Opinion

Dead man walking at 10 Downing Street: Michael Coren

Theresa May, without an overall majority, is now forced to form a working relationship — effectively an alliance — with the Democratic Unionist Party or DUP. But there are more than enough angry Tories in Westminster to make this extraordinarily difficult. This government and May's career can't have much of a future.

In British politics, the Tories are notorious as being far harsher with their leaders than are other parties

Theresa May called the election to solidify her own status, rather than her party's. Now some senior and highly regarded MPs have lost their jobs, and many of them are fuming. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

When British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election back in April, she was supposed to have it in the bag. She had a lead of 20 points, and the consensus view was that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was horribly unpopular and his party doomed. He campaigned well, however, and May was truly awful.

The electorate also turned their backs on the panic politics that drenched the election; Corbyn may have made compromising comments about terrorist groups and could well be a neo-Marxist, people agreed, but he believed in the National Health Service, free education and affordable housing. And unlike Theresa May, he seemed normal, ordinary and approachable. Corbyn didn't win of course, but goodness he came close.

An alliance with the DUP

That result has obliged a thrashed Tory party, now without an overall majority, to form a working relationship — effectively an alliance — with the Democratic Unionist Party or DUP. It's the largest party in Northern Ireland with 10 MPs, and if all of them vote consistently with the Conservatives, it will be enough to govern.

But there are more than enough angry Tories in Westminster to make this extraordinarily difficult, and this government and May's career can't have much of a future. In the interim, however, this flawed, failed, but still highly intelligent and ambitious woman will have to be warm and cuddly towards a group of people who are intensely disliked almost everywhere outside of the loyalist community in Northern Ireland.

May, left, and Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, have effectively formed an alliance. (Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images, Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

And for Northern Irish politics read religion and tribe, and the voting pattern was mostly the same this time round as in most previous elections. The vast majority of Roman Catholics vote for the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) or Sinn Fein, with a few supporting the Alliance Party – a centrist, non-sectarian group with limited influence. The SDLP is republican but opposed to violence, and it was for many years the most significant of the Catholic-supported parties.

Sinn Fein, closely associated with the IRA, is now dominant in the Catholic community and won seven seats this election, with the SDLP failing to win one. A tiny number of Catholics vote for the Ulster Unionist Party, but the UUP is overwhelmingly Protestant. It has moderated its image and stance over the years but is still strongly loyalist. It too was obliterated in this election and the bulk of the Protestant vote went to Ms. May's new buddies, the DUP. Quite simply, there is no serious party in North America as conservative and hardline as this ultra-Protestant bunch.

It was the plaything of its late founder and leader Ian Paisley. I interviewed the man on a number of occasions and he was happy to explain that the Pope was the anti-Christ, that homosexuality guaranteed hellfire, that abortion was murder and that sex outside of marriage and the usual Biblical sins were anathema and obscene. The party hasn't changed very much: it recently appointed a climate change denier as environment minister in Northern Ireland, and it has several literal creationists within its caucus.

This is all profoundly troubling for a British Conservative Party eager to prove its green, socially liberal and newly enlightened credentials. Indeed, the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is openly gay and partnered, demonstrated her anger on Friday by tweeting a link to the same-sex marriage lecture she gave at Amnesty's Pride lecture in Belfast last year.

This is doubly worrying for Theresa May, as Davidson was the saviour of the party this election, shattering the anti-Tory sentiment that had long existed in Scotland and taking the number of seats from one to 13. She's immensely popular and likeable and being mentioned as a future national party leader. The DUP would not work with her and nor she with the DUP.

Redemption for Corbyn           

Even within the Tory ranks there is discontent. May called the election to solidify her own rather than her party's status, and some senior and highly regarded MPs have now lost their jobs. They and their friends who are still in Westminster, fuming at their leader's incompetence, are already planning how to replace her; in British politics, the Conservatives are notorious as being far harsher with their leaders than are the other parties. Potential replacement Boris Johnson is clearly at work behind the scenes, and there's also the likelihood that some of those opposed to Brexit will use all of this confusion to push for a second referendum on the European Union.

As for Jeremy Corbyn — he is now regarded as a socialist saint. Just a few months ago, the majority of Labour MPs condemned him as an extremist who would lead them to disaster, but those same vociferous critics are now trying to find ways to explain, "what they really meant." That's politics of course.

It's a ghost regime, a dead man walking. The phrase that Theresa May used so often during the election, and was duly mocked for so doing, was "strong and stable." How ironic that her new government possesses neither quality in abundance.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Michael Coren

Columnist and broadcaster Michael Coren is the best-selling author of 16 books, translated into more than a dozen languages. He is currently studying for a Masters in Divinity at Trinity College, University of Toronto.

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