DUP leader Arlene Foster represents a new type of politician in Northern Ireland, and a new type of Unionism
And so it came to pass that the Strong and Stable One turned out not to have such great judgement after all, and that the more the British electorate saw of her, the less they liked what they saw. If Theresa May has one achievement, it is this: she made the hitherto unelectable Jeremy Corbyn look electable; she gave him credibility; in this she rather resembles that other failure, Hillary Clinton, who made Trump electable. Remember her?
While Mrs Clinton soon retired into the background after her defeat, Mrs May will be forced to stick around for a few weeks, simply because the country must be governed, and the Conservatives are the largest party, and they are in no mood for a leadership election just yet. That will come later, but must wait for now. When it comes, I think it might be done with the minimum of fuss. A single candidate will emerge, and a seamless transition of power will occur, with the new Prime Minister going up to Balmoral to kiss hands, sometime in the late summer.
In the meantime, the good old DUP will, with its ten MPs, provide the Conservatives with the majority that Mrs May so carelessly and needlessly threw away. This arrangement will come at a price, of course, and the DUP are expert negotiators. The price will not be nugatory. How long will this new coalition of convenience last? The truth of the matter is that those who talk of another election in October may well underestimate the caution of the next Prime Minister. Who is to say that Corbyn, now perceived as a winner, would not go on to win that election? The next Conservative leader will want to spin out the new arrangement for as long as possible, or at the very least until the new electoral boundaries are finally introduced.
So, just who are the DUP? They are, of course, the party of the late Dr Ian Paisley, who, in his day, was perhaps the single most recognisable figure from Northern Ireland. In his old age, Paisley became something of a national treasure, but in his prime, at the height of the Troubles, he was anything but. His inflammatory rhetoric, while never explicitly endorsing violence, certainly did nothing to encourage peace and reconciliation. In old age avuncular, and with a rather sharp sense of humour (something rare in a politician), as well as with great rhetorical gifts, Paisley was respected, even liked. But there are many who grew up in the Province who remember him as someone who contributed greatly to the atmosphere of sectarian hatred, which made the lives of many Catholics a misery.
The current leader of the DUP is Arlene Foster, who, as a woman, is not able to join the Orange Order, and who has a track record of making gestures that show she is not sectarian. As chief executive of the Stormont government she indicated she would meet the Pope, should he visit in his capacity as head of state. She attended Martin McGuinness’s funeral, which was a Requiem Mass.
Catholics can welcome the advent of the DUP into government for the very same reasons that certain other people will regard it with horror: the DUP is the only party in the United Kingdom that is against abortion and which is opposed to same sex marriage, and the extension of either to Northern Ireland. DUP MPs have a consistent pro-life record in the British Parliament, and have had for years. This is one matter on which they have agreed with Catholics for a long time.
And so the whirligig of time brings in all its revenges. Once Ian Paisley was a thorn in the side of “that Jezebel” Mrs Thatcher. Now his party will be propping up her successors. Once Jeremy Corbyn associated with the as yet uncommitted to peace members of Sinn Fein. Now Sinn Fein’s opponents in Northern Ireland will be keeping Jeremy Corbyn away from the levers of power in Westminster. Paisley, who as I remarked earlier, had a sense of humour, would have relished that. Perhaps he is laughing in heaven. Mrs Foster and her colleagues will certainly be laughing at the thought of the political leverage they will now enjoy.