In the words of the seemingly immortal David Dimbleby – “And what we’re saying is the Conservatives are the largest party. Note they don’t have an overall majority at this stage”. At 22:00BST on 8th June, Britain took a collective gasp as it dawned on the nation that Theresa May’s supermajority was not to be. The uncertainty, that we had all been promised would be gone, remained, if anything in a deeper sense than previously.
The night of June 8th cost many parliamentarians their careers, but also marked the beginning of a journey for those newly elected. Political heavyweights such as Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond lost their seats, to Labour and the Conservatives respectively, and former ministers returned to the parliamentary fold, in particular former DWP minister Esther McVey and Equalities Minister Jo Swinson. But one thing stands out more than everything else. The “Coalition of Chaos” that Theresa May warned us of. Not only is this ‘nightmare’ becoming a reality, but it appears to be coming in the form of a Conservative and DUP cabal. The DUP – the anti-abortion, anti-homosexual evangelicals of Northern Ireland. Regressive ideals once consigned to Ulster have been thrust into the spotlight, causing ideological despair for some of even the most devoted Conservatives in Westminster.
On Friday morning, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, Tommy Tugendhat, warned on Twitter that he had “joined a party that introduced equal marriage, backs civil rights and defends freedom of faith. Those principles won’t be compromised.” This provides perhaps the most risky element of going into government with the DUP – there are too many socially liberal Tories that will not stand for the unionist party’s regressive politics. Only a matter of weeks ago were the press and the masses alike chastising the likes of Tim Farron over accusations of anti-homosexual and anti-abortion views, yet many news outlets welcome the prospect of the DUP in government with open arms. The Conservatives are yet to put pen to paper on a confidence and supply agreement with the loyalist parliamentarians, yet they have already conceded that there will be a vote on reducing the number of weeks at which abortion is available, likely to shock anyone who has even a foot in the door of the 21st century.
’Anything to keep Jeremy Corbyn, the terrorist sympathiser, out!’ they exclaim, as they welcome a party with a long history of sectarian activity in Northern Ireland, which is also backed by the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association. The grouping is listed as a terrorist organisation by the British government for the violent and murderous campaign it led against Catholics during the Troubles. This support culminated itself in an endorsement for the DUP candidate in Belfast East at this election, Emma Little Pengelly, on which leader Arlene Foster was especially vague in response to calls to reject this endorsement. Yet just 48 hours after a father was shot dead in front of his three year old son in County Down, the result of a feud within the South East Antrim brigade of the UDA, Foster somehow thought it appropriate to meet with Colin Horner, the leader of the paramilitary group. Although on paper the DUP offer their support for paramilitary groupings to disarm, it is surprising nonetheless that she did not use this meeting to demand the dissolution of the Ulster Defence Association.
In a time of increasing polarisation both in the UK in the aftermath of the EU referendum and across Europe and the wider world in the challenge to neoliberalism, is it sensible to be including such a divisive political force in a government that is meant to have the interests of all of its citizens at heart? Support for a United Ireland has been exacerbated by this polarisation, exemplified by hardline republican Sinn Féin increasing their total of seats in Westminster to seven. Any true unionist would see that the DUP has been damaging to the cause of Ulster unionism, especially in its support of Brexit. As Brexit looms, so too could a hard border, likely to turn even more people away from the moderate centre in their human territorial instinct.
The solution to the confusion that last Thursday’s election has brought upon us appears to be far away. Whether the Conservatives can govern effectively with a minority is yet to be seen, and they will likely be reluctant to inflame tensions in Northern Ireland. You wanted to avoid a coalition of chaos? Well, you got one. The Conservatives send their regards.