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PodcastProfessor Peter Shirlow is the Director of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies. Jonathan Tonge is a Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool, and author of the acclaimed book ‘The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest to Power’.

After the UK’s general election of June 2017, the pair appeared on the University of Liverpool Podcast to discuss the potential influence of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in an alliance with a minority Conservative government. They highlighted five key ways the DUP could shape government policy.


5 factors that could see the DUP pull the Conservatives to the left

  1. The DUP doesn’t fit easily on the right-left spectrum of mainstream politics
    Many commentators have positioned the DUP as a right-wing party, but John believes their position is more nuanced than most appreciate. While it holds socially conservative views on same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and is determined to ensure Northern Ireland remains in the UK, “the DUP would claim to be left of centre on economic issues”.

    Peter adds: “It’s important to understand the DUP is very much a party that gains the working-class vote.” In opposing three high-profile Conservative policies – the bedroom tax, means-testing winter fuel payments, and the removal of any of the ‘triple lock’ safeguards on pensions – Peter argues the DUP has several positions not dissimilar to those offered by Labour.
  2. The DUP is more politically capable than many realise
    Over the last 15 years, the DUP has made such political capital that it appears to have permanently damaged the Ulster Unionist Party. Three of its 10 MPs are barristers, while others have held senior roles in parliament’s committee structure. “They’re very skilled strategists,” says Peter. “They completely obliterated their rivals within the Unionists’ political block.”

    Recent media attention, believes Peter, has focused too much on the DUP of 10 or 15 years ago. Nigel Dodds, the current leader of the DUP at Westminster, holds a first-class honours degree in law from Cambridge. “Whether or not you like their policies or the way they present them, these are not people who are lacking in capacity,” says Peter.
  3. Pressure from political rivals could force the DUP to drive a hard bargain
    “Sinn Fein accuse them (the DUP) of being more pro-austerity than Sinn Fein,” says Peter. “Obviously, the DUP do not want to be labelled as supporting austerity.”

    Peter believes ensuring the continuation of the triple lock on pensions will be a red line for the DUP offering support to the Conservatives – as will be guaranteeing that winter fuel payments are not means-tested.
  4. Any moves to the right are “not on the agenda”
    “The right-wing stuff you associate with the DUP isn’t relevant in the negotiations,” says John. Areas like same-sex marriage and abortion are simply not on the political agenda. Instead, an economic focus will ensure “the DUP will move things to the left in the sense that they will get more spending for Northern Ireland, and affect national policies like the triple lock and winter fuel payments.”

    John adds: “The common perception of the DUP is this bunch of right-wing crazies, but it’s simply not borne out in economic terms. It’s centre-left.”
  5. A hard Brexit would significantly impact Ireland
    The DUP is determined to maintain a soft border with the Republic of Ireland. The alternative would mean militarisation, customs checks and huge costs – a threat that Sinn Fein has been able to exploit over the last 12 months, particularly after Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union but the UK overall voted to leave.

    “We know that members of the Conservative Party are meeting with members of the Labour Party to privately discuss a soft Brexit,” says Peter. “Political institutions in Britain understand that a hard Brexit is a bad idea, and many members of that political order didn’t want there to be a Brexit (at all).”

About this podcast

The University of Liverpool Podcast aims to bring listeners closer to some of the academic experts, authors and innovative thinkers from the University who, through their in-depth analyses, research and discoveries, are affecting positive change in the world today. Each episode features one or more of our academic experts discussing research in their specialist field. Subscribe to the University of Liverpool Podcast via iTunes, Tunein and Google Play Music (US and Canada only).


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