From 'Confidence and Supply' to 'Supply and Demand'27 June 2017 - by Quintin
Quintin Oliver explores the DUP-Conservative deal
After lots of huffing and puffing about jeopardising the UK Government’s impartiality, and about advantaging the DUP 'on both sides of the table at once', the 'Confidence and Supply' deal is done.
It was never fatal that a Westminster government could have links with Northern Ireland's parties – don’t we complain enough that they don’t all run here, and certainly don’t understand us as well as they might?
We seem to have forgotten that the SDLP was close to sister party Labour, as Alliance was to the Lib Dems, even when the latter were still in coalition. Nearly every negotiation has unequal power relations at its core. Maybe that is why Sinn Féin was quiet about its own possible governmental ambitions in the upcoming Dáil elections – it has made no secret of a desire to be represented on both sides of the Irish border in future North-South institutions.
So, there was a "magic money tree" after all, even if some of the feted £1.5 billion is in pre-existing budget streams. No wonder Sinn Féin’s reaction is muted, asking for ‘refocusing’, not rejection; it is now more like 'supply and demand' from the Treasury.
No wonder the poor Scots and Welsh are outraged at the DUP’s 10 having extracted a seemingly better deal than their larger contingents of MPs ever could, due to our "unique post-conflict circumstances" and because the party's pivotal position was numerically sweet. The SNP's Westminster leader has even called for previously unthinkable support from the Scottish Tories to shout for more.
For us, the more interesting question now is about Stormont. Huffing and puffing brought down the House on the Hill in January, but can this put it back together again? We believe the answer to be yes, thanks to an alignment of interests similar to the way in which the Tories needed the DUP 10. They exploited their lucky arithmetic brilliantly, in return for a 'Brexitly synchronous' (to use Robert Peston’s clever phrase) two-year pact.
The DUP now needs to backfill swiftly. Not only must its MPs retain credibility in London but the party still has at least 500 'mouths to feed’ in and around the Assembly and MLA offices. Likewise, Sinn Fein dares not enter the forthcoming Irish elections without being back in coalition up north, for fear of all other parties labelling it a wrecker and ridiculing it for wanting to run the Irish State under a voluntary coalition while refusing to even enter a compulsory, tried and tested arrangement at Stormont?
As ever, the shape of a deal is clear – but the political will must be there for consummation. It will take more than clever word-crafting. It needs bold agreements to take decisive steps forward on a number of issues that have dogged the past two decades, not least the legacy of the past, but also the equality, language and trust agendas. One wonders how much Martin McGuinness is missed in these tetchy times.
Over to Arlene and Michelle now to demonstrate their leadership skills.
You can access our Cheat Sheets on the key policy and financial commitments contained in the deal here.
An earlier version of this article appeared in today's Daily Mirror.