As for all Conservatives, election night brought for me the pleasure of being on the winning side. But it also brought some disappointment, in that we did not obtain that overall majority.
During the campaign, a number of bloggers and some mainstream media commentators had suggested that a Conservative victory would be disastrous for the party. Their argument was that Britain’s economic situation was so bad, and the necessary cuts and tax increases would be so awful, that whichever party made them would be severely punished by the electorate afterwards.
They said that the Tories should be happy to lose the election, and let Labour clear up the mess they had made.
Even the Governor of the Bank of England speculated that the party who did the nasty deeds would be out of power for a generation.
And yet, of course, another Labour victory would have been a disaster for our country – and indeed for morale in our party – and so most of us worked as hard as we could for a victory.
The assumption of all of us was that a hung parliament would lead to a Liberal-Labour coalition. Therefore, if the Tories did not win outright, they would be in opposition again. On election night, our disappointment came from that belief.
In the event, Britain was amazingly lucky. The hung parliament wasn’t just hung. It was hung in such a way that the Liberals and Labour together could not control the House of Commons. Most of us saw that on election night, and many of us called for a Liberal-Conservative coalition.
What we did not do was link these two thoughts together:
The party that governs in these difficult times will face the wrath of the electorate
The only stable government now available is a Liberal-Conservative one.
Consider then David Cameron. He led his party into this election having detoxified it and