In the past few days, I’ve read at least two contradictory responses to Sammy Wilson’s ominous words that should there be even a hint that we in the north are to be treated in any way differently from the rest of the UK, the Tory government will find they can’t take the support of the DUP for granted. In contrast, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly as well as a number of social media commentators say that Sammy’s words can be summarized in one word: bluff. So who should we believe? Will the DUP pull the plug on their support for the Tories and precipitate a general election in the UK, should they see special arrangements being made for the north; or are they full of hot air, threatening something they’ve no intention of following through on?
It’s tempting to explore this perverse insistence by the DUP that they don’t want anything special to help the north survive the economic ghastliness of Brexit. It’s like a patient warning a doctor: “If you try giving me that medicine to help deal with my illness, I’ll kill the two of us.” But let’s stick with the will they/won’t they conundrum.
We know that DUPers feel very strongly about their constitutional position. In fact, people like Gregory Campbell are on record as saying that even if Irish unity meant a higher standard of living, they still wouldn’t opt for it. So it is conceivable that like, say, North Korea, the DUPers would pull the plug if they thought their Britishness was in any way being interfered with.
But before we accept that reverence for the union with Britain trumps all over concerns, answer me this: how do you suppose the DUP felt when it emerged that their MPs would hold the balance of power? Right – as though all their birthdays and all their Eleventh Nights and all their Twelfths had come as one. I mean, what are the odds of that happening? More important, if the plug was pulled and another election called, what are the chances of the DUP winding up in the same kind of favourable position?
The answer to that tells you whether the DUPers are bluffing or not. As seasoned negotiators, they’re supposed to have done a wonderful deal that’d bring an extra £1 billion here. So far we’ve got…£50 million, was it? Not only can the DUP be bought, but they can be bought at bargain-basement prices.
But even if they’re not succeeding in squeezing too much out of May and Co, the DUPers still want to keep the present situation. For one thing, it makes them the centre of attention. Never mind that many British people are appalled when they find out who the DUP are; the fact is, the rest of the UK is looking at and learning about the DUP, and Sammy and Co find that very flattering and very nice.
If they pull the plug, it won’t just be the Tories who’ll go down the sink-hole: so too will the DUP, as in all probability a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party would take power in Britain, and if there’s one man in British politics that DUPers are nervous about, it’s Jeremy Corbyn.
So you may be sure the DUPers will just make little threatening twitches towards the red button; they know better than anyone that they’ve never had it so good, and hell will freeze over before they’ll have it so good again.
The thing is, are the Tories smart enough to see through the bluff? If they can tell the DUP they’ll give them a billion and then get away with 50 million, I’d say they’re smart enough to see through the likes of rosy-cheeked Sammy.