Analysis: New British coalition could comprise strange bedfellows

Far from triumphant Conservative Party leader Theresa May may do deal with Northern Irish party with past paramilitary links

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 11:00pm

You simply could not make it up. After calling an election she was convinced she would win by a landslide, British Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself in the political last chance saloon – scratching around for a skin- saving deal with a political party steeped in the sectarian quagmire that is Northern Ireland.

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After suffering one of the most humiliating reversals of fortune in recent British political history at the hands of opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – whom she smeared as an apologist for terror at every turn during the campaign – May is now seeking to cling on to power by brokering a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland – a party backed in the election by the former loyalist ­terror group, the Ulster Defence Association.

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Not only that, but the self-styled “strong and stable” leader of the Conservative Party only managed to avoid a complete political wipeout thanks to an ­astonishing set of electoral results in her party’s favour in Scotland – a constituent nation of the United Kingdom which used to revel in the jibe that there were more pandas in the land of whisky and heather – just one – than there were Conservative lawmakers.

As if that wasn’t enough, May, with her hardline, anti-gay, largely religious fundamentalist new friends in tow, hopes to enter into negotiations to take the UK out of the European Union.

An election Theresa May thought would give her the cast-iron mandate with which to force through a so-called “hard Brexit’’, sending Britannia once more on its way to ruling the waves, has ­effectively been left to the mercy of her counterparts in continental Europe.

And that is only if she survives long enough to actually make it to the negotiating table – a big if.

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The DUP is the largest pro-British political party in Northern Ireland.Not only does it have a chequered past of links to para-military and terrorist organisations, it also favours a so-called “soft Brexit”, the opposite to May’s stated position throughout the election campaign.

On top of this, May also faces Corbyn’s resurgent Labour Party which could well cause her all sorts of problems by coming together with the wounded but still electorally strong Scottish National Party (SNP), the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party in an opposition coalition which could bring a whole new meaning to the notion of a “hung parliament” for her Conservative Party.

May has signalled her intention to carry on in Downing Street, saying – without a hint of irony – the country needs “stability” with the start of Brexit negotiations 10 days away.

It is thought she will seek some kind of informal arrangement with the DUP that could see it “lend” its support to the Tories on a vote-by-vote basis, known as “confidence and supply”.

Combined, the Tories and the DUP – which won 10 seats – would have 329 MPs in the Commons.

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Labour has said it is also ready to form a minority government of its own. But even if it joined together in a so-called progressive alliance with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, it would only reach 313 seats - short of the 326 figure needed to secure a majority.

The reason for the Labour surge is the Corbyn effect and the revival of the Scottish Conservatives.

There will be many who blame SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon for this despite her insistence that the party had still “won” the election in Scotland, a numerically correct but politically hollow claim.

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The SNP group in Westminster has been decapitated, with the loss of its leader in the London parliament, Angus Robertson, and its elder statesman, Alex Salmond.

It is beginning to look as if Sturgeon made a catastrophic miscalculation in calling for a second independence referendum when she did. Scots clearly do not feel so strongly about Brexit that they were prepared to contemplate an early referendum to avoid leaving the EU.

It was the radical Labour manifesto that sealed the deal for many left-wing SNP supporters, especially the young and social media savvy ones. They saw little point in voting for a party that could not form a government in Westminster when there was a chance of putting a real socialist in Number Ten – Jeremy Corbyn, who defied a relentlessly hostile media to outfox and embarrass May.