|The sham of bourgeois democracy in Britain has certainly been brought into sharp focus of late. After securing just 10 seats in the House of Commons, northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has found itself holding the keys to power.
After Theresa May’s shock non-victory, she was forced to find parliamentary allies to save her job and prop up her rule, and these have been found among the most likely of bedfellows. Despite the protestations of the liberal sections of the ruling class, there ought to have been zero surprise at this move.
Whilst some commentators would have much rather seen her propped up, as Cameron was before her, by the Liberal Democrats, this was clearly a non-starter this time around – not only given the destruction of the LibDem vote following the last coalition, but also because of fundamental disagreements over the European Union.
Nor is it only the liberal sections of the ruling class that are disaffected with the deal; there is plenty of dissent within the Conservative party itself. Former prime minister Sir John Major, for example, who rarely makes public political interventions these days, has felt moved to warn of the fragility of the peace secured in the north of Ireland.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Heidi Allen told parliament: “I can barely put into words my anger at the deal my party has done with the DUP. We didn’t need to do it. I cannot fault the DUP for wanting to achieve the very best for their residents in Ireland, nor for their tough negotiating skills. But I must put on the record my distaste for the use of public funds to garner political control. We should have run with a minority government, and showed the country what mature progressive politics looks like.”
Instead, May turned to her party’s traditional allies in times of need: Ulster’s most loyal of loyal men and women, and her £1bn pay-off to the DUP hardly represents 30 pieces of silver. That the most blindly jingoistic of the British settler population in the north of Ireland is being mobilised to keep a wretched reactionary government in place should surprise no one. This section of the population has been consistently mobilised to enforce British rule and capitalist interests in Ireland, and now it is being mobilised even more directly against the interests of British workers.
The £1bn pay-off has secured DUP support for “the Queen’s Speech; the budget; finance bills; money bills; supply and appropriation legislation and estimates”. The DUP will also support the government on national security and leaving the EU. Everything else will be taken on a case-by-case basis. (Confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative party and the DUP)
The case-by-case nature of the agreement, of course, leaves May vulnerable to further DUP blackmail down the road, and the unionists will surely attempt to extract future monies and concessions when May desperately requires their support on a bill. Indeed, with Ms May so weak, this will likely occur sooner rather than later.
One peculiarity of note regarding the confidence and supply agreement is the absence of Theresa May’s signature on the deal. It has been suggested that if she is forced to resign as prime minister the agreement will still hold. However, should May be forced to resign, such a weak minority government would very likely be forced back to the polls in pretty short order.
However, despite opposition and rancour in Conservative ranks, no viable replacement is yet to emerge to the beleaguered Ms May. Tory MPs are split from top to bottom, both on Europe and on the economy, as well as by the personality and ego-driven clashes that are intrinsic to bourgeois politics. Moreover, given the present state of the opinion polls, they are presently united in their fear of another general election, and this is holding them together in a warm embrace of mutual loathing.
This disarray is only mirrored in the Labour party. Despite the liberal media’s softening of their formerly hostile stance toward Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (in the interests of helping an anti-Brexit coalition to emerge from the next election, which they hope will be called in short order), no one should allow themselves to be fooled into believing that just because Mr Corbyn delivered a better election result than expected, the Parliamentary Labour Party suddenly supports him or his ideas.
And so it is that for now we have a de jure minority government and a de facto Conservative-DUP coalition. In contrast, Theresa May’s snap election has ensured that the six counties in the north of Ireland continue to have no government.
Since the election to the dissolved Northern Ireland Assembly was held on 2 March, three rounds of talks have taken place to try and re-establish the political institutions there, the second round of which was interrupted owing to May’s decision to call an unscheduled general election.
A subsequent, post-election round of talks also ended with no agreement. Sinn Féin clearly speaks for the widespread public disappointment and frustration at this lack of progress:
“The fact is that the first 17 days immediately after the Westminster election were squandered by both the DUP and British Conservative party, who chose to conduct a parallel negotiation to get DUP support for a minority British Tory government ...
“That deal then played directly into the talks at Stormont castle to re-establish the power-sharing institutions.
“During the previous two phases of talks, in March and April, the DUP refused to properly engage on the issues at the heart of the political crisis.
“Their intransigence has now been rewarded and emboldened due to its formal political alliance with the British Conservative government.
“So, in the last two weeks, the DUP has had absolutely no reason to address the failure to implement previous agreements, which go back as far as the Good Friday Agreement and relate to the Irish language, a bill of rights, legacy mechanisms to deal with the past, as well as wider rights issues, such as marriage equality and anti-sectarian measures.
