Belfast Telegraph

DUP knows it holds aces in Westminster

By Liam Clarke

Alone among the Northern Ireland parties, the DUP has made a major play of the fact that it could end up holding the balance of power in Westminster.

The argument has the virtue of being true. Most pollsters predict the next government will be a coalition of two, three, or more, parties. So a slice of our 18 seats could be useful and the DUP currently has the biggest slice - eight seats. By pacts and careful planning of resources, it hopes to push that up to nine, or more.

Most people, including David Cameron, assume they are closer to the Tories, but let's not forget Gordon Brown was ready in principle to do a deal with them if he could also have secured a deal with the Lib Dems after the last election.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, setting out his stall, Nigel Dodds, the DUP deputy leader, avoided demands which could alienate Labour. For instance, he omitted a previous DUP demand for a referendum on EU membership and replaced it with a renegotiation to protect our borders.

Other DUP demands include 2% defence spending and ditching bedroom tax, something which is already DUP policy.

Any Westminster party will be careful about lining up with the DUP, because of its stance on issues like gay rights and abortion.

However, this needn't be so much of an issue, because the DUP do not want Cabinet posts; they will simply support the government like a flying buttress, from outside.

If such issues came up and the DUP voted against the government, enough MPs from other parties would probably support it in getting the measure through.

The SDLP, which has three MPs, could only support Labour and its leader, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, has said that he envisaged himself and the SNP, who are currently predicted to gain the vast majority of Scotland's 59 seats, backing Labour.

However, Labour could have the same problems with the SDLP on so-called "moral issues". The party is strongly anti-abortion and divided on the extent of homosexual law reform.

There is also the danger for any British party that they will simply be held to ransom every time we overspend. Perish the thought, Mr Dodds told the Guardian: "We are neither looking to exploit any position of advantage for limited party ends, nor do we merely wish to present a shopping list of goodies funded by a depleted and hard-pressed Treasury."

Steady on, Nigel. That could be a disappointment to some voters.

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