Why the DUP is genuinely open for political business with an incoming Labour administration

Good piece from Graham Walker which if anything works a little too hard to match the DUP with a future incoming Labour government, it is nevertheless is a useful corrective to the prevailing assumption (in Britain if not NI) that their natural fit is with the Tories.

In particular he notes:

…social class does matter politically in Northern Ireland, contrary to what many outsiders are led to believe. The DUP draws much of its support from less well-off protestants and is careful not to distance itself from the unemployed, the low paid and those on benefits.

Opposition to the bedroom tax and a variety of left-of-centre measures are in the party’s manifesto for this election.

The DUP could invite considerable political trouble if it backed a Conservative government hell-bent on yet more austerity, especially as it seeks to protect welfare spending in Northern Ireland as much as possible and to secure help to re-vitalise the province’s economy.

Meanwhile, the deputy leader Nigel Dodds wrote in the New Statesman in February of his party’s possible willingness to work with Labour – and has also made some trenchant criticisms of free-market fundamentalism.

That pretty much captures the DUP approach to social policy. It’s the same tight rope UK Labour are trying to walk, so it is a meet match by Dr Walker.

And, despite the presence of more than one or two ‘Tory boys’ it is also in line with the own party’s tradition which co-founder the late Dessie Boal vowed the DUP would be strong on the Constitution, but to the left on social policies.

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  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It’s revealing isn’t it particularly in light of recent charges that DUP are a far right party? http://sluggerotoole.com/2015/02/22/you-cant-mistake-ideology-the-way-mps-talk-the-way-that-they-walk/

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s been an interesting reminder that the DUP remain a kind of anti-Establishment party. As I’ve argued in the past, the unionist electorate’s values are more to the left than either unionists themselves or outside commentators often care to admit. Boal – and Graham Walker – spot on on that one.

    Speaking as a unionist myself, I grew up thinking of myself as on the right, because at the time the number 1 priority was security issues, law and order and the unionist position could only be a tough one, in the context of what was going on in the Troubles. Living away from Northern Ireland and seeing what the right is all about on the mainland – broadly helping the well-off stay that way, and holding the odd flimsy rope ladder out to others to join them – my first reaction was that not only do I not see society that way, but I don’t know too many people back home in NI that do. They exist, but they’re a small group.

    In terms of deeper attitudes and assumptions about “the good society” I think we have quite a similar outlook to the bulk of Scots. Yes, we’re big on self-reliance and personal responsibility – and law and order of course has had to be a huge issue, given NI’s terrorism problem – more “Conservative”-friendly issues for sure. And there is a good deal of social conservatism out there. But there’s also a deep cultural assumption about egalitarianism, a deep aversion to snobbery and a mistrust of elites, and a strong valuing of lack of pretension, straightforwardness; and, often missed I think, a strong valuing of inner qualities of character over outward show or material wealth or success. NI people take these things for granted so much they don’t notice. But going back and forward to England, you do notice. There’s a much lower level of the kind of personal pretension, aspiration and social-climbing that feed the likes of the Conservative Party.

    But so what?

    Well it means the DUP will find themselves genuinely with much in common with Labour values and quite able to wear a Labour government. That said, the DUP brand of unionism being rather more inward-looking, xenophobic and socially conservative, they will also find much in common with the Peter Bones of this world on the Tory right, or even UKIP.

    Ironically, their non-aligned nature could work very well for deal-doing for NI, if the parliamentary arithmetic brings them into play.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes, Salmon of Data was interesting in showing a few DUPers, including Dodds, to the left of some of the SDLP on social policy.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Great analysis there of what many from traditional unionism experience when they fly the cosy nest. So much rests on assumptions here without us seeing that they are misplaced. I have to add that if the DUP is seen to be cosying up to or capitulating to any GB parties in the forthcoming arrangment it could lose its independent streak and this might be seen back home as the C word: compromise. Oh the art of politics!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but we cheer for Northern Ireland, so if they bring home the bacon for NI from the Treasury, that will be a very strong card for them, even if they compromise to get it

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    That’ll depend on the flavour of the bacon.

