The last year has certainly been one of political shocks following the UK’s Brexit vote and the US electing Donald Trump as President.
But when Theresa May called a General Election while 20 points ahead in the polls, there were few even in the Labour party that were expecting anything other than Jeremy Corbyn to receive a sound thrashing.
That Corbyn did far better than expected (although nine seats fewer than Neil Kinnock achieved in 1992 – which forced him to resign) has created a mood on social media and among his cheerleaders that he has had victory snatched away from him. That somehow because he did comparatively well, he should now be given the keys to Downing Street, instead of the curmudgeonly lady who actually beat him.
It’s like a cup final in which a team that played all the attractive football lost to negative defensive opponents by a goal in the dying seconds – but the match analysts keep saying afterwards they deserved to win. Unfortunately for Corbyn, politics is tough and there is no trophy for losers.
In such circumstances, the attention of those legions of disappointed supporters will vent their disapproval on anyone and everything that prevents the victor collecting his laurels – and on this occasion it is Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that is on the receiving end.
Since last Friday, when it became clear the only way the Conservatives had any hope of forming a minority government would be to gain the support of the DUP, accusations have been flying thick and thin with veiled threats and virtue signalling galore – even from people within the Tory party.
The DUP has been lambasted for being anti-abortion, climate change sceptic, anti-LGBT rights, pro-Brexit, pro-grammar schools, pro-Israel and – curiously – even pro-British.
What this does is highlight two connected phenomena that are part of the new political landscape.
The first is that social media encourages people to offer a tsunami of fatuous, often hypocritical judgements. The second is that losers in modern-day politics find it hard to accept defeat. No sooner did the SNP lose its Scottish referendum than it was on the warpath asking for another shot. As soon as the UK voted for Brexit, a host of politicians – from Tim Farron to Tony Blair, Nick Clegg to Peter Mandelson – were also calling for a rematch. Over the pond, many have refused to accept Donald Trump’s election. It is time for people to accept democracy and take defeat gracefully.
The DUP is no monstrous party, nor is it full of raving loonies.
Yes, the DUP was formed out of the hardcore Presbyterianism of Ian Paisley back in the seventies, but it has come a long way since. We now have the irony that it is apparently okay for the DUP to have been in a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein, but we are told it will be toxic to the Tory brand.
This is the same DUP that Gordon Brown also courted in case he needed the party’s support in his General Election of 2010. That he never got the chance does not change the fact Labour would have cut a deal too.
The reason that Corbyn cannot approach the DUP is obvious; as a man whose association with Sinn Fein and the IRA goes back over thirty years, the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, is not going to have him at the front of any queue of political suitors. Whereas Sinn Fein is recognised as the political wing of the IRA, the DUP is not associated with any terrorist group. It has steadfastly been a defender of the democratic process.
The DUP has to be seen in the context of the political zeitgeist it operates in. Most Irish parties, north or south of the border, are against abortion on demand – including the Labour party’s own party brethren, the SDLP.
Yes, the DUP are socially conservative (maybe Tim Farron would feel comfortable in their number), but again that is not an unusual position in Ulster or the Republic or Ireland. The point is that these are devolved matters and the DUP has not been in the market of exporting these policies beyond their legitimate locus.
Indeed, on the last three elections the DUP has listed what it would want from any UK government as the price of its support, and these have been economic and social policies that would apply to Northern Ireland.
We can expect some business and welfare support, tax breaks and regulatory reform – aimed at lifting the Northern Ireland economy. That’s what the DUP is after – and ironically it may look for a softer Brexit if it means retaining an open border between the UK and the Republic.
Theresa May does not need to worry about the DUP damaging her brand, frankly she’s managed to do a pretty good job of that herself.