It’s a deal! Tories sign agreement with DUP

Shake on it: Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn said the deal was “clearly not in the national interest”.

After weeks of negotiations, the DUP has agreed to prop up the Tory government in return for a billion pounds. Coalitions and electoral pacts are common all over Europe. Will this one work?

You probably had not heard of Arlene Foster a month ago. But soon everyone will know the name.

She is the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in Northern Ireland, and Britain’s new kingmaker — or should that be queenmaker? At around midday yesterday, her party signed an agreement to back Theresa May’s Conservative government, which lost its outright majority two weeks ago in the general election.

This means that the Tories have a working majority of 17 in the House of Commons. But holding on to power has come at a huge price, as the Tories acceded to a DUP demand for an extra £1 billion public expenditure in Northern Ireland over the next two years.

The deal is called a “confidence and supply” arrangement. This is not the same as a coalition.

In order to remain in office, a government must retain the confidence of the House of Commons. When a minor party signs a confidence and supply deal, they are agreeing to vote with the government or abstain on any vote of no confidence brought to the House.

A coalition, meanwhile, is a much more formal agreement in that members from the junior party gain positions in the cabinet. Accountability is shared more equally.

In an adversarial, first-past-the-post system such as Britain, these power-sharing agreements are viewed with suspicion. Many see them as inherently unstable and so reliant on compromise that nothing gets done.

But occasionally they can be very useful. During the second world war Winston Churchill led a “grand coalition” — a government involving both Conservative and Labour ministers. His deputy prime minister was Clement Attlee, the Labour leader.

As the challenges of governing Britain grow ever steeper, more and more people are calling for a return to consensual politics. On Monday the Archbishop of Canterbury urged Labour and the Tories to work together on Brexit in order to “take the poison out of the debate”.

Should the Tories’ flirtation with Ulster loyalists pave the way for more cooperation?

DUP-ed

Let’s hope so, say some. British politics is held back by constant bickering and posturing between the government and the other parties. It is a waste of talent to consign half of the country’s best political brains to the opposition benches. More cooperation can take the nasty edge off politics. Bring it on.

But “edge” is exactly what politics needs, reply others. Politics in countries where consensus-driven, coalition government is commonplace is, simply, boring. It leads, as Peter Hitchens writes, to “permanent elite government”, whereby the public give up on the process because real change is impossible. Politics should be adversarial, not about cosy consensus-building.

You Decide

  1. Are the Tories right to do a deal with the DUP?
  2. Should opposing parties work together more?

Activities

  1. Class debate: “This house believes there is too much arguing in politics.”
  2. Research the political system of another democratic country. In 500 words, write whether you think it produces effective governments.

Some People Say...

“Governments should be as strong and decisive as possible.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Conservative Party has signed a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. The deal, which comes after two weeks of negotiations, will see the DUP’s ten MPs back the Tories in key Commons votes. In return, the DUP has secured an extra £1 billion for Northern Ireland over the next two years. The agreement is not a coalition — and the DUP will not be part of the government.
What do we not know?
How long this arrangement will last. Although, with the DUP, the Tories now have a majority of 17 in the House of Commons, many are predicting that the government will fall soon, prompting an early general election. But the DUP is determined to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of power, so it would take a lot for them to abandon the Tories.

Word Watch

Arlene Foster
Leader of her party since December 2015, she was embroiled in a renewable energy scandal earlier this year. The deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, who has since died, resigned, triggering a snap election in the province. Foster’s father, a policeman, was murdered during The Troubles.
Democratic Unionist Party
Northern Ireland’s main party is unionist — ie, it wants to remain in the United Kingdom. It was set up by a fundamentalist Protestant pastor, Ian Paisley, (whose son Ian Paisley junior is a DUP MP); it has attracted controversy for its socially conservative stances on abortion and gay marriage. It is the most explicitly religious of all major parties in the UK.
Extra £1 billion
£100m for the support of each DUP MP. This has prompted calls for matching public investment in Wales and Scotland. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones suggested Theresa May May was “throwing money at Northern Ireland while ignoring the rest of the UK”, calling the deal “a straight bung”.
Grand coalition
Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats currently head a grand coalition in Germany.

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