IS a DUP-Labour deal possible? History says maybe

Northern Ireland MPs have propped up governments before, and now a former first minister has hinted at a Labour deal


The game of fantasy government continues this morning following heavy suggestions by a former first minister of Northern Ireland that the DUP might be prepared to cut a deal with Labour.

Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland’s ‘The View’ which went out last night, the former UUP first minister and now Conservative Peer, Lord Trimble, has argued that the DUP may opt to go with a party that commits to provide the funding for as many government projects as possible.

Whilst admitting that the DUP and Conservatives share many of the same basic beliefs, Lord Trimble argued that the basic calls for greater spending on Northern Ireland could see the DUP attracted to ‘a party of public spending’. That could, he argued, mean the DUP ‘moving towards Labour’.

Trimble’s assertions will intensify the interest now being shown in who the Northern Ireland parties will choose to side with in the event of a hung parliament. Earlier this week the Sun splashed with a headline that Labour was wooing Sinn Fein to take its seats and encouraging it to provide Ed Miliband with voting support in the Commons.

Whilst Sinn Fein has repeatedly denied that it intends to reverse its policy of not taking its seats, it nevertheless demonstrates the febrile atmosphere in Westminster.

DUP leader Peter Robinson meanwhile, argued last week  that there was no question that his party could do a deal with Labour during Ed Miliband’s visit to Northern Ireland.

It comes on top of the reception hosted by David Cameron last May in Downing Street for DUP MPs. Publicly, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis has made clear that there are no secret deals in place between Labour and any party in Northern Ireland, whilst the DUP’s leader in Westminster Nigel Dodds has clearly indicated his MPs would not be joining any formal coalition.

That said however, for either Labour or the Conservatives to rely on the votes of party’s from Northern Ireland would not be new. In the 1970s, Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan supported and drove forward measures to increase the number of MPs returned from Northern Ireland in return for support from the Ulster Unionists.

John Major’s government was also propped up thanks to the support of unionist MPs from Northern Ireland.

Whatever the results, the growing sense that Northern Ireland’s parties could play a pivotal role in deciding who gets the keys to Downing Street makes the decision to exclude the DUP from any potential election debates look increasingly absurd.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

11 Responses to “IS a DUP-Labour deal possible? History says maybe”

  1. Gary Scott

    DUP have indeed said this. I can only think it is part of a strategy to exact a better deal from the Conservatives. Neither they nor their members and voters would tolerate a deal with a party that had courted Sinn Feinn and certainly would not sit beside SNP. Just because he said it, doesn’t make it true..

  2. Patrick O'neill

    the shin fein argument is complete nonscence they would gain nothing supporting an British party. as for the DUP labour would risk millions of votes by supporting a wildly sectarian party I cant see it personally

  3. swat

    Well, if the DUP can work with oddballs like Sein Fein then they should have no trouble working with Labour. And they may be Unionists, but they have litlte love for the Tories. Ed could well be scrapping the bottom of the barrel for anyone just anyone to get him across the threshold of No 10. But the Broadcasters are right to exclude both DUP and SF from the Debates they are not not National Parties but Provincial Parties. At least the Greens can claim to have lost deposits NSEW of the UK.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    “And they may be Unionists, but they have litlte love for the Tories. ”

    I’d say “because”, as the Tories long-term interests are clearly in breaking up the Union.

  5. David Lindsay

    “Millions”? Hardly! There are now only about as many Irish as Indian voters in the United Kingdom, 345,000 to 306,000. And for whom else, exactly, would most of those 345,000 ever conceivably vote?

    But of course Labour was not planning a Coalition with abstentionist Sinn Féin. Although it must be said that the DUP has been managing that for many a long year now.

    In the face of which, whatever the arithmetic of the next Parliament, the appointment of an SDLP MP as Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office might very well be the decision of the man who will be Prime Minister under any circumstance other than the wild improbability of a Conservative overall majority.

    There is currently only one Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office. But such matters are very much at the discretion of the Prime Minister. How to balance the SDLP within the Government, while also balancing the DUP and Sinn Féin? Step forward, Sylvia, Lady Hermon.

  6. Patrick O'neill

    i would imagine the average UK voter would have a major issue with a sectarian party anywhere near power and i would say there are indeed millions within the UK that see themselves as part Irish

  7. David Lindsay

    Most people in Britain see anything to do with the Irish as incomprehensibly sectarian, and no one party of them as any more so than any other.

    There long ago ceased to be any Irish vote as such in Britain, it only ever had one place to go in electoral terms, the DUP is economically quite left-wing, and it has no time whatever for the Tories.

    I am a practising Catholic, by the way.

  8. Patrick O'neill

    you really have no issue with labour pandering to an openly sectarian party?

  9. David Lindsay

    Labour in much of Scotland, the North West and the West Midlands is itself a sectarian party. Specifically, an Irish Catholic one.

    Being a practising Catholic is the single highest indicator of being a Labour voter in Scotland, higher than being a trade union member, or working in the public sector, or identifying as working-class, or anything.

    Glasgow City Council even uses the colour green to make the point.

  10. ForeignRedTory

    As in Shin Fein? After that, why even complain about the DUP?

  11. Patrick O'neill

    the sinn fein issue is a non issue they would never take their Westminster seats + what would they gain. the DUP grew out of sectarian mobs that happily burnt Catholics in their homes in a pogrom that preceded the arrival of British troops in ulster

Leave a Reply