I never cease to be amazed by just how London-centred the UK media are. As the results came in during the early hours of Friday morning, it became clear that Theresa May was likely to attempt some sort of deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Yet the BBC election programme told its viewers almost nothing about the DUP. Even the election results in Northern Ireland, which saw the DUP increase its number of seats from eight to ten, received little attention.
A friend of mine who is a Scottish political journalist used to challenge Westminster-based political correspondents to name the First Minister of Wales. Most were unable to do so. I suspect that on Friday morning, some of them were desperately typing “Democratic Unionist Party” into Google, as they sought to find out about a party whose candidates all stand in areas further away than London Underground Zone 3.
Of course, many other people were looking up the DUP on Friday – at one point, the party’s website crashed. It’s entirely understandable that many voters in England know little about parties in other parts of the UK, especially when the UK media pays them so little attention. What I’ve found more surprising is the odd reaction on parts of the English left.
Anyone looking up the DUP can find out very quickly that they are viciously homophobic and anti-abortion. Some of their leading members are creationists, fundamentalists and/or climate change deniers. Several have past links with paramilitary groups and they are gung-ho for high military spending and nuclear weapons.
So it’s no surprise that most people on the left don’t want the DUP in government. A number of feminists and left-wing campaigners are writing to Tory MPs to urge them not to do a deal with the DUP.
I can understand why people might do this, but it isn’t something I’ll be joining in.
I accept that the DUP are even worse than the Tories when it comes to human rights – particularly LGBT rights and women’s rights. On economic issues, however, they are slightly less right-wing than the Tories. For example, they oppose the bedroom tax and want to maintain the triple lock on pensions.
This doesn’t for a moment excuse the homophobia, sexism and climate change denial. But it does make me wonder why so many on the left think that the Tories taken alone are any better than the Tories and the DUP added together.
To write to Tories to ask them to reject the DUP seems to suggest that the Tories on their own are not too bad. There is an implication that Tory MP are basically reasonable, liberal-minded people who can be asked not to do deals with bigots. But while many Tory MPs may now support (some) LGBT rights and pay lip-service to environmental issues, this does not make them better than the DUP. Their welfare cuts have literally killed people over the last seven years. Their arms sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia have added to the blood in which the hands of Tory MPs are so liberally covered.
Of course I would rather have a minority Tory government than a majority Tory-DUP one. A minority government will be easier to defeat. And I would rather see both the Tories and the DUP divided: I don’t want people who are attacking the rights and welfare of millions to be strong or stable.
I fear that those who see the Tories as preferable to the DUP may be influenced by assumptions that religious bigots must be worse than liberal-sounding millionaires or that Northern Ireland must be more extreme than England. Neither of these are helpful or accurate assumptions for people on the left to be making, whether consciously or otherwise.
I do not suggest that Tories are all the same, nor will I waste my energy on personal hatred for Conservatives as people. I instead suggest that we need to continue resisting the Conservative Party as an institution that functions to promote the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us – however liberal some of them may sound when standing next to Democratic Unionists.
But Tories on their own don’t have a working majority and their need for the DUP puts the DUP in a powerful position.