Unsurprisingly, Ian Paisley senior has announced that he will not stand again in the upcoming Westminster election. Although he had been giving conflicting signals for the past year or so, it would have been much more unusual if he had chosen to stand again at the age of 84 (he was born on 6 April 1926).
His departure (unlamented by this blog) opens up North Antrim. The DUP have yet to announce their candidate, but it is widely rumoured that it will be Ian Paisley junior.
Jim Allister will stand for the TUV, and will be hell-bent on taking the seat, which he will see as almost divine retribution on the DUP. The UUP/UCUNF have not yet announced their candidate, but if they find a good one, then the battle within unionism will be three-way, and even more interesting. The UUP have put forward Robert (or Robin as Mark Devenport puts it) Swann (who?) but the Tories have yet to make their counter-offer. Swann (if Robert) is a minor UUP activist in North Antrim, who got 2.9% of the vote in the constituency in 2007. He is hardly a serious contender. If he is 'Robin' he is even less well known.
Ironically, the second highest polling candidate in the last Westminster election was Philip McGuigan of Sinn Fein with 15.7% of the vote. In 2007 SF remained the second-largest party with 15.9% of the vote. It is very unlikely, though that the constituency will see the ultimate upset – a Sinn Féin victory – because unionism as a whole gets 67.5% so even split three ways evenly would win. Even nationalism's total of 29% of North Antrim's vote (2007: SF 15.9%, SDLP 12.2%, Independent nationalist 0.9%) would not be enough, as any whisper of a nationalist voting pact would swing unionists behind a 'champion'.
Essentially this constituency will be a battle royal for the heart and soul of right-wing unionism. Regardless of who wins it, the result will be a defeat for right-wing unionism, because intra-family battles are always dirty, unpleasant and damaging. The split between the TUV and the DUP will deepen and lengthen. If the DUP win, the TUV will lick their wounds and plan revenge; and if the TUV wins the DUP will be a badly wounded beast. Either way, the winners will be the opponents of extreme unionism.
So let battle commence!