PODCAST: Can the DUP push the Conservatives to the left?

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is made up of “skilled parliamentarians” not “right wing crazies”, say two of the UK’s leading British and Irish political academics.

Attention has focused on Northern Ireland’s largest party in the wake of an election that positioned them as kingmakers in the UK parliament, following the failure of either of the major parties to secure enough seats to form a government.

Now, in a new podcast from the University of Liverpool, Professor Jon Tonge, an expert in British and Northern Irish politics, and Professor Peter Shirlow, Director of the University’s highly regarded Institute of Irish Studies, seek to explode some of the myths surrounding a party that suddenly finds itself at the centre of the storm in British politics.

In the podcast, which is now available to download, Professor Tonge describes the DUP as “a right-wing party in terms of social issues, but left-of-centre on economic issues” while Professor Peter Shirlow points out that the party “gains a working class vote” in Northern Ireland and “is actually quite Labour-ite”.

Both expect the DUP to be seeking increased public spending in Northern Ireland, including the abandonment of the Tory manifesto pledges to drop the pensions triple lock and means-test winter fuel payments.

And, while much of the media reaction to the DUP has focussed on statements regarding social issues such as gay marriage, climate change and abortion, both Professor Tonge and Professor Shirlow contest that the DUP has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, with the “old bombast of Reverend Ian Paisley” replaced by a professional class of “very skilled strategists”.

Professor Tonge said: “The DUP shopping list will not be ‘orange’ in nature, but will be about getting economic benefits for all of Northern Ireland.”

But Professor Shirlow does expect the DUP to demand a stop to “enquiries into the past” in Northern Ireland and to Sinn Féin wishes for a border poll.

While Professor Tonge says it is likely the party will want to “maintain a veto” on same sex marriage and continue to “oppose abortion”.

He added: “The DUP will move things to the left, in the sense that they will want to get more spending for Northern Ireland.

“But the current perception that it is a bunch of right-wing crazies is not born out in economic terms – it is centre left.”

Download the full podcast (around 15 minutes) on iTunes and BluBrry

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