“Their opposition to progress on these issues has been directly aided and abetted by the British government.
“This government has caused massive damage to the political process since it came to power in 2010 ...
“The DUP is saddled by views and dogma, which are the antithesis of a modern rights-based society.
“The Good Friday Agreement set out the basic requirements for equality and parity of esteem. The DUP has been attempting to hollow out power-sharing, partnership and equality ever since.
“The current talks have been focused upon implementation of past agreements which the British and Irish governments and the DUP have failed to embrace.
“However, another serious question also arises, and that is whether the northern state and political unionism can accept parity of esteem for the Irish identity, and equality for all citizens, regardless of creed, class, colour, or culture.
“The assembly election in March ended the overall unionist majority in the political institutions.
“The June Westminster election reduced the overall unionist share of the vote to below 50 percent.
“This has never happened before. There has been a far-reaching realignment of politics in the north.” (Stormont crisis: DUP and British Government have much to reflect upon if progress is to be made by Declan Kearney, An Phoblacht, 6 July 2017)
So it is clear that Theresa May is undermining the Good Friday Agreement for the sake of her own political survival, by rewarding the DUP’s stubborn undermining of the agreement. The supposed neutrality of the British government in the northern Ireland peace process is now more than ever exposed as a fraud.
As noted above, all of this is occurring on the back of the unionist share of the vote having fallen below 50 percent for the first time. Politics and demography have been slowly but inexorably changing in the north of Ireland.
Gradually, and through struggle, civil and legal equality between the two major communities has in great measure been achieved, and, despite the wishes of the loyalist brethren, the clocks will not be turned back 50 years. The DUP will soon be yesterday’s men. But for the time being they are at the centre of British politics, thanks to May.
The desire of some to time-travel back to the days of unchallenged loyalist supremacy has, as a result of this turn of events, been on display with a vengeance. Unfortunately for May, her agreement with the DUP was struck only a month before the Orange marching season. Typically, media attention is focused on small pockets of republican rebellion from youths in the form of stone throwing etc, but this year more attention has been given to the activities of the Orangemen themselves.
For instance, many bourgeois liberal media, including the BBC and Guardian, reported that a Nazi flag was flown alongside a Confederate flag, both of which flew above a mural of the loyalist UDA terror gang in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. That the deeply-held supremacist ideology of many loyalists is not only anti-catholic but anti-everything non-straight-white-protestant was thereby made known to far greater numbers of people in Britain (and internationally) than was hitherto the case.
Again, as widely reported, an 11 July bonfire in Belfast was photographed with a banner reading ‘Scott Sinclair loves bananas’. Scott Sinclair is a winger who plays for Celtic Football Club and who is of mixed race. He was previously racially abused only once in his career: last season in a game against Rangers at Ibrox Stadium – this being followed up by further online abuse.
That a footballer can play his entire career without suffering a single case of racist abuse in England, yet during his first season in Glasgow (where Orange parades drew a 10,000 crowd this year) suffer a tirade of abuse, illustrates the progressive strides made by much of our country but equally how a section of the population in Glasgow and northern Ireland remains bitterly opposed to such progress.
That corporate media at home and abroad are now for the first time focused on the DUP and its hangers-on will prove a continuing source of embarrassment to the government. The liberal elements of the media are already hammering them over the DUP’s homophobic positions. This is, after all, the party that launched the infamous 1977 campaign to ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’, an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the six counties’ belated decriminalisation of homosexuality. The party and its members have not fundamentally altered their stance in subsequent years.
Similarly embarrassing was Ian Paisley Jr’s gaffe, in which he both compared criticism of the DUP to islamophobia, as well as boasting “I’ve got the money, the cheque’s cashed”, in reference to the £1bn bung from May. At a time when humility was needed, a gloating, arrogant tone, long familiar to nationalists in the north of Ireland, rang out.
Paisley’s comparison with a genuinely marginalised group within society highlights a predominant and peculiar contradiction within the loyalist outlook: a supremacist ‘chosen people’ mentality that coexists side-by-side with a paranoid sense of victimhood.
That the world is now watching the DUP and taking notice of what it represents is a true gift to the cause of Irish reunification, however. Never before have the Orange men and women been placed under such a microscope. They find themselves a parochial, inward-looking, backward, formerly insulated and cosseted group, now catapulted onto the world stage, with all the attention that brings.
Not only is demography and progress on the side of Irish reunification, but this new focus should encourage fair-minded and decent people from the unionist community to see the DUP for what it really is.