A ‘Coalition of Crackpots’ being formed in the UK

Theresa May is desperately trying to cling on to being prime minister despite having lost her parliamentary majority by running a campaign that has been widely criticized, even within her own party, for being poorly run and having a lousy message. Since her party now has only 318 seats but requires 326 to have a majority in the 650-seat parliament, she has turned for support to the Democratic Union Party that has 10 seats in her efforts to cobble together a slim majority. The Liberal Democrats who once formed a coalition with David Cameron and were severely punished by the voters in 2015 clearly were not going to make that mistake again. In fact, their leader Nick Clegg who was deputy prime minister in that coalition lost his own seat yesterday.

I had not heard about the DUP before and looked it up and it is a party with a truly ghastly agenda. They were founded by the late Rev. Ian Paisley, a notorious religious fundamentalist, and are opposed to same-sex marriage, abortion rights, with creationist sympathies, and have climate deniers in their top ranks. In other words, they are US Republicans. But wait, there’s more!

As Robert Mackey says:

As several commentators observed on Friday, the British public generally pays no attention to politics in Northern Ireland, and so might be in for a shock to discover just how extreme members of the D.U.P. are.

The party, founded by the virulently anti-Catholic, evangelical preacher Ian Paisley — who once denounced Pope John Paul II to his face as “the antichrist” — still includes fundamentalist Christians who believe in creationism but not climate science, and have fought to keep U.K. laws permitting both abortion and same-sex marriage from being implemented in the province.

The D.U.P. also has a history of close ties to Ulster’s loyalist paramilitary gangs, who were responsible for terrorist atrocities against Irish Catholic civilians.

Mackey adds, “Given that the vicious tabloid campaign to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an “apologist for terror,” focused on his supposed failure to condemn the I.R.A. in strong enough terms, it will be interesting to see how those same newspapers now present May’s deal with the political allies of Ulster militants as perfectly acceptable.” But hypocrisy is nothing for people like May.

So this is the group that holds sway over Theresa May. I am not sure to what extent issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are settled issues in the UK but you can be sure that since the DUP have the Conservatives over a barrel, any concessions May makes to get them to support her are going to be horrible. What will they demand in exchange for their support? They are pro-Brexit but want an open-border with Ireland and this will undoubtedly be a key demand. May said that she called for the election to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations but she is much weaker now. As the tabloid Daily Mirror said in a banner headline, the Conservative-DUP alliance is a ‘Coalition of Crackpots’.

Meanwhile, the final results are that the Conservative-Labour vote margin was a narrow 42-40%, showing how much Jeremy Corbyn was able to energize the electorate, especially the young. Even though they failed to become the single largest party, they are exuberant and celebratory, seeing this a major step forward. Zaid Jilani quoted many people within the ranks of the party and its own supporters and US observers, who predicted before the election that Corbyn was too radical and predicted that he would lead the party to oblivion. They were proven wrong.

One-time Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said in an interview with the former president that the “Labor Party just sort of disintegrated in the face of their [2015] defeat and move so far left that it’s, you know, in a very — in a very frail state,” calling the process “Corbynization.” Obama seemed to agree with assessment, saying that “the Democratic Party has stayed pretty grounded in fact and reality.” Contrasting Bernie Sanders to Corbyn, Obama assured Axelrod that the same process wouldn’t happen in the United States because “Bernie Sanders is a pretty centrist politician relative to Corbyn or relative to some of the Republicans.”

When Obama describes the Democrats and being “being grounded in fact and reality”, he means that they are a neoliberal, oligarch-friendly party with some progressive social policies, essentially Republicans with a softer edge.


  1. blf says

    One consequence of relying on the DUP’s support is it blows up the critical, if polite, myth the UK’s Northern Ireland Office is “neutral”; that is, an “honest broker” (mostly-)between Sinn Féin and — you guessed it — the DUP. The N.Ireland “government” isn’t too functional at the best of times, and currently is completely broken needing gluing back together (again).

    The DUP also supports Brexit, despite N.Ireland voting c.56% to stay in the EU. The border between Ireland and N.Ireland is the only land border between the UK and (the rest of) the EU. It is also famously, now, completely open, with no checks, no checkpoints, &tc. As I recall, Sinn Féin wants to keep the border as open as possible, so I assume (this being N.Ireland) the DUP wants it as closed as possible, something Ireland is very concerned might happen.

    Depending on the DUP causes some massively huge spanners to waved about (if not yet thrown).

