LIKE Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny, the magic money tree was assumed not to exist. Theresa May was keen during the election to deny rumours of this mythical monetary tree.
“There’s no magic money tree,” she liked to say, when she wasn’t giving herself a mouth ulcer muttering “strong and stable” so very often. How heartening then to discover that this woody perennial does indeed exist, and that its branches dip and bend with bags of money.
During her dire election campaign, Mrs Maybe told a nurse who hadn’t had a pay rise in eight years: “There’s no magic money tree.” Now she seems to have found that legendary tree after all. Perhaps she spotted it while skipping through a field of wheat.
The tree has magicked up a billion quid to hand to Northern Ireland so that Mrs Maybe can come to a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with Arlene Foster and the DUP.
Money that was said not to exist for the NHS or education in the rest of Britain has been found to keep shore up Mrs Maybe’s majority. The deal scrabbled together between the Tories and the DUP is a notch down from an official coalition, as we had between the Tories and the Lib-Dems. Basically, a smaller party agrees to support a larger party in return for a promised sweetener and influence on policy.
Such deals are common on the continent and in the Irish Republic – as I now know from my part-time Press Association job subbing on the Sunday Independent. The Fine Gael minority government has come to a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with Fianna Fail. In return for agreeing to support the government on crucial issues, Fianna Fail is allowed some influence over bills and policy.
In a sense, such pacts drive politics elsewhere for the simple reason that voters choose not to give one party an overall majority, so a deal is done.
Yet for all that, Mrs Maybe’s arrangement with the DUP looks grubby, shabby and opportunistic. It is also a hard sell to the rest of Britain. Money that was said not to be there has been picked from a tree that was said not to exist. As Northern Ireland already receives a greater amount from that tree than other parts of Britain, it is hard to see any fairness in this deal.
The DUP have been promised a bung or a bribe; extra sugar has been tipped into their tea. And once they get a taste for the sweet tannic liquid, they’ll be back asking for more.
The Tories have scrabbled together this deal so that Mrs Maybe can carry on as if she won the majority she wanted; so that she can pretend she has the fullest backing for Brexit; so that she can kid herself that nothing has changed after she fluffed the election.
In a sense, the prime minister has been caught out by her own patronising ways during the election. To talk of magic money trees is to treat the electorate as if they were primary school children who need to be taught a stern lesson about life. But to then turn around and go against that lesson is to then treat the electorate as if they are not children after all; just grown-up idiots.
One odd aspect of all this is that the DUP would almost certainly have supported the Tories anyway, for fear of opening the door to Jeremy Corbyn. Mrs Maybe has, therefore, raided the magic money tree for very little reason. It’s funny how proud penny-pinchers can suddenly find money when there’s a bung to be made.