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Peter Robinson's MPs may be just what Cameron needs


First Minister Peter Robinson

First Minister Peter Robinson

First Minister Peter Robinson

If it's possible to be quietly cock-a-hoop, that was the mood music emanating from within the DUP early today.

As results indicated a Parliament more "swung" than "hung" following major shifts in favour of the Scottish Nationalists and against the Labour Party, the political cards seemed to be tumbling the DUP's way.

The initial signs are the party could play a key role in setting up the new government - and for some time to come.

Even the DUP just holding onto its present eight seats could prove enough to get the Conservatives over the line to stay in power.

While playing down the shock initial BBC exit polls, people in the party believe they could prove more likely allies for the Tories than the bruised-beyond-belief Liberal Democrats.

As such it would secure Peter Robinson's leadership for the forseeable future - or as long as he wants to stay.

Some say the First Minister may want to stand down in time to allow his successor to take full charge well before next year's Assembly election.

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In the coming days the DUP could provide a lifeline for David Cameron if Liberal Democrats refuse to maintain their coalition with the Conservatives.

On the basis of the BBC exit polls, Cameron is just eight votes short of a practical working majority. But the DUP has already made clear it will not copy the Liberal Democrats and go into a coalition government arrangement. Instead, Mr Robinson has indicated it could support either the Conservatives and Labour on a "confidence and supply" system.

In effect, it would support a Conservative Government on any vote of confidence and may also back its budget, but would want a number of things in return.

These include the abolition of the so-called bedroom tax - to which the Conservatives may not be willing to accede - and maintaining the current level of defence spending, which could overlap with Tory priorities.

Mr Robinson has said he would also demand the establishment of a Commission on the Union in an attempt to outflank the massive growth of the Scottish Nationalist Party, who looked set to rise spectacularly from just six MPs to around 50 last night.

One of those most hotly tipped to take over from Mr Robinson as a possible First Minister, Arlene Foster, said: "If it turned out like this we will have some influence, and that is what we have been saying right throughout this campaign. The more votes, the more seats, the more influence we would have - not for oursleves but for Northern Ireland."

There was even speculation on social media last night that unfortunate, beleaguered and perhaps not-long-to-last Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's worst nightmare could come true.

Some weeks back he warned against the scenario of his coalition partners the Conservatives teaming up with not just the DUP, but Nigel Farage's Ukip.

Both Farage's party and Clegg's may be preoccupied by internal navel-gazing in the immediate future, with predictions rife last night that both of them, along with Labour's Ed Miliband, face being ousted as leaders.

That would create the space for serious negiations between Team Cameron and the DUP.

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds was adopting a much more cautious stance than Ian Paisley jnr, who was well on course to hold onto North Antrim, and has already said the price tag for the DUP could be £1bn. "Who knows what's going to be up for grabs. This is a huge opportunity for us," he said.