatened legal action against Ulster museum for their promotion of a series on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
I am no expert on the DUP yet their pitfalls are clear even to a newcomer to their policies, like myself. The very fact that the Conservative party has been forced to reach out a hand to the right wing, hardline party reflects a number of things. Not only has Theresa May’s concept and tag-line of strength and stability been utterly dragged through the mud and left in tatters, their turning to the DUP also says much about the party’s values. Whilst it would be a stretch to claim any immediate sharing of opinion between the two parties on the DUP’s more controversial stances, it is clear that May and her party are more concerned with gripping on to the last slithers of their own power than maintaining any sense of morality and dignity.
What is clear is that Britain’s political future is uncertain to say the least, with the government yet to have been confirmed but May refusing to resign, cabinet posts still to designate, and Brexit negotiations looming close on the horizon. That said, whilst the reaching out of feelers to the DUP by the Tories may leave many immensely concerned, like it does myself, I will still be taking positives from this election result.
Jeremy Corbyn faced a campaign of vilification by the British press and has had his ability and competence doubted by even committed and genuine Labour supporters. Yet the leader has led the party through an immensely impressive election campaign and has left those on both sides of the political spectrum dumbfounded by gaining the biggest vote share since Blair’s landslide in 2001. To say he has proved himself would be an understatement. The youth turned out in force for Corbyn, and as a member of that section of the British public, I take from this election a genuine sense of my voice being heard for the first time in my voting life.
Few expected to wake up to the very real, and increasingly likely, potentiality of the DUP in government. The following days will reveal more of the ins and outs of the what Britain’s future political landscape will look like, a landscape of which the DUP are now very much a part of.
One thing does seem for sure; the 40% of the British public who swept Corybn and Labour to a staggering position of strength in the Commons last night must not take the DUP’s inclusion in government lying down. May faces a plurality of issues in the coming days, and her cosying up to the DUP for political gain will no doubt be one of them.