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The DUP Backstabs May, Backs Labour

Recently, news broke that the DUP broke from May in voting to support the NHS and keep tuition low, hindering the tenuous alliance the Tories have with them to retain power in Parliament. The Democratic Unionist Party (the controversial Northern Irish party that has ties to sectarian groups in the area) supported greater funding for the NHS (the UK’s public healthcare system) and voted against raising tuition fees.

While the Guardian ran this headline as if it were surprising, anyone who has knowledge of Northern Ireland isn’t surprised by this. During my time living in Belfast, I noticed that it was very clearly an economically troubled area. The NI government employs over 65,000 individuals, about 1/3 of the workforce. So, if you cut funding for them, you cut jobs for an already economically crippled area which has only recently achieve peace between the Protestant and Catholic communities. Mind you, the conflict there was never about theological issues to begin with; jobs and discrimination were far more important to the people fighting in The Troubles than theological debates about transubstantiation.

Then the universities in Northern Ireland, which are a major source of revenue. The university system in Northern Ireland is huge. In 2014, there were over 56,000 undergraduates in Northern Ireland, 90% of whom are from Northern Ireland. I moved to Belfast in 2010 to study for an MA at Queen’s University, Belfast. The student population there was constantly worried about fees, and there were regularly demonstrations against increasing tuition. Raising costs on these students, who already live in an economically underprivileged area, basically cuts off a flow of money to the university.

Cutting of this flow decreases education and increases unemployment, since studying is a major engine for growth for the up-and coming “post-Troubles.” In fact, almost half of university-age students in Northern Ireland attend university — the highest rate in the UK. The nerves of this vote by the DUP are probably exacerbated by the massive increase in Northern Irish students applying to study in the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit (and post A-level scoring changes).

Regardless of partisan alignments, the facts are clear and the logic is simple. If you try decreasing the NHS and university spending, you probably won’t get the support of any Northern Irish political party. NI has been neglected for far too long and (therefore) has become far too reliant on gov’t-subsidized industries to let May’s conservative ideology hit their communities in the purse.

Economic systems, like all human social systems are complex dynamic systems. However, they are — at the end of the day — human systems. As such, if we just step back and think about the people in them, human nature doesn’t hint at a mystery. These political patterns aren’t so surprising when you look at them this way…