How history repeats itself – ironically, if not farcically. More than 100 years ago, the Irish Parliamentary Party held the balance of power at Westminster, forcing prime minister HH Asquith’s hand on Home Rule for Ireland.
And now, in an almost comedic re-run, an Irish political party – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – holds the balance of power at Westminster, and will force Prime Minister Theresa May’s hand to follow their agenda.
Back in the 1900s, there was a certain amount of patronising attitudes, if not outright sneering, at the Irish MPs for their provincial ways (although the House missed their eloquence and wit once they departed, after 1918).
A hundred years later, there’s a similar level of patronising and sometimes snooty London attitudes to the 10 Ulster MPs, for their “social conservatism” – which is code for “provincial and backward”.
On BBC One on Sunday morning, politicians and commentators – including Sir Michael Fallon – very quickly distanced themselves, or even expressed alarm, at the DUP’s “social conservatism”, especially around the issues of gay rights and abortion. In Scotland, the successful Ruth Davidson had given the lead by tweeting a warning against the DUP’s “socially conservative” attitudes.
Everyone seemed quick to say that they couldn’t possibly agree with what Andrew Neil called “working-class Protestants with old-fashioned values”. The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith suggested, on Radio 4, that the DUP’s biblical profile could “re-toxify” the Conservative party.
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