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Big names could help DUP fend off strong opposition in key constituencies


DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Credit: Liam McBurney

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Credit: Liam McBurney

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Credit: Liam McBurney

While much of the focus on the move to allow MPs to contest the next Assembly election is on Jeffrey Donaldson, the party may want other high profile members to stand.

The party will be under pressure in several constituencies where it faces challenges from the UUP and the TUV, as well as Alliance.

Parachuting in proven vote-getters could shore up support in areas where the party will be under severe pressure.

All the MPs bar Gavin Robinson have previously been elected to the Assembly.

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Most notably, and recently, Gregory Campbell served in East Londonderry until 2016 and Carla Lockhart in Upper Bann until her 2019 election to Parliament.

The DUP lost 10 seats in the 2017 Assembly election, though that had much to do with the reduction in the number of MLAs, from 108 to 90. Overall, their vote percentage dropped by just over a point to 28.1%.

However, their percentage losses in some constituencies was much larger.

It is possible the party may want all its MPs to stand and Lagan Valley is a stand out as the party dropped from 47.2% to 41.3% there, while the Ulster Unionists and Alliance increased their votes by significant margins, around 4%.

But there are others to keep an eye on, including East Londonderry where Campbell was an MLA until double jobbing was barred before the 2016 election.

The DUP share of the vote in the constituency dropped by more than 3% but it was not lost to either the Ulster Unionists or Jim Allister’s TUV, both of which also saw decreases in support. It was a lower unionist turnout that was the difference.

Campbell — unlike some of his colleagues such as Ian Paisley who gave up their Assembly positions much earlier — continued as an MLA until the ban on double jobbing was introduced.

Strangford is another one to watch. Mike Nesbitt, the UUP MLA for the area, entered the debate yesterday with a lengthy statement arguing against allowing MPs to stand in May.

“There appears to be nothing to stop the eight DUP MPs standing for the Assembly, getting elected, and immediately standing down to allow the party to co-opt their replacements,” he said.

The DUP will be under pressure in the constituency, represented by Jim Shannon in the House of Commons.

At the last Stormont election, the party managed to hang on to three seats despite its share of the vote dropping just over three points to 39.9%.

While the UUP increased its share by just half a point to 20%, Alliance went up by more than 4% to 15%.

Then there is North Antrim, the Paisley stronghold — and Allister’s. Both the DUP and the TUV lost ground at the last election while the UUP increased its share.

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