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Smart money says Lady Hermon will see off DUP challenge to keep seat


Lady Sylvia Hermon

Lady Sylvia Hermon

Lady Sylvia Hermon

The late entry of the DUP in the North Down race to Westminster has sparked renewed interest in a result which had largely been regarded as a foregone conclusion.

The unionist colossus has not stood a candidate in North Down since 2005, despite dominating the constituency at subsequent Assembly elections.

At the last General Election in 2010, Lady Sylvia Hermon easily defeated the then Ulster Conservative and Unionist candidate Ian Parsley, romping home with more than 21,000 votes.

But outgoing DUP MLA Alex Easton is likely to prove a more formidable challenge.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said the decision to run was to try and get as many MPs as possible to maximise his party's influence at Westminster.

The DUP stand a good chance of becoming the kingmakers in the expected hung parliament. The more MPs they return with, the stronger their hand.

Lady Hermon says she is confident of retaining her seat, and most commentators agree with this assessment.

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However, North Down has thrown up surprises in the past.

This constituency, which includes the gold coast of some of the province's most impressive homes, stretching from Cultra to Holywood, Bangor and Donaghadee, is among the wealthiest of the 18.

It has a high percentage of retired professionals and according to the last census in 2011 has the highest average age.

This unique electorate is notoriously hard to predict and has returned MPs as varied as James Kilfedder, Robert McCartney and Lady Hermon.

The constituency appears to favour individuals more than political parties, evidenced by the fact that Lady Hermon's resignation from the UUP increased her vote.

She dominated North Down at the General Election in 2010, more than 14,000 votes ahead of the next candidate.

The political landscape has changed enormously over the last five years.

Mr Parsley is not in the running this time and the Ulster Unionists are not running a candidate.

At the 2005 General Election, then DUP MLA Peter Weir finished second, almost 5,000 votes behind Lady Hermon.

This year's candidate Alex Easton topped the poll at the Assembly election in 2011 - when Lady Hermon did not stand - with 5,175 votes and the DUP had a further two candidates elected with a total vote share of 12,412.

They were by far the strongest party, ahead of Alliance, the UUP and the Greens returning one MLA each.

Mr Easton has a strong reputation for constituency work on the ground, but most of the smart money appears to be on Lady Hermon holding on to her seat.

Another point of interest will be whether the flag protests - which raged passionately in Bangor - will make an impact on the vote.

An Alliance Party office was subjected to an arson attack and protests took place over an extended period, expressing disgust at the decision to limit the number of days the Union flag is flown from Belfast City Hall. One of the protest leaders, Jamie Bryson comes from this constituency.

He has hailed Mr Easton, but said he feels that most of the flag protest vote will go to the TUV.

Belfast Telegraph

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