The price of power

There’s a talk by American activist and media pundit Dan Savage about romantic relationships and their “price of admission”. Essentially, the price of admission is the thing(s) you’re willing to put up with to have your partner in your life. It might be a bad habit, an obscure fetish, or a political belief. A friend once had to end it with their other half after it transpired they were intent upon voting for the BNP in an upcoming election.

Which leads me nicely to Theresa May, the Conservatives and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). After failing to achieve the majority she was certain she’d win without breaking a sweat, May has decided that her most important relationship is with her job title – and its price of admission? Enlisting the support of a party that’s actively homophobic, anti-abortion, and has previously appointed a climate-change denier as its Environment Minister. For someone who’s spent the last few months repeating “the will of the British people” like an incantation, over the last 48 hours or so, she’s shown herself to be utterly deaf to what the will of the British people actually is.

Because at the polls on Thursday – goodness. Didn’t we leftie liberal snowflakes do well? I spent most of Wednesday in an Eeyore-ish mood, wandering about in a cloud of PMS, hangover blues and election dread. May 2015, June 2016, and November 2016 were all fresh in my mind. I knew what was coming – a Tory landslide. How would it be anything else?

But then: those exit polls. After a night that was light on sleep and heavy on Twitter-scrolling and tiptoeing into the living room to put the TV on quietly “just for a bit”, I shook Drummer Boy awake at about 5.30. “It’s a hung parliament!” I whispered. “They didn’t get their majority! Peter Kyle won Hove, Kemptown’s gone Labour, and so has Canterbury – for the first time since 1918!” He mumbled something incomprehensible in reply and went straight back to sleep.

The next few hours were joyful. No, Labour had not won – but they had made so many gains, and so many of those gains were sweet surprises, that the spirit of victory was unignorable. The youngsters had come out in force – the generation raised with the internet, who’ve been exposed to far more points of view and ways of living than any generation before, went to the polling booths and said “this old way of doing things doesnt seem to be working all that well, does it?” We finally had proof of a growing appetite for a more authentic, hopeful and, whisper it: socialist politics.

It is a truth universally feared – at least by the chronically anxious – that you can spend all your time worrying about a vast array of eventualities (in the hope that you’ll cover everything and thus innoculate yourself against any impending disaster), only to have the one thing you didn’t think of sneak up on you and swallow you whole. And so it was when rumours of a potential Conservative-DUP agreement arrived. Having already sent a variety of texts to friends and family saying: “Hung parliament?! Didn’t see that coming”, when the DUP news broke, all I had was: “what the hell?

Having lived in Northern Ireland on and off for three years as a student (and loved it), I have a fraction more knowledge about the politics Over There than a lot of people my age, who were only 8 or so at the time of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). Actually, I wouldn’t even say I have knowledge, just awareness. Since being back here in England, it’s always baffled and infuriated me how ignorant we are on this side of the water when it comes to Northern Ireland. They’re part of the UK, yet they rarely feature in our media – which is bizarre, given how awful The Troubles were, and how long that situation went on for. Peace there is still as fragile as a newborn-kitten.

Six months after I first arrived in Belfast, this happened. In April 2011, newly-qualified police officer Ronan Kerr was killed by a bomb planted under his car. A month or two later, half of the street I lived on was evacuated due to a bomb scare. Our flat wasn’t, and we didn’t find out about it until we read it on the BBC news page the following morning – but the point I’m trying to make it is that these things still happen there. And over here, we know nothing about it. Have a scroll through this excellent thread to get an update on what’s happening in NI now – because it’s a mess, and shows you just how far Theresa May and the Conservatives are in over their heads.

It’s one thing to enter an “agreement” with an homophobic, anti-women’s rights party, but to get into bed with a party that a) opposed the peace agreement* your government has a duty to ensure remains in place, and b) is embroiled in a scandal of its own, is monstrous incompetence. How badly must May want to cling on to power, and how little must she think of literally everybody else in the country, to plough ahead with this? It makes her look stupid. Hypocritical and dictator-ish, too, but I think the stupidity is almost the worst thing. We need our politicians to know more than we do, and it’s clear May favours power over both emotional and actual intelligence.

*the DUP were the only major political party in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement. 

But let’s leave aside what’s happening within the DUP and NI politics in general right now – because it’s complicated, and we need a real expert to explain it, and if we try and absorb any more news today, our brains will short-circuit – and think about the DUP’s stance on LGBT rights and women’s rights. They oppose gay marriage, have campaigned against the legalisation of homosexual acts, and former minister Jim Wells once uttered the words, “Peter will not marry Paul in Northern Ireland”. Hmm, yeah. They are staunchly pro-life – abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland – and are in favour of prosecuting women for purchasing abortifacients online. There’s also the climate change “scepticism” and the wanting Creationism taught in every school.

I had a discussion on Facebook with someone on Friday who, when I pointed out the DUP’s horrendous record on equal rights, argued that culturally, NI is very different to the rest of the UK and “you have to respect that people have different beliefs, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong”. I know first-hand that culturally, it is different there, due to the hold that religion still has, and funnily enough, I don’t think people who disagree with me are wrong, but you know what? If your “beliefs” are preventing women and LGBT people having control of their bodies and lives, then those beliefs do no good at all.

Or to put it a slightly less angry way: safe abortion and equal rights are simply too important for politics. It’s 2017 – women should be trusted to make their own decisions, and the romantic and sexual relationship between two consenting adults is no-one else’s business but theirs. If this shonky “agreement” goes ahead, and the Conservatives show even the faintest sign of putting LGBT and women’s rights up for any kind of debate, make no mistake, we’ll fight. To mangle Churchill, we’ll fight them in the abortion clinics, we’ll fight them in the gay bars, and we will fight them on the diminishing ice caps.

Happily though, the news this morning seems to be that while the Tories think they’ve got a deal, there’s been no confirmation either way from the DUP themselves. So perhaps there’s hope yet.

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