Right to Rule?

In the second of a three-part series, we look at the possible programmes of government following #GE2015

What would a Conservative, DUP and UKIP programme of Government look like

Whilst there has been significant attention focused on the possible role of the SNP in supporting a Labour minority Government, less attention has been focused on the possible role of another regional based party, the DUP in supporting a minority Government.

Given the deadlock in the polls, if the Conservative Party is going to manage to squeeze enough parliamentary support to form a Government it is likely that the DUP will play a part in supporting them, possibly alongside the Liberal Democrats.

Relationships with the Conservative Party have been difficult in the past, given the Conservative Party’s historic closeness to the DUP’s former rivals, the once dominant Ulster Unionist Party. The Conservative Party has long been working to build relations and the Prime Minister has been working to strengthen relationships with their leader Peter Robinson Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Nigel Dodds, the leader of their parliamentary group for over a year.

The party has made it clear that they wouldn’t form a formal coalition with another party and would decide to support the party that they believe offers the best deal for Northern Ireland.  With the likelihood that they will win between eight and ten MPs, their votes could make the crucial difference between the Government having a majority or not.

Whilst the polls are suggesting that the UKIP support is still in the low teens, current estimates predict that they could achieve between one and three MPs. In a Parliament where every vote could be very tight their influence could be crucial, especially where they could find common cause with Conservative backbenchers and MPs from other parties.

Spending and the economy

The DUP will drive a hard bargain on issues of most relevance to Northern Ireland, including the continued implementation of the devolution of corporation tax to the Province allowing rates to be cut to align with the very low corporation tax rates in the Republic. The party has also made it clear that they want to see more capital investment for infrastructure and more investment from UK Government departments in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is dependent on public spending and the DUP gain the core of their support from working class Loyalists. Commentators from the left have highlighted the DUP’s socially conservative views, but the party’s economic views are well to the left of the Conservative Party.

While the party has supported the introduction of universal credit and welfare reform which incentivises work, they have struck a sceptical note about more radical welfare reform and public spending cuts. For example, they have pledged to support the removal of the so called ‘bedroom tax’ where they are aligned with both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. In the last Parliament they worked with the Labour Party to resist reform to public sector pensions.

The DUP is aligned with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in wanting to increase the tax free personal allowance to £12,500 and UKIP want to go further, increasing it to at least £13,000

UKIP has called for faster deficit reduction than the Conservative Party. The MPs most likely to be elected, Douglas Carswell, Nigel Farage and Tim Aker, are on the economic right of UKIP, but it is difficult to see a populist party like UKIP being reliable supporters of further spending cuts in areas such as welfare.

A Conservative Party which relied on the DUP and UKIP for support is therefore likely to have to scale back its plans to reduce the welfare budget and reconsider the speed of deficit reduction.

Retail

The DUP wants to see reductions in the VAT for the hospitality industry; a policy already supported by a number of Conservative MPs and likely to be backed by UKIP MPs as well.

If the DUP are successful in building cross-party support to cut VAT on the hospitality sector, UKIP are likely to push their idea of exempting sanitary products from VAT.

Both UKIP and the DUP will be supporters of policies which boost small businesses and support smaller retailers. If a Conservative Government relied on their support it is likely that they would make common cause with Conservative backbenchers to press for more support for traditional high streets.

Europe

Crucially for David Cameron, the DUP party supports his policy of delivering a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, followed by a referendum on membership. This support could be vital if Labour and the Liberal Democrats retain their opposition to the Prime Minister’s referendum plans.

UKIP will, of course, strongly support a referendum, but their MPs will seize on any opportunity to push the debate in the UK towards supporting an exit from the EU and will find plenty of opportunity to find common cause with the Conservative’s ‘better off out’ wing and make life difficult for David Cameron.

Whilst the DUP might agree with the MPs’ line on Europe, they have expressed concern about the direction of the Conservative Party’s response to the rise of the SNP and the possible impact on the Union which would arise from plans for the introduction of a system of ‘English votes for English Laws’.

Health

The DUP is supportive of increased spending on the NHS and have a manifesto commitment to increase the support available to carers.

UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, is the party leader who has been most critical of the NHS and has called for its replacement by an insurance system, but the party has swung to the left on the issue and now claims to be strongly supportive of the NHS.  An area where they are likely to find common cause with Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs is delivering the end to hospital car parking charges.

Defence

Along with Eurosceptic backbench Conservative and DUP MPs, UKIP will seek to push the Conservative Party to take a harder line on the EU. They would be an influential voice pushing for the Government to commit to increasing defence spending to at least 2% of GDP.

Infrastructure

Transport links to the rest of the UK and markets in Europe, and beyond, are important to Northern Ireland and the DUP has made an explicit manifesto commitment to support airport expansion at Heathrow or support any alternative proposed by the Airports Commission.

UKIP remains opposed to HS2 and given the opposition of some backbench Conservatives this could mean that a future Conservative-led Government might have to rely on Labour votes to secure the future of the project.

Media

The BBC would feel pressure as both the DUP and UKIP are strong supporters of ending the BBC licence fee and would find significant support from Conservative MPs, including those on the front bench, to trim back the role of the corporation.

Conclusion

The likely tightness of the results means that the influence of smaller parties on the chances of either of the main parties forming a Government could be considerable. Each of the parties has core issues that they will want to push in any negotiations about supporting a Queen’s Speech. The irony is that for parties often seen to be on the right of politics the influence on the Conservative Party would be to push it leftwards.

Read our first in this series, Continuity Coalition.