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Arlene Foster still favourite despite break-up of DUP dream team


Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson

Gregory Campbell

Gregory Campbell


Sammy Wilson

Suddenly there is no DUP dream team and the party leadership must look more daunting than ever to Arlene Foster, who is now heading for a coronation in the New Year.

The plan has long been for Mr Dodds to lead the party from Westminster and for Ms Foster to act as First Minister - provided, that is, that the DUP continues to come in ahead of Sinn Fein as far as Assembly seats go in the May elections.

The DUP got 38 seats and 30% of the vote in the 2011 Assembly elections, an all time high. The early signs are that the UUP could erode their lead.

If Sinn Fein does go ahead, that would be a baptism of fire for Ms Foster and she would be harried on all sides for playing second fiddle to them. Ms Foster is an able candidate but she loses something from not having Mr Dodds at her back. She is seen as a strong woman, Church of Ireland, ex UUP, from the west of the province, a rural representative and fairly moderate.

Mr Dodds is a north Belfast Orangeman and a Free Presbyterian, but one with a first class honours degree in law from Cambridge. He has support in tough-to-reach areas, friends in high places and a first class brain. He ticked some boxes Ms Foster didn't, such as deep roots in the party's Paisleyite origins - even though Ian Paisley's family had turned against him in recent years for telling the former leader that it was time to move on.

People remember his scrape with death when the IRA tried to assassinate him as he visited his sick son in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in 1996.

His traditional DUP background made him well placed to cover Ms Foster from criticism.

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His character is marked by loyalty. He had many opportunities to topple Peter Robinson, who even offered to stand aside in 2011 and this year, but did not take them. It seemed inevitable to many that he would take over during the Iris-gate scandal but, instead, he backed his leader through very difficult negotiations on the devolution of policing and justice.

The fact that he has publicly endorsed Ms Foster suggests he will back her from Westminster and there is still the possibility of him staying on as deputy.

He spoke yesterday of the opportunities he believed existed in the Commons to exploit the Government's narrow majority in tight votes. The new DUP leader is picked on Thursday of next week, so it is late for anyone else to enter the race.

The ones speculated about were Sammy Wilson, who ruled himself out to support Mr Dodds earlier in the week, and Gregory Campbell, the MP for East Londonderry. Mr Campbell, a hard liner, is the only DUP MP to have retained his Stormont seat. Under double jobbing rules he must surrender one of the posts next May.

It is open to him to stay in the Assembly and contest the leadership, though Ms Foster is favourite by a long way now.

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