Peter Robinson has hinted that he may stand again in next year's Westminster election, to defend his East Belfast seat.
While this appears to go against the spirit, if not the word, of the DUP's commitment to end dual mandates, Robinson claims that "there is a very good reason, particularly in the fledging years of the Assembly, for us to have a voice both in the Assembly, a link between the Assembly and Westminster" – and that this link should be him, of course.
Others, less generous, wonder whether the fact that the seat, and its associated expenses, provide a very lucrative cash-cow for the "swish family Robinson" make him unwilling to cede it.
However, there may be another, more practical reason for Robinson to stand again – the risk that the seat would fall to the UUP if anyone other than Robinson stands for the DUP. The DUP's dominance of the seat in Westminster elections clearly owes something to Robinson's personal vote – in 2005 he received 49.1% of the vote, while in the 2007 Assembly elections the DUP (including Robinson again, of course) received only 37.6% of the vote.
While East Belfast may not be prime TUV territory, there is no doubt that if Allister's party stood it would eat into the DUP vote – and it would make a special effort to decapitate the DUP. A TUV victory in North Antrim, along with a TUV-assisted decapitation in East Belfast, could kill the DUP.
If Alliance Party voters – of whom East Belfast has a lot – held their noses and voted strategically for Reg Empey of the UUP (or UCUNF, as the ballot paper will call it), then his vote may increase from the 30.1% he got in 2005. Adding to that 30.1% should be the 1.4% the Conservatives have recently scored in the constituency, giving Empey a base of 31.5%. It would not take many TUV votes (taken from Robinson) and many Alliance votes (lent to Empey) to envisage a regime change in East Belfast.
Robinson may not be standing only to save his own political career, but also to save the whole DUP.
A final and possibly over-pessimistic reason for Robinson to stand again for Westminster is that he doesn't expect the Assembly to survive in the medium term. If the TUV does well next year, and if the current deadlock in the Executive continues, Robinson may calculate that Westminster has a better future for him than Stormont. And it would be a miscalculation of gigantic proportions if Robinson did not stand for Westminster, and then less than a year later found himself reduced to leading only the second largest party in Stormont – thereby doomed to become (according to the rules negotiated by his own party at St Andrews) Martin McGuinness's deputy!