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

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