A version of this article also appeared with the Greanville Post.
Anyone witnessing the recent British election campaign would have noticed pretty quickly that the opposition was hated by much of the media. Whether it’s attacking LP leader Jeremy Corbyn’s dress sense or his alleged support for “terrorism” the press seems to have again distinguished themselves in a long history of shoddy quality and downright partisanship.
Yet it’s the attempt to defame Corbyn as a sympathiser of “terrorism” that’s particularly interesting. The Daily Mail went all out on the eve of voting day, making one last desperate bid to put the electorate off with horror stories of Corbyn’s malfeasance in seeking a dialogue with Irish Republicans in the 1980s/90s. This is all well and good. We’d expect this from a paper such as the DM, given that it hasn’t exactly been shy when it comes to manipulating the truth and openly touting its support for the Conservative government.
What is curious is how that very same government are now negotiating to win the support of the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), itself an entity known for its own aggressive role during Northern Ireland’s troubles. If merely talking to Republicans makes Corbyn an “apologist for terror” than openly seeking the support of a party known for its links to Loyalist violence would presumably make the government doubly guilty.
Indeed, the DUP have a remarkable record. Arising out of the communal strife just two years on from 1969’s Battle of the Bogside, the Unionists became a political voice associated with myriad loyalist factions that were hardly shy about taking their message into the streets, with the boot, fist, and gun often being the preferred method for settling disputes with their opponents.
The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is one such group. Formed the same year as the DUP, it went on to become the largest Loyalist paramilitary group on the political landscape, even undertaking (often through its front organisation, the Ulster Freedom Fighters) a bombing campaign within the Republic of Ireland itself. Ultimately they successfully carried out numerous attacks on both the Catholic community and Republican personnel, killing hundreds of people until the cease fire of 1998. At various points they are alleged to have been assisted by intelligence obtained from sources within the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army.
It doesn’t end here, however. In addition to long being linked to DUP members, the UDA are suspected of being involved in the murder of one Colin Horner just some weeks ago. What’s more, the group openly supported the DUP in the recent election, issuing a formal statement “strongly urging” people to back their candidate for the constituency of South Belfast. DUP leader Arlene Foster is also believed to have met with UDA representatives just two days after the killing of Colin Horner. Whilst there is nothing to link the DUP to the actual murder, the entire episode does allude to the durability of the links between the two loyalist organisations.
The Conservatives are most certainly aware of this. It isn’t making their lives any easier either, with multiple politicians speaking out on the potential harm to the Peace Process that may result from Conservative/DUP alliance. Given not-so-distant past events it seems these concerns are well founded. So what is the government thinking? What’s behind such a move?
Shameless opportunism, for one. After all, if Jeremy Corbyn is sympathetic to violence (as the Conservatives and media never cease to declare, despite the man himself stating the exact opposite) then you’d think the government would have put more effort into practising what it preached. It certainly wouldn’t be stumbling into the bizarre scenario where it denounces a man just for talking to Irish Republicans whilst offering the hand of friendship to those linked to groups with a proven track record of attempting to settle political disputes with force.
The British government is also supposed to act now as an impartial arbitrator in the notoriously faction-ridden politics of Northern Irish affairs. In addition to being a snub to the Republicans, this potential DUP alliance could completely destroy any semblance of neutrality the government may otherwise have enjoyed. This seems like a remarkably heavy price to pay for the support of a group that only possesses ten seats in Westminster and in addition to a most dubious past, entertains a raft of controversial positions, from believing climate change is somehow a myth to opposing same sex marriage.
Yet this is the thing. The Conservatives are desperate. After the elections went south they simply can’t form a legitimate government, having shot themselves in the foot by assuming that an early election would see off the Labour Party and give them a renewed grip on power. For this government, political and moral principles are expendable. Clinging to power is what matters. Those ten DUP seats in Parliament are just what the Prime Minister needs to shore up her position and establish a semblance of a majority at the expense of a resurgent Labour. The past doesn’t matter. Neither may the peace process. Her career, however, appears to be the top priority.
Daniel Read is a UK-based journalist specialising in human rights and international relations. He originally studied journalism at Kingston University, London, prior to obtaining post-graduate degrees in both global politics and human rights. He blogs at uncommonsense.me and tweets at DanielTRead.