N. Ireland Politics

General election 2017: What are the odds of an election upset?

Election count staff empty a ballot box Image copyright Pacemaker

Another election campaign is almost at an end and audible sighs of relief can be heard from across the country from candidates, reporters and the public.

Now those with their names on the ballot paper are starting to get that nervy feeling deep down inside.

And there's little more they can do - their fate is in the hands of those going to the ballot box on Thursday.

So, what are the odds of an election upset or two in Northern Ireland?

There are five key battles to keep an eye on, with a real chance of some seats changing hands, according to the bookies.

The four-way fight for South Belfast between Alasdair McDonnell of the SDLP, the DUP's Emma Little Pengelly, Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Paula Bradshaw of the Alliance Party is perhaps the most captivating.

Bookmaker Christopher Bickerstaff said Mr McDonnell was "there to be challenged" at the outset of the campaign, especially after the DUP topped the vote in the constituency at the assembly election.

But as polling day has approached, the former SDLP leader has "strengthened as the favourite".

'Tighter than expected'

In North Belfast, Nigel Dodds has a fight on his hands to hold on to his seat.

Sinn Féin put forward John Finucane, a high-profile lawyer and son of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, to take on the DUP's deputy leader, and that has increased the interest in the contest.

"If you look back to the last general election, the DUP were about a 1/10 favourite - a better than 90% chance of winning the seat," said Mr Bickerstaff.

"This time around they're probably about a 70% favourite, and that drop is based on the strength of the Sinn Féin candidate.

"The DUP probably just have enough to hold on to that seat but it'll be tighter than people expected at the start of the campaign."

Across the city in East Belfast, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long is hoping to regain the seat she lost to the DUP after a bitter campaign in 2015.

But Mr Bickerstaff believes that while the heat is on her rival Gavin Robinson, the DUP man will just cling on.

"Generally, the [betting] industry went with Alliance Party as slight favourites but we've looked at it the other way - we expect the DUP to hold the seat.

"Although the Ulster Unionists are standing in East Belfast, history suggests that many of their supporters are likely to vote for the DUP in a general election."

'Not lending votes'

Outside the city, all eyes are on South Down, with the SDLP and Sinn Féin slugging it out for the seat.

Margaret Ritchie is looking for re-election to a seat her party has held for three decades, but Sinn Féin is hoping to seize it after a strong showing at the assembly election.

"All the money has been for Chris Hazzard," said Mr Bickerstaff.

"This would be looked at as one of the biggest upsets but in betting terms we don't consider it an upset at all.

"One thing to factor in is that in rural areas unionists seem to be pushing that message of: 'If you're a unionist vote for the union.'

"They're not lending votes any more, so Margaret Ritchie probably won't get enough of the unionist vote lent to her to get her in this time."

And another potential Sinn Féin gain is in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where Michelle Gildernew has a "70% chance of winning the seat back", according to Mr Bickerstaff.

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott won it from Mrs Gildernew at the last poll but could he be set to relinquish it after just two years at Westminster?

"This seat is all about turnout - I imagine Sinn Féin will keep their turnout high after the assembly election," the bookie adds.

A full list of candidates standing in each constituency in the general election is available here.

Poking fun at politics

Image caption Alan Irwin's Electoral College show took a lighter look at the Westminster campaign

So desperately uneventful has the election campaign in Northern Ireland been that if you didn't laugh then you'd probably cry.

Thankfully, there was a chance cast a comedic eye over it all in the Black Box in Belfast on Tuesday night.

That's because comedian Alan Irwin hosted a Have I Got News For You-style political panel show with fellow stand-ups Micky Bartlett, Luke McGibbon, Terry McHugh and Louise Sexton.

Somehow they managed to find enough material to make an evening's entertainment out of dissecting the election.

"When you get a quiet election cycle like we've had now, it's nonsense stories that dominate the news for days at a time," said Alan.

"Even the fact that the nonsense stuff is headline news means you're never going to run out of things to talk about."

And Alan said there's still a thirst for political comedy even though many people are all electioned out.

"The fact that we keep going back to the polls is inherently ridiculous.

"People are sort of jaded but that's how the get on with it - make fun of it."

On the register

Image copyright Press Eye

A total of 1,242,698 people will be eligible to vote in Thursday's general election.

That means there are just over 12,000 fewer potential voters than in March's assembly election but almost 6,000 more than the 2015 general election.

Of the 1,254,709 people who could have gone to the ballot box three months ago, 64.78% decided to cast a vote.

And at the 2015 general election, turnout hit 58.45%.

Polling stations will be open from 07:00 BST until 10:00 and you must bring photographic ID in order to vote, although your poll card isn't necessary.

And remember, the Westminster election system differs from the assembly vote, so mark your ballot paper with a single X beside the name of your candidate of choice.

Watching the weather

Vote early, vote dry is the advice from the BBC's weather team.

Polling day won't have much of a summery feel, with a warning of heavy showers issued for Thursday afternoon and a chance of hail and thunder, too.

There's a risk of flooding and low level travel disruption in some places, and the showers are due to last into the evening before dying out.

In case you missed it...

Elsewhere on the campaign trail on Wednesday...

BBC News NI's Campaign Catch-up will keep you across the general election trail with a daily dose of the main stories, the minor ones and the lighter moments in the run up to polling day on Thursday 8 June.

Hear more on BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra at 17:40 each weekday.

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