Why we can’t just leave the DUP in the corner

If the result of a hung parliament has come as a surprise to everybody apart from YouGov, the biggest surprise is the sudden media focus on Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, the DUP. I know a number of people will be disquieted at the presence of the DUP as a potential party of government – so I wanted to use a quick bit of political science to show how the DUP are in the position that they have an effective veto on House of Commons business.

The barchart below shows the 2017 House of Commons. The SNP (yellow), Plaid Cymru (light green) and Greens (dark green) have indicated they will not support a Conservative government. The North Down independent unionist Lady Hermon his historically voted with Labour, and the Lib Dems indicated that they would not form a coalition with anyone.That gives an effective ‘anti-Conservative’ vote of 315, against the Conservatives 318.


The trouble now is simple arithmetic. Even if Jeremy Corbyn could persuade every opposition party to support his government, the DUP wouldn’t have to even vote against him – they could abstain, and the Conservatives could vote down every single piece of government business using their own MPs.

In short – the DUP are in the position where they have a veto on any Commons business. A Labour administration would need them to actively vote WITH them to defeat the Tories, and the Tories need them to in the very least not vote against them.

It has been noted that this could change if Sinn Fein changed their long held policy on abstention from Westminster and took their seven seats. While it would create a Conservative beating coalition, one imagines that the DUP (who have 10 seats to the 7 held by Sinn Fein) would then support the Conservatives to prevent Sinn Fein demanding whatever price they wanted for supporting the government.

I’m not wild about the prospect of the DUP on the goverment backbenches; I joined the Northern Irish Conservatives in the belief change was needed from the old orange and green tribal headcount. The practical numbers however, are that any party that wants to govern will need their support. Which is why I suspect we are looking at a second general election within the next 12 months.

(This post was originally featured on my Facebook wall, and is re-posted here for those wishing to share it)


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