Cast your mind back to June of this year. The Tories had won the largest return of seats at Westminster but were forced to form a minority government. Spying an opportunity, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland offered to enter into a confidence and supply deal with the government. In return, Theresa May suddenly found the ‘magic money tree’ she insisted did not exist when capping public sector pay right next to the ‘desperately clinging onto power’ shrub. In so doing, she offered Northern Ireland an extra £1bn which was absolutely, definitely not a backhander to elicit DUP support.
Back in June, having jumped into bed with the hated Tories, the DUP were castigated as ‘terrorist sympathisers’, ‘bigots’ and ‘extremists’. They were dismissed as Tory puppets, selling out for the sake of a bung. You can read about some of the other pejorative terms thrown their way, and how accurate they are, here and here.
Given the current level of binary, dualistic debate – the light of Labour v the darkness of Conservatism; the virtuousness of Remainers v the evil of Brexiteers; etc – how will people respond to the latest move by the DUP? Those evil, right-wing extremists from Northern Ireland have dared to vote against the government, backing Labour in lifting the NHS pay cap. Those dreadful bigots are similarly planning to join Labour in the lobbies by stopping the government adding a £250 yearly rise to the university tuition fee cap.
Will the DUP now be cast, along with Labour, as those with an eye on working conditions and seeking not to limit access to higher education for the poor? Do the DUP now belong to the side of goodness and light for blocking government plans or remain on the side of evil and terror by permitting the Conservatives to form a government through their confidence and supply deal?
The difficulty only exists because of our currently terrible political discourse. It is the same logical problem levelled at the late Tony Benn when told his vehement opposition to the EU project put him on the same side as Mrs Thatcher (the ridiculous subtext from the interviewer being that effectively made the arch-Socialist a Thatcherite). Benn simply pointed out that Mrs Thatcher also liked elections. One also wondered why Benn was tarnished for sharing one particular view with Thatcher rather than Mrs T being purified by her association with a pure Bennite doctrine? It is the same stupidity that labels the indomitable Beast of Bolsover a scab for daring to vote on a bill that expresses the direct wishes of the British people. It is the same nonsense that refuses to acknowledge one might agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg on abortion while disagreeing with him on the death penalty, the poor or Catholic doctrine.
The fact is, the world is far more complex than neatly dividing into clear cut camps of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. I may typically disagree with the Conservative approach to politics, it doesn’t mean I think every single word each Conservative utters is only evil all of the time. Nor does it mean I think their motives are only ever sinister either.
If it were ever in doubt, let me shock you; I cannot see into the heart of Conservative Party MPs to know why they believe and do what they do. I am quite sure some have less than pure motives; I am also sure many of them genuinely believe their approach will ultimately help. Many are simply convinced that the policies of the Left often hurt the poor more than they help. We may disagree over means but I simply do not know their individual motives. Dare I say, being in the Conservative Party does not ipso facto render one the human personification of pure evil.
Likewise, there is a lot I don’t like about DUP politics. They would not ever be my natural party of choice. But I can happily recognise that not everything they say is only awful too. In fact (shock horror), sometimes what they say is good. Not good with a caveat; just good. Like, for example, voting to remove the pernicious, damaging and deeply unfair NHS pay cap.
The truth is, we wouldn’t struggle with such things if we didn’t insist on perpetuating the binary good/evil dualism that the media are so quick to feed us. They have a vested interest in such a lazy narrative because it makes telling the story easier. It does us no good at all because we slip into their lazy shorthand rather than assessing individual policies and views on their relative merits. If nothing else, it ruins all discourse on the grounds that every time we agree with [not our party of choice] we have to become those crushing bores who start every sentence with, ‘I don’t usually like X but…’ or ‘I don’t vote Y but…’
Perhaps we can do away with the dualism and accept life is a bit more complicated than all that?