By Clara Gaspar
After a tense and astonishing night of results, the country has spoken. Theresa May’s hubristic assumption of a Conservative landslide victory in April has been proven sorely wrong, and Jeremy Corbyn’s once ‘unelectable’ politics of optimism has been accepted into the UK’s mainstream parliamentary political framework. However, across the Irish sea we have seen extraordinary gains from the Democratic Unionist Party, who have taken ten of Northern Ireland’s eighteen seats. And yet still, we have no clear winner.
Therefore, despite the startling gains that Labour made in places like Darlington and Kensington, and what seems to be a clear rejection of May’s harsh austerity programme and proposal of hard Brexit, it seems as though May will still be leading a Tory minority government propped up by the DUP through a confidence and supply arrangement, with the 328 seats that they hold between them.
So what would this mean for UK politics? Aside from the DUP’s intensely socially conservative policies (anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality), a disturbing prospect given the potential influence they may have in Westminster, the DUP also supports nuclear deterrent which will not gain them favour among Labour voters. However, what could a deal with the DUP mean for the Conservatives?
Perhaps the most important issue to be reconciled between the parties in order to achieve a working majority is their stance on Brexit. DUP leader Arlene Foster believes that ‘No-one wants to see a “hard” Brexit’ and would rather see a ‘workable plan to leave the European Union,’ which is at odds with May’s supporting of a hard Brexit. However, now that May has overwhelmingly failed to secure a mandate to succeed in this policy, it seems that Britain’s departure from the European Union will have to be reconsidered and May might have to make a double U-turn on her sentiments regarding Europe, something that will undoubtedly lose her favour among the population and in negotiations with Europe. In addition, the DUP support the maintenance of David Cameron’s commitment in the 2015 election to a ‘triple lock’ of no rise in income tax, national insurance and VAT, a policy that was strikingly absent from the 2017 Tory manifesto in order to fund May’s social care policies. It will therefore be interesting to see how much compromise the DUP will demand from the Tories in return for their support.
In Northern Ireland as well, this potential settlement between the Conservatives and the DUP will result in a strong affiliation between the two parties and this heightened DUP influence could prove troublesome for power-sharing negotiations at Stormont as the Conservative party will no longer be able to act as an unbiased arbitrator. This will be particularly strongly felt given that Northern Ireland’s election result has been intensely polarised by Brexit, with both the DUP and Sinn Fein gaining seats, and the absolute wipe-out of the SDLP and the UUP.
Corbyn called yesterday morning for May to resign. ‘Her mandate has lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support and lost confidence,’ he announced. Perhaps Theresa May will outdo her wheat-field escapades by committing an even naughtier act; remaining in power when the country has clearly rejected all that her form of Conservativism stands for.
Photograph: Simone Fontana via flickr