If Martin McGuiness could work with the DUP why couldn’t Jeremy Corbyn?
That rhetorical question works the other way round too.
If Jeremy Corbyn is to see private prediction to Michael Eavis at Glastonbury that he could be Prime Minister in six months fulfilled he can only get there with the combined votes of all the non-Tory parties – including the DUP. By contrast those 10 DUP votes were enough to give Theresa May an effective Commons majority.
On the surface the dealmakers looks like a natural fit. The Prime Minister emphasised that the Tories are officially the Conservative and Unionist party. And a youthful Labour tweeter declared “The DUP are basically Tories anyway (Tories from the Middle Ages, given their social views). They aren’t going to ever vote for Corbyn.”
But as shadow minister for Northern Ireland, Stephen Pound, reminded me the DUP are a working class breakaway from the official Ulster Unionists who really were “basically Tories”.
On a personal level there are warm words for the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson from Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Rushanara Ali. She is impressed by his work on conflict resolution.
Labour’s shadow NI secretary Owen Smith is a former special adviser to Northern Secretary Paul Murphy. Pound, his deputy served for 13 years on the Northern Ireland Select committee. The DUP’s leader in the Commons Nigel Dodds revealed that there had been contacts with the Labour frontbench in 2010 and 2015.
So the idea of the DUP supporting Labour is not that far-fetched.
On the Tory side the DUP deal has caused widespread disquiet amongst those worried that their “brand” will be re-toxified by the link with the socially conservative Ulster party.
And Heidi Allen, MP for South Cambridgeshire, expressed her anger use of public funds to gain Commons votes. ‘We didn’t need to do it.’ She argued the Tories should have run as a minority government and shown the country what ‘mature, progressive politics looks like’
So why it might be asked would Labour want to repeat the Tory mistake by cosying up to the DUP?
The answer I would give is that a minority Labour could, indeed, give a demonstration in “mature progressive politics”. There would be no deals but there would, of course, be contacts and discussions about a programme for government that would command support among all the non-Tory parties – and many Tory MPs – and crucially be popular with voters.
That would undoubtedly involve extra cash for the National Health Service – and for mental health services, an issue highlighted by the Nigel Dodds in the Commons. He said suicide rates and cases severe mental ill-health in Northern Ireland, were some of the worst in Europe, one of the legacies of 30 years of terrorism and violence. He said part of the cash from the deal with the Tories go to mental health care—extra investment in the health service.
“Is it not time that people recognised that this is delivery for all the people of Northern Ireland, across all sections of the community, and that it is going to help some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Northern Ireland? People should get behind it and welcome it.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s response to such arguments was that “cuts to vital services must be halted across the UK, not just in Northern Ireland.”
Corbyn’s declared aim is to pursue policies benefiting the “Many not the Few.” The vast majority of DUP supporters would undoubtedly qualify as part of the “many”. So, people in Northern Ireland would get the extra resources from a Labour government – not as a “bung” to buy DUP votes – but as part of a drive to improve public services and raise living standards throughout the UK.
One thing a minority Labour government might achieve is a solution to the social care crisis. Theresa May bungled it badly during the because she came forward with a plan that she would impose when she got her landslide. A Corbyn government could be more successful precisely because it would have to reach out to other parties to develop a consensus on a sustainable long term system.
Minority governments are rare but they can work well.