DUP eyes on a post-election deal
The bid by the DUP to unseat Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down adds a new twist of interest to an election campaign where it was thought all the exciting battlelines had already been drawn. It certainly shows that the party is determined to maximise its representation at Westminster - and hence its potential bargaining power in a hung Parliament.
Lady Hermon has represented North Down for 14 years, most recently as an independent after leaving the Ulster Unionist Party because of its pact with the Conservatives at the last general election.
She obviously has a strong power base in the area, which has a history of returning independently-minded MPs unlike virtually every other constituency.
While she would be a strong favourite to retain the seat, the DUP must regard it as no lost cause and will also be laying the groundwork for a successful campaign at the 2020 general election if Lady Sylvia stands down.
It is also clear that the DUP does not regard Lady Hermon as a potential ally in post-election negotiations at Westminster.
DUP leader Peter Robinson sees the election as a great opportunity for Northern Ireland to wring concessions out of Westminster in the event of a hung Parliament and is so confident of the outcome that he has already outlined his demands.
Anyone who saw the party leaders' debate on television last week could only agree with the prediction that a hung Parliament is the most likely outcome of the election. Neither the Conservatives or Labour, the only realistic parties of government, landed a really telling blow during the debate, giving the firm impression that even they consider the contest too close to call.
The Prime Minister was giving nothing away during his visit to Northern Ireland yesterday, sidestepping questions about what would happen if no clear government emerged after the election by insisting that he was focused only on winning.
Even by the definition of a whistlestop visit, his time in Northern Ireland was very fleeting and voters here could reasonably have expected him to talk more directly to them. It would be ironic if he is to find himself spending a lot more time in the company of Northern Ireland MPs after the election having brushed them aside before the poll.