  2. fentex says

    their leader Nick Clegg who was deputy prime minister in that coalition lost his own seat yesterday.

    And a damned good thing to. Nick Clegg utterly betrayed the voters who trusted the Liberal Democrats and made their third party voting worthless. The Liberal Democrats deserved to be destroyed and I’m glad the UK electorate saw to it.

  3. blf says

    Dunc@3, Yes, it seems my guess is wrong, and the DUP want a open border. The Observer is reporting, DUP will extract a high price to prop up a Conservative minority:

    Among the price for supporting a minority Conservative government will be commitments from May that there will be no poll on Irish unity and that no hard border is imposed on the island of Ireland. [The DUP] did back a Brexit vote last year but have publicly stated that they are opposed to customs posts, border installations and roadblocks. […]

    There are apparent technical differences with Sinn Féin (Reality Check: Where do parties stand on Irish border? (BBC)), but that does sound like a physically open border.

  4. mck9 says

    Something like the Conservative-DUP coalition might have been predicted on the basis of coalition theory, without any consideration of policies or personalities.

    When no one party has an outright majority, the resulting coalition will typically be the smallest one that can command a majority, because anything larger would dilute the influence of each of the participants. So the largest party (here the Conservatives) tries to partner with one or more small parties (like the DUP). Another possibility is for some combination of smallish parties to join forces and overwhelm the largest one.

    Either way, the result is a disproportionate degree of influence for the small party or parties in the winning coalition, because they get to decide the winner. Such parties, pretty much by definition, are too eccentric or too extreme to attract broad support. There is even a fancy Latin term for this perverse situation: “tertius gaudens,” literally “rejoicing third.”

  5. KG says

    Either way, the result is a disproportionate degree of influence for the small party or parties in the winning coalition -- mck9@5

    By no means necessarily. For example, the largest party may have a choice of coalition partners. In the current case, a Tory-LibDem coalition would also have had a majority, but the LibDems were unwilling, both because of their opposition to Brexit, and because of the disastrous result (for them, as well as the whole country) of the 2010-15 coalition

    In a FPTP system, the largest party very often has a disproportionate degree of influence, because it gets an absolute majority of seats without an absolute majority of votes. That has, in fact, happened every time one party got an absolute majority of seats in the UK House of Commons, at least since 1945. In the only case where one party got an absolute majority of votes (Labour in 1951), that party actually lost the election!

  6. Mano Singham says

    Can anyone explain to me the reasoning behind the Sinn Fein contesting seats but then refusing to sit in parliament? They won seven seats this time. Since they never show up, does this mean that parliament has effectively just 643 seats and thus requires 322 seats to have a majority? Also don’t the voters in those seven constituencies lose out by their members not being in parliament?

  7. KG says


    Sinn Fein don’t take their seats because they don’t believe northern Ireland should be part of the UK (so they “will not interfere in British politics”), and more specifically, they won’t swear allegiance to the Queen, which an MP has to do in order to take their seat. If they wanted to, they could swear the oath while ostentatiously crossing their fingers, or adding a statement that they are only doing so under protest, but they won’t. Yes, the voters in their constituencies do lose out, at least potentially, although I imagine the elected Sinn Fein members do write to ministers on their constituents’ behalf about specific problems.

    In fact, because the Speaker and his three deputies do not vote in divisions, the effective number of available votes in the new House of Commons is 639 (650 -- 7 -- 4), so 320 is a majority. The Tories have, effectively, 316: the Speaker has been counted as a Tory in all the reports I’ve seen, although in fact the Speaker resigns party membership on election as such, and by convention is re-elected to the Commons unopposed by members of major parties as long as they remain Speaker, and one Deputy Speaker is a Tory (the deputies do not resign their party membership and are not re-elected unopposed). So the 10 DUP members would give them an effective majority of 13 (326 to 313), and in fact there is one independent Unionist from northern Ireland, who would generally vote with them, making it 15. It’s not clear why May feels she needs a formal “confidence and supply” arrangement with the DUP (this is short of a coalition -- it means the junior partner will vote with the government on confidence motions and the budget, but not necessarily on other votes, and they don’t get any government posts), since the DUP would almost certainly vote with the Tories in these cases anyway -- they loathe Corbyn for his decades-old links with Irish Republicans, would not win any more seats in a new election, and would probably lose the powerful position the lack of an overall majority for any party gives them. Negotiations for a confidence and supply deal are supposedly continuing, although we were informed a week ago that they had practically agreed one.

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