EVEN David Cameron must have been pinching himself when he stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street and spoke these words: “I have just been to see Her Majesty the Queen and I will now form a majority Conservative government.”
After the most closely-fought election in a generation, one in which every opinion poll pointed to political paralysis, even the most diehard of Tory activists could not have foreseen a scenario in which Mr Cameron defied political gravity to secure a historic triumph against the odds.
He is the first Conservative leader to secure an outright majority since John Major confounded the pollsters nearly a quarter of a century ago and the parallels are striking: shy Tories coming out in unexpected numbers to vote for economic prudence and to reject the high-spending Labour alternative. Yet, even though it took Mr Cameron 10 years to reach this point, he will be acutely aware that his predecessor’s success was very short-lived because of economic turmoil – and Tory infighting over Europe.
In this regard, the Prime Minister has one distinct advantage over Sir John – Britain’s economy is on the road to recovery and he now has a clear mandate to deliver a low-tax and pro-business agenda which rewards enterprise and personal responsibility.
However Europe promises, once again, to become a totemic issue – Mr Cameron’s pledge to deliver an in-out referendum on EU membership has the potential to polarise the country – while the landslide success enjoyed by the Scottish Nationalists has totally changed the political landscape.
This was reflected in the respectful tone of the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday; he was magnanimous towards the vanquished, not least Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, while reiterating a desire to deliver unprecedented powers to the Scottish Parliament as part of a devolution package for the whole of the United Kingdom. In this regard, it will be imperative that the Premier acknowledges the warning of Mr Clegg, the defeated Lib Dem leader, that “grievance and fear” must not be allowed to drive communities apart.
Mr Cameron has a balance to strike – he has to acknowledge the will of the Scottish people while also not making concessions that disadvantage those regions like Yorkshire which were so critical to this Tory success story, not least the Portillo-like defeat of Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood.
Having promised one week ago, when victory seemed a forlorn hope, to preside over a series of reforms that enable growth in the North to outpace the rest of the UK, it is imperative that the Conservatives deliver on this agenda. On the campaign trail, Mr Cameron expressed a reluctance to accede to calls for a specific Minister for Yorkshire to be appointed because he wanted every member of his Government to be a champion for this county.
Having earned the right to finish the job that he began 2010, his mission now is to repay the faith shown by the silent majority and demonstrate that Great Britain’s best days do now lie in the future, and as one nation. He must not squander this unexpected opportunity.
A loss of influence: Clegg and Miliband both resign
A LACKLUSTRE campaign and red herring polls gave no hint of the tumultuous events of yesterday as no fewer than three party leaders fell on their swords in an unprecedented and quite brutal bloodletting.
One by one, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage bowed to the inevitable as they paid the price for their parties’ dismal showings.
For Labour, it is a wake-up call. The polls had offered hope but the result was indubitable proof that their mismanagement of the economy has not been forgotten. The final straw came when Ed Miliband stood on a stage in Leeds a week before the nation went to the polls and insisted that his party had not overspent during its ruinous 13 years in power.
Such a staggering inability to learn lessons from the past – together with Mr Miliband’s underwhelming leadership and pronounced lurch to the left – gave any wavering voters no choice but to place their faith in the Conservatives to finish the job of economic recovery.
While the “Lib Demolition” was even worse than had been feared, history will perhaps judge Nick Clegg more kindly. The die was undoubtedly cast in the earliest days of the coalition, however, when he irrevocably lost the public’s trust with his U-turn over tuition fees.
Yet the Sheffield Hallam MP’s contribution as a moderating force should not be overlooked. Nor must the stability his brave decision to enter into coalition gave the country in its hour of need, or the achievements for which he and his party received too little credit.
For both parties the rebuilding work must now begin in earnest. After all, good governance depends on a strong and coherent opposition.