As the UK has unexpectedly ended up with a hung parliament rather than the thumping Tory majority that Theresa May arrogantly expected, all eyes are suddenly on the Democratic Unionist Party, whose ten MPs now hold the balance of power.
The London media rarely paid much attention to Northern Irish politics until last Friday; even the recent extremely significant Stormont elections passed by almost unnoticed.
As the DUP and Theresa May’s Conservatives are in the process of agreeing a confidence and supply deal, which will entail significant concessions to the party founded by Ian Paisley, the party is experiencing a level of scrutiny that it hasn’t experienced in years.
The proposed deal is worrying for many reasons.
The main and most immediate problem, as many people including John Major have pointed out, is that it imperils the Good Friday Agreement at a particularly sensitive time.
No matter what one’s stance on constitutional issues, however, the idea of the DUP exercising such power over the British government should concern us all because the party’s politics are, frankly, revolting.
I’m a social liberal and staunch secularist, while the DUP is a bunch of reactionary religious fundamentalists.
On pretty much every social issue, the party as a whole is firmly on the wrong side.
It is fiercely opposed to abortion, for example.
It should be noted that Sinn Fein and the SDLP are also on the wrong side of this issue to various degrees, very much to their shame, but the DUP is particularly hardline and misogynistic.
As a result, abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, even in cases of rape or foetal abnormalities, even though two thirds of the population would want to allow it in those exceptions at least.
This is utterly ridiculous in a modern western state.
Meanwhile, gay marriage is still banned there, as the DUP can’t stomach the idea.
Literally, apparently: Ian Paisley Jr, son of the founder and one of the ten current MPs, has said that he is ‘pretty repulsed’ by gay people.
Meanwhile, David Simpson MP has actually used the ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’ argument in unironic seriousness.
These aren’t simply the words of your ordinary bumbling bigots who just don’t know any better, with which most of us are familiar. It’s rabid hatred.
Needless to say, they’re also utterly ignorant about science.
Paul Givan MP, for example, is a creationist who has called for schools to teach ‘alternatives’ to evolution.
Sammy Wilson MP, meanwhile, insists that climate change is a ‘gigantic con’.
This is all rather unusual in a British context. In many ways, it’s a very American set of political obsessions.
The DUP is more similar to the Republican Party of the USA than to the sort of politics we’re accustomed to outside of Northern Ireland.
Now it’s true that these social issues are devolved competencies. But given the opportunity, there’s nothing really stopping them from demanding that some of their medievalist views be imposed on the rest of Britain. They are, after all, unionists.
Even the merest possibility that women’s bodily autonomy, gay rights or basic science could plausibly be traded away is appalling.
Even if the eventual agreement ends up focusing on taxes, benefits and Brexit rather than social issues, the views described above are so idiotic and hateful that it is irresponsible to give the party such power.
The DUP is an embarrassment, and they will inevitably embarrass the government by association.