I cannot remember an election in which there has been so much attention to the significance of smaller parties by both media and Westminster’s two largest parties.
Journalists, who normally would not even recognise our existence, are seeking us out weekly asking which of the two main parties we would be most disposed towards and more especially the price of our support.
Equally, officially and informally, the two major parties are testing out where we would stand in the event of no party getting an overall majority and requiring support from one or more of the smaller parties.
I don’t know if the pundits are right about the near certainty of what is called a hung parliament but if it is to become a reality then it is important that the Northern Ireland electorate use their votes strategically to ensure that there is a large block of votes from Northern Ireland which can be used in any future bargaining and the only party capable of delivering such an outcome is my own.
Not only is it important to have a large single block of votes with which to bargain but it is necessary to have a plan of how the influence which those votes can buy will be maximised.
It is not a question of begging for billions of pounds, though that is what some shallow journalists would like to reduce any negotiations to.
It seems to be the way that the Scottish political Del Boy Alex Salmond intends to behave, one of the reasons why I believe that any link-up between the SNP and Labour would be the most disastrous outcome of the election for the UK constitutionally and economically.
Today my party will publish its plan for Northern Ireland which would form the basis of any negotiations with the future UK government requiring the support of the DUP. We will not be demanding a bribe of so many billions but will be indicating the national issues which we believe are important in any government programme including a plan to stabilise the country’s finances, defend the country against an increasing range of external/internal threats, secure our borders by controlling immigration and deal with ever-increasing and damaging EU interference.
It would be criminally negligent not to use any influence, which we might have, to ensure proper support from the Westminster government to improve the lives of people living in Northern Ireland.
Not that we expect the Westminster government to deal with all our problems. Our influence will be more effective if we outline the actions which we have taken and intend to take whilst at the same time highlighting the ways in which we believe a government, which needs our support, could and should be helping us to build our economy, ensure good quality public services, strengthen our position within the UK, make the unwieldy institutions of government in Northern Ireland work better and ensure economic fairness for our citizens.
This election may give us the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the national government in Westminster in a way which has never happened before. It should not be frittered away through a crass demand for increased budget for unspecified purposes but should be used to deliver a planned outcome which strengthens the union and improves life for everyone.
The real question for every voter to consider in this election is how can you use your vote to ensure you return a team to Westminster with a plan for Northern Ireland and the strength to deliver it?