Election 2015 Northern Ireland

DUP: Could the party be Downing Street 'king-makers' after the election?

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Media captionBBC Newsline's Mark Simpson spoke to people in Finchley, London

On the streets of north London, there is not much election chatter about the prospects of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Show voters in Finchley a picture of Nigel Dodds, the party's leader at Westminster, and few people guess it right first time.

"No idea," said one woman.

"Is it Nick Clegg?" asked another. "Give us a clue."

The truth is that he could hold the balance of power after the General Election.

'As British as Finchley'

In the aftermath of polling day on 7 May, the DUP could be the Downing Street king-makers.

Finchley has a certain resonance in Northern Ireland.

Back in 1981, the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to ease unionist anxiety by saying "Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley".

Given its history, the north London constituency is a significant political battleground.

Sampling opinion among voters, it was clear that many are politically engaged.

Image caption Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said Northern Ireland was "as British as Finchley"

However, when it came to listing potential king-makers in the post-election shake-up, most tended to mention the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Many political analysts agree that they are more likely big players.

However, the DUP say the Westminster arithmetic potentially puts unionists into a strong position.

To gain an overall majority at Westminster, a party needs 326 seats.

At the last general election, the Liberal Democrats got the Conservatives over the 326-mark.

This time around, the DUP say they could play some role in the final shake-up. So could they?

Election arithmetic

According to the Westminster correspondent from the Herald newspaper, Kate Devlin, it is likely to be complicated.

"The DUP certainly have the best chance they've ever had of holding the balance of power," she said.

Image caption The Herald's Westminster correspondent Kate Devlin said the DUP had the best chance they had ever had of playing a key role in election negotiations

"But it could be very difficult as well. What it could take is actually three parties to get somebody across the line into a majority.

"So the DUP could hold the balance of power, but they could end up in negotiations with the Liberal Democrats as well."

Much will depend on the final election arithmetic.

There are so many unknowns at this stage, including whether or not the SNP surge in the polls translates into actual votes.

The DUP say they could work with Labour or the Conservatives, if the deal was right.

Rather than a formal coalition, the DUP would prefer a more informal working arrangement.

If the post-election shake-down works in their favour, Nigel Dodds could be thrust into the political spotlight.

Maybe then he would no longer be mistaken for Nick Clegg on the streets of Finchley.