Nigel Dodds has chosen the intriguing venue of the Guardian in which to outline the Democratic Unionists’ position in the event of a hung Parliament. “We are looking neither to exploit any position of advantage for limited party ends,” the party’s Parliamentary leader writes, “nor merely to present a shopping list of desirable goodies funded by a depleted and hard-pressed Treasury”.
Implicit in that gorgeously-constructed sentence is the suggestion both that being a small party in a hung Parliament might not be a position of advantage, and that his programme is a shopping list of desirable goodies to be funded by a depleted and hard-pressed Treasury – since Dodds’s use of the word “merely” confirms that it is such a list, even if it is not only such a list.
It is perilous to question the good faith of an Ulsterman, but I can’t avoid the conclusion that only one of those claims may be true, and readers of this site will already have worked out which one it is. Being a small party in a hung Parliament is a position of advantage, whether the DUP’s Parliamentary leader likes it or not. And he would surely like it very much indeed.
So which way will the DUP jump in the event of no party having a majority? As you would expect, his article doesn’t say – that would ruin the suspense, which must continue all the way until polling day and, very likely, beyond. It lays out three priorities: committing to the two per cent defence target, revisiting the “consequences of the bedroom tax”, and better border protection against EU benefit claimants.
Dodds also says that “the next government should complete, equip, deploy and defend (not least by commissioning sufficient escorts) the two Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers”. Could some of this equipment and completion take place in Northern Ireland? That would be a desirable goodie indeed, and no MP from the province should be blamed for a moment for pushing for it.
Needless to say, this three part wish-list is carefully crafted in order to ensure that either of the two main parties could meet it, and if there is a bias one way or the other I leave it to you to decide (though, as I say, the Guardian is an interesting place for Dodds’s piece). No wonder both of them are cuddling up to the DUP as if it were a teddy bear, which of course it is not.
Greg Clark was put up yesterday in the Commons to reply to a DUP motion on the TV election debates: Westminster boasts fewer more emollient Parliamentarians. Mel Stride wrote a bold piece on this site about co-operation with the DUP in the event of a hung Parliament, and has since been promoted into the claustral silence of the Whips’ Office. John Hayes has drawn the party into his counsels.
David Cameron himself threw a drinks reception in Number Ten’s garden for its MPs last summer. (“Nigel! Peter! Absolutely marvellous to see you! The rhododendrons are splendid for this time of year.”) Downing Street will know that the DUP is unlikely to agree to a coalition with anyone, but just might be drawn into confidence and supply…or at least not into no confidence and no supply.
The sacrifice of the security forces during the IRA’s terror campaign – not to mention its loyalist counterpoint – and the suffering of many of its people demands respect and sorrow. I reported from Northern Ireland sporadically during the mid-1990s, and was a sceptic about many of the aspects of the peace process – one of them being the emergence from it of a stronger Sinn Fein and DUP.
None the less, I’ve come to think that the great Paul Bew, an adviser to David Trimble at the time, had a point when he wrote that “the true hero of the Troubles” was “the Unknown British Taxpayer”. A time-honoured role of Northern Ireland’s parties is to deplete and press him just a little bit harder. We would be wise to prepare ourselves.
What’s that over there? Why, it’s Dodds doodling a version of that Conservative attack poster – you know, the one with a very big Alex Salmond in a suit and a very small Ed Miliband tucked up in his breast pocket. Only instead of Salmond Dodds is sketching himself. Mind you, that’s still Miliband in his top pocket, though. Oh, hang on a minute…