  • chrisjones2

    in the end its all about power and money. That is what will drive the decisions

  • MainlandUlsterman

    and whether Ed Miliband can go a bacon sarnie after his last experience

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It is; at the same time the SDLP are never going to support a Tory government, UKIP would never prop up Labour, etc. The politics does mean something. But if you can square the politics, then yes it does come down to haggling really. But that’s democracy for you.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Unlike the DUP he’ll have learned from his mistake.

  • sk

    “As I’ve argued in the past, the unionist electorate’s values are more to the left than either unionists themselves or outside commentators often care to admit.”

    There are 56 unionist MLAs in the Assembly. Do you know how many voted in favour or gay marriage yesterday?

    4 of them.

    Very left wing.

  • Dan

    Do a deal with Labour, after Labour’s treachery with Gerry Kelly and his get out of jail letters?
    Surely, even the DUP, wouldn’t stoop that low.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not the most nuanced approach, SK. I also said “there is a good deal of social conservatism out there” and I described the DUP as “socially conservative” also – clearly a lot of them are, as are most people in NI. My point was, that social conservatism belies other attitudes which are closer to Labour than Tories. In policy terms these can be seen in things like opposition to bedroom tax and Robinson’s opposition to the Tory idea of making £12b of welfare/benefit cuts. But attitudinally, their heart is also much more with the needs of the less well off who make up most of their voters, than in the Tories’ obsession with the wealthy and trickle-down economics.

  • Old Mortality

    There’s nothing left-wing about being in favour of same-sex marriage. I think you confuse it with social liberalism which can be readily associated with libertarians who would also tend not to be very enthusiastic about the welfare state.

  • david crookes

    Let’s be careful that we don’t turn a serious political discussion of left and right into another pecking thread about gay marriage.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    and the Tories produced the Anglo-Irish Agreement – the single worst piece of legislation of any British government in living memory. The Tories also kept the OTR scheme going on the quiet when they took over, instead of revealing what they knew. Guilty too.

    But I’d be happy if the DUP demanded some kind of action against Peter Hain as the price of voting with Labour. He’s culprit No1; but no longer likely to be involved in any Labour government. They could also ask for a formal commitment to open and fair dealing with all the parties – which I don’t think it would be hard for Labour to agree to and keep.

  • Dan

    No seat in the Lords might be worth it!

  • Mirrorballman

    “and the Tories produced the Anglo-Irish Agreement – the single worst piece of legislation of any British government in living memory. ”

    That’s an astounding claim…….

  • Chingford Man

    I find a lot of dross on Slugger ‘below the line’, but this is perceptive and I agree with most of it. The basic difference between the Tories and the DUP is that the former has almost always been identified with defending ruling class interests whereas the DUP emerged from an populist revolt against an Ulster Unionist Party that Paisley characterised as socially elitist and untrustworthy. Even now that it has captured unionism, you can still see flashes of the old insurgent DUP, with Sammy Wilson having a go at environmentalists or the party attacking political correctness in the quangocracy.

    That is not the only difference. When it comes to social conservatism, It is noticeable how little modern Tories have to say about social issues that would once have animated them. The Tories under Cameron are not socially conservative. But the DUP remains socially conservative and whilst abandoning this would be disastrous for the party, it is trying to find a new and more nuanced language to respond to increasing challenges from social liberals.

    I suspect most DUP people would find a happy home in UKIP, another set of populist outsiders with its strength in post-industrial struggling Britain, and which is evolving a policy platform that borrows liberally from left and right alike.

    By the way, I don’t agree that UKIP is xenophobic or that it is inward-looking. Farage in particular wants Britain to be a major global trading power once the UK returns to being a self-governing state. As for xenophobia, it may be a surprise to go to a UKIP event and see many mixed-race partners, which reflects what much of Britain is now like, even outside London. My local UKIP candidate is Anglo-Indian, for instance.

  • Barneyt

    Wouldn’t be too sure about the SDLP. Thoughts on may 8th will be very different to words uttered now….not that the SDLP will have many seats to bargain with.

  • Barneyt

    Can you dig out that graph that someone produced showing where the NI parties fell with respect the wider left-centre-right political spectrum? If I remember it presented left V right on the X axis and authoritarianism V libertarianism on the Y…..or something similar.

    It identified that out unionist parties on some subject areas sit with the conservatives, but on other social matters were more closely aligned with labour. Based on this, there should be common ground, as long as they steer clear of abortion, equality (all kinds) and capital punishment…oh and flat earth type scenarios.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    can you think of a worse one?

    The Tories introducing the poll tax in Scotland as an experiment comes close – that was pretty astoundingly awful. But the AIA edges it for me, because of the sheer other-worldly weirdness of the Tories thinking it was a good idea to impose a ‘solution’ on NI – a dramatically controversial one – based on the input of just one of the main parties, while keeping the others, and the people, in the dark. Spectacularly politically clumsy, treated the electorate affected with patronising contempt, as well as being doomed ab initio, How they thought an arrangement like that had any kind of future really begs a lot of questions about the intelligence and judgment of the Thatcher government. They were warned at the time by the NIO and by senior advisors like Ian Gow, who resigned over it (and was later murdered by the Republicans for his troubles).

    But I doubt we’ll ever see such a spectacularly wrong and stupid piece of policy imposed on NI again. That was the one positive upshot – it was so dumb that it’s stood as a useful lesson in what not to do for future governments. The 90s “peace process” learned the lesson quickly, by being open and inclusive. The recent revelations on OTRs though shows how tempted governments can be, hitting an impasse, to cheat the electorate and cook up a secret deal behind their backs. Important to stay vigilant. But even the OTR scheme is chicken feed compared to the gargantuan insult to open democracy that was the AIA.

    The AIA was a valuable lesson for me too, though. As a 15 year old, I listened to the debate on it in the House of Commons. English MP after English MP comes on, from all the main parties, and gives the thing their support. I remember thinking: you really have no idea about Northern Ireland, do you?

    It makes you realise that a lot of the time, MPs are voting on stuff they don’t really understand. That’s parliamentary democracy, I suppose; but this one was different, because they were imposing something on one region of the country, without respecting, or even really listening to, the wishes of the people there. That was deeply wrong.

    Worth pointing out too that the SDLP championed it, so keen were they to get around unionists rather than compromising with us. Which is why my sympathy for their plight these days is sometimes limited. Though we have moved on of course 😉

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Oh they’ll back Labour, they’ve been clear about that. And good on them for doing that!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it was from Salmon of Data, Barneyt …


    yes it was really interesting. Showed massive difference between the likes of Nigel Dodds, who could be in Labour, and the likes of Gregory Campbell, who’s closer to UKIP

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Thanks Chingford Man. I know UKIP are not all racists – for example, I used to play in the same football team in London as their immigration spokesman (!), who is from a mixed race background. Might I say, he was a very nifty player too, nice close control and good turn of pace. Our centre-half stood for Labour in 1997 … we gave a new meaning to political football I think.

    But I do think their approach to migrant workers from the EU – pretending they are sapping the economy when in reality they are more than paying their way – is basically xenophobic. (A study by LSE showed:
    “There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages,
    housing or the crowding out of public services. Any negative impacts on wages of less
    skilled groups are small.)

    I also think the withdrawal from the EU would be a step inwards, away from engagement and close relationships with our main trading block. It is opposed strongly by British diplomats and foreign relations experts. It is a pipe dream to think the UK can prosper by disdaining the main international structure binding our nearest neighbours and friends. Relationships matter; trade and business flow from them. Cameron is already damaging our standing by threatening to pull out (a bluff by the way, he doesn’t believe in Brexit at all); how much worse for Britain if we actually did? Overnight, a lot of global companies would be reassessing us as a base for European operations. I don’t want Britain to be a fearful, shrivelled husk, clinging to ourselves for comfort; I want us to be putting ourselves out there. UKIP, for me, is the party of an unconfident, isolated Britain. Not attractive to me.