Our Politics Editor Henry Roberts offers an analysis of the implications of the recent Tory-DUP deal.
If there is something that unites everyone in politics, it is the desire to hold on to power. Whether party-political power or backstage influence, the desire to keep one’s interests relevant and at the forefront of the agenda is persistent. This is the commonality amongst those in or seeking power. Unlike state leaders, our politicians are more concerned with party than self, as David Cameron’s resignation last year demonstrates. He can go, but the Conservative agenda must survive.
That’s something the Tories have been especially good at since 2010. A lot has changed in the country since then. The nation has been divided over Brexit, and was almost quite actually divided with the Scottish Referendum vote, as well as the threat of a second. Yet here we are, seven years later, and the party of Cameron and May is still in power, albeit weaker than they once were.
If holding on to power at any cost would be one feature of the Tories’ time in Downing Street, gambling would be another. The cover of The Economist after the snap election earlier this month read over a sour-faced May: “A Gamble Gone Wrong”. For the last two years in particular, the Conservatives have paradoxically juggled with the very thing they covet most. As a result, they have gone through cycles of gamble, grapple for power; gamble, grapple for power. Brexit vote, Cameron resign; reduced majority, a deal with the DUP.
The idea of wishing to hold on to power is not a surprising one. Unlike many political gambles, holding on to power is often a rational act, certainly an understandable one. For Theresa May who of course feels that a Corbyn premiership would be a very real danger for Britain, the clinging to power is also a moral one.
However, what seems to signify the Tory urge to gamble is their seeming dismissal of the very negative consequences that could befall Britons everywhere, signified by the fact they have lost so many. Such may be a lingering hubris from the 2015 election landslide, and the euphoria around it. The polls had said they were neck and neck with Miliband’s Labour, and they defied the odds. Two years later, their political capital is weak and optimism is low. And the consequences for Britons could be staggering.
Let’s examine the first, and most significant, of these lost gambles. A vital reason behind the 2015 victory was the promise of a referendum on the UK’s membership within the European Union. This was promised despite Cameron himself being a Remainer, and believing that leaving the EU would be detrimental for both Britain’s interests and security. Granted, Cameron knew that such a promise would be necessary to secure the votes he risked losing to UKIP, and allowing a Labour win; a win, he morally and rationally believed, that would be a harmful result for the UK. Nevertheless, he took the gamble and lost. Hubris, resignation. But the Tories marched on.
Despite several of highest profiles in the Tory party now tarnished or dismissed (Will Johnson ever be forgiven for putting his career before his country? Will Osbourne return to the Cabinet?), the Conservatives were still in a powerful position. Not only was a long-respected Tory now in Downing Street, but Corbyn’s opposition was in disarray. They already had a majority. Why not a bigger one? Call a snap election whilst 20 points ahead in the polls, no need to call another for five years. A better hand in the looming Brexit negotiations. Stronger and more stable.
And now we’re here. An election result in which no one really won but Theresa May certainly lost (Gamble) and now a deal with the DUP (Cling to Power). What does this deal mean exactly? Even the short-term consequences are not yet known, but the technicalities of the deal are agreed upon, and the implications of such are overtly apparent to some. Not only are the far-right, anti-science and offensive views of the DUP given more legitimacy in a Westminster deal, but an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland means both a) there is a “magic money tree” somewhere and b) it’s not for places the Tories don’t need. (Sorry Scotland, Wales, the North.)
A cling to power is natural. With tyrannical figures from history in the public imagination, we often forget that wishing to retain power in a party-political sense is a moral decision, made wishing to protect the public from a worse alternative. The Conservative-DUP deal is immoral. It is immoral in print, and it is immoral in what is between the lines. The NHS is failing. Austerity remains. The divide between rich and poor has tragically been made more apparent in recent weeks. The Tories have a gambling problem. This is no solution.