Peter Robinson's party may no longer be the natural bedfellows of the Tories
That the next parliament is likely to be hung is now widely accepted. But the question of who is likely to play kingmaker however remains fuzzy to say the least.
On the day that John Major intervenes in the election campaign with a warning about the SNP blackmailing a future Labour-led government, it should not be forgotten that in his final period as prime minister, it was his government which was propped up thanks to the votes of Ulster Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland.
Today, history could be repeating itself.
Speaking earlier this year, the DUP’s leader at Westminster Nigel Dodds made clear during an interview with the New Statesman that his party could do business with either Ed Miliband or David Cameron.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have sought to gain support from the DUP, with Ed Miliband visiting Northern Ireland in January and David Cameron putting on a reception for DUP MP’s at Downing Street last year.
For years voters in Northern Ireland have been denied an opportunity to shape the UK government. Next month gives them an important opportunity to do so. Indeed, so high is the chance of the DUP holding sway in the next government that Nick Clegg last week warned of the dangers of a ‘BluKip’ coalition – formed of the Conservatives, DUP and UKIP.
Perceived wisdom has it that the DUP and Conservatives should be natural bedfellows, but the publication of the party’s manifesto in Antrim today points to a programme which will appeal to Labour in many parts.
Calls for an increase in the minimum wage to link it with inflation again, improving access to childcare, protecting frontline public services and removing the bedroom tax altogether should be bread and butter issues for any Labour prime minister.
Trickier though, will be calls for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union and a ‘tougher immigration policy’ that would cause squeals from many in Labour circles.
The DUP have played a canny game. Unlike the SNP, their manifesto contains a number of ideas and propositions that both Labour and the Conservatives could support. This, coupled with their commitment to the Union, could ultimately make them an attractive proportion to any prime minister needing just a few votes in the Commons to edge over the majority line.
Indeed, today’s launch should be cause for cheer for those around Miliband. Just read the words of Nigel Dodds at todays launch commenting on the need to address the deficit:
“In our manifesto we make it clear we want to see the budget deficit eliminated.
“However, we also recognise that a rush to reduce and eliminate the deficit could have an impact on growth.”
“After five years of sustained and deep cuts, the DUP believes that any further significant reductions to frontline services in areas that affect Barnett consequentials would be harmful.”
Whilst the DUP have ruled out any formal role in a coalition government, it’s clear that they are now positioning themselves for the kind of influence that its leader, Peter Robinson, dubbed ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Northern Ireland.’
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike 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.