Theresa May’s UK Election Disaster (2017)

The RFPA have asked me to explain the implications of the recent election result in the UK. Since many of the readers of this blog reside outside of the UK, I should begin with some basic facts about the political system.

The UK, which consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but not the Republic of Ireland, is a parliamentary democracy, as well as a constitutional monarchy, with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. The various regions (countries) of the UK have devolved assemblies, which means that much of the power to govern those regions (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) is given to local political representatives, although the main parliament at Westminster (London) retains certain centralized powers. This information is important when it comes to understanding the role of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is a regional party (from Northern Ireland).

When a General Election is called, various candidates campaign for the six hundred and fifty seats available in the House of Parliament in Westminster. A winner of a seat is called a Member of Parliament (MP). The main parties in England are the Conservative (or Tory) Party, led by Theresa May; and the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, a left wing socialist. The majority party either rules outright, if it has an overall majority; or it rules in a coalition government with a smaller party; or it seeks an agreement with a smaller party to support it in government. The latter arrangement is what Theresa May is seeking with the DUP. If the majority fails to form a government, the minority party could conceivably seek to form a coalition with other parties.

Although a General Election was not due until 2020, British Prime Minister Theresa May called an early election in April 2017. Her rationale for doing so was to increase her majority to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, which are due to begin shortly with the EU. When she called the election, the opinion polls gave the Conservatives a 20-point lead over the Labour Party. Nevertheless, the Conservatives, having fought a disastrous campaign, lost 13 seats, and crucially lost their overall majority in the House of Commons. This means that Theresa May is not able to form a government without the help of other parties.

The party to which Theresa May is turning her attention is the DUP, a regional party (from Northern Ireland), which won 10 seats in the General Election. This has caused widespread derision in the liberal-leaning media, for the DUP is much more conservative than the British Conservative (Tory) Party. The name Democratic Unionist Party indicates that the party defends the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, a union that Sinn Fein, the second largest party in Northern Ireland, opposes. Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, remarked that the union would be the DUP’s “guiding star” in their negotiations with Theresa May. The DUP, which was founded by fundamentalist Protestant preacher Dr. Ian Paisley and many of whose members and supporters are evangelicals, is pro-Brexit and very conservative on the important social and moral issues of abortion and so-called “marriage equality.” Although abortion and “same sex marriage” are legal in Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), they are not legal in Northern Ireland, where the DUP has consistently opposed their introduction. This has led to the DUP being labeled (by the ever tolerant media) as sexist, homophobic, creationist “climate deniers.”

To make matters more complicated, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, a member of the Church of Scotland, and a lesbian who is planning to “marry” her (female) partner, is opposed to the DUP for their (in her view) “homophobic” positions. Davidson has campaigned to extend the right of people to marry the same gender (so-called “marriage equality”) to Northern Ireland. Davidson has sought, and apparently received, assurances from Theresa May that the DUP’s conservative policies on abortion and marriage will not be permitted to influence the British government. Theresa May cannot risk alienating the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs of her own party while she attempts to win the support of the DUP.

Many questions remain unanswered. What will the DUP ask for, and receive, in exchange for their support of a Conservative government under Theresa May? How will May’s decreased majority affect the UK’s Brexit negotiations? How will the DUP’s involvement in May’s government affect the political talks in Northern Ireland? And will May even be able to form a government, and if so, how long will such a government last? Time will tell. Jeremy Corbyn has reportedly told his party not to put away their election posters just yet, as another election could conceivably be called in the not too distant future!

One thing is for sure—God is sovereign and he governs in the affairs of men.

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This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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