In a jointly organised session with our good friends in the CCCU History department Professor Jon Tonge of the University of Liverpool gave an enlightening presentation of his research on the DUP. He focused on an overall picture of his, and Professor Tom Hennessy of this parish, analysis of DUP party membership. In particular he contrasted the dominance of the evangelical Free Presbyterian Church among its membership to the Northern Ireland population at large, to the ability of the party to compromise and evolve with political necessity.
These findings have potentially important implications for the 2015 General Election as the DUP is certain to hold at least 8 seats. With a hung Parliament the likely outcome both the Conservatives and Labour might have to reach out to the DUP to form a majority – such as occurred in the mid 1990s when John Major’s Conservative government survived only with the votes of the UUP. While Professor Tonge’s findings point to strong support for a Conservative-led government among DUP members, the pragmatism of the party will most likely win out and ensure that whomever offers the best deal for the DUP and Northern Ireland will win their support.