So it’s a hung parliament. That isn’t ideal: Britain could do with a strong government with a clear mandate to sort out the fiscal mess that Gordon Brown has landed us in. But it need not be the chaotic disaster that some pundits were predicting in the run up to the election.
I think by far the most likely outcome at this stage is a minority Tory administration. After Nick Clegg’s remarks a few moments ago, it is clearly David Cameron’s ball to run with, so here’s what he could do:
First, come to some accommodation with the Ulster Unionists. This should be relatively straightforward.
Second, get on the phone to SNP leader Alex Salmond. Offer fiscal autonomy for Holyrood and a referendum on Scottish independence in return for his support. He would be a fool not to leap at the offer.
Third, since that still wouldn’t give the Tories control of the Commons, try to co-opt the Lib Dems. There’s no need for a coalition – all the Conservatives really need is Lib Dem backing for their budget. Letting Nick Clegg have his ‘Council for Financial Stability’ is an obvious olive branch.
Fourth, focus on what can be done without the need for primary legislation. In reality this is a lot: a public sector efficiency drive, a bonfire of regulations, and even the Tories’ school reforms can be accomplished via secondary legislation and administrative orders.
Fifth, get ready for another election within a year. Come up with a clear platform that (a) people actually understand, and (b) answers the question ‘what will a Conservative government do for me?’
The fact that the Tories only got 36.1 percent of the vote, despite facing a tired government, a discredited, disliked prime minister, and should make them ask some serious questions about their campaign. Thatcher got 43.9 percent in ’79, 42.4 percent in ’83, and 42.4 percent in ’97. John Major got 41.9 percent in ’92. Whatever the spin coming out of CCHQ, last night was not a victory for Project Cameron.