Today saw the manifesto from the forgotten party in UK politics, the DUP. The media coverage of the DUP, when compared to other smaller parties, has been negligible over the past few weeks. They have very much been the forgotten party in terms of speculation around the post-May landscape as well. Some would state that this is a mistake given the influence they could wield after May’s vote.
While parties such as UKIP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru participated in the recent leader debates, and received a healthy amount of media coverage for their manifestos and policy announcements, arguably none of these parties is likely to have nearly as much influence as the DUP in the next Parliament.
The DUP held eight seats in the previous Parliament, which was more than those other three parties combined, and polls have them on course to hold this number, and potentially add an extra seat. Those nine seats could prove crucial in the next Parliament.
If the Conservatives are the largest party after the election, but unable to form a majority government on their own or with the Liberal Democrats, then they may try and form a minority government. In that scenario, the Tories will need the support of the DUP to pass major legislation.
In a similar scenario where Labour are trying to form a coalition or minority government, they will be relying on SNP or Liberal Democrat support to pass legislation, not on the two or three votes that the Greens and Plaid Cymru will be able to supply. Similarly, the DUP’s eight or nine votes will not be as important in this scenario, but could still prove influential in a tight vote on areas such as welfare or taxation.
This means that when considering the smaller parties in this election, it is the DUP and their policy asks that should be garnering more attention at this point, especially as the latest polls are suggesting that a hung Parliament and a minority government are the most likely outcomes.
So what did the launch of the DUP manifesto this morning tell us about the DUP plans and those policy asks?
Firstly, Peter Robinson was careful to stress that the DUP would be willing to support either the Conservatives or Labour, if the circumstances were right for the DUP and Northern Ireland. Secondly, he emphasised that the DUP would not participate in any formal coalition government. His party will instead concentrate on gaining policy concessions from whichever government is eventually formed.
In terms of the policy asks, Robinson and Nigel Dodds highlighted several key areas for the DUP this morning. The DUP would want an early referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, are committed to a 2% target on defence spending, and would advocate the abolition of the bedroom tax. On fiscal policy, the DUP support the elimination of the deficit, but have warned that a rush to achieve this “could have an impact on economic growth”.
It is also worth noting that there are policy positions in the manifesto, notably around welfare and health, where there are areas of common ground between the DUP and Labour which should give the Conservatives pause for concern. These could provide stumbling blocks, alongside the DUP’s emphasis on retaining defence spending, in any negotiations. But there are also plenty of areas of common ground, on Europe, immigration and taxation.
These are all policy positions that the DUP have held for a while, so today did not necessarily give us any new information. But it did remind us that we should not be ignoring the DUP voice in these areas, as it could prove to be crucial in the weeks after 7th May.