Cameron’s difficulty; Alliance’s opportunity?

We should see the colour of the UCU-NF money locally by the end of January, but, in the meantime, Lord Ashcroft’s untaxed marginal millions are coming in for a bit of unwanted scrutiny. And yet, although there are some within the DUP who are looking to maximise their advantage in a hung parliament, the spreads are still giving the Tories a good 50 seat majority, even if it is moving downward. But Henry McDonald explores another possible scenario which would have the Alliance party coming up with the goods:

If Nick Clegg’s party was to secure anywhere between 40 to 50 seats in a tight race, it will be the Liberal Democrats that become king-makers – perhaps even junior partners in a coalition with Labour. Such an outcome is not outlandish given that Labour and the Lib Dems have ruled Scotland together during the first term of the Scottish Assembly.

And who are the bosom friends and ideological allies of the Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland? Answer – the Alliance Party.

It could turn out to be one of the most amusing paradoxes of the 2010 Westminster election that the man with the greatest number of friends in a new UK government is the Alliance leader David Ford, because the closest relationship between parties in Northern Ireland and Britain over the last 40 years has been the Liberals and Alliance.

This scenario is unlikely to revolutionise the sectarian-dominated politics of Northern Ireland.

Still unlikely. But as we’ve seen with the DUP and it’s play over 42 days, even marginal influence can make a difference in the small plays that dominate Stormont politics. If I were in any of the other parties I would not start sweating just yet. Not unless the Tory marker begins to drop from their consistent 40% mark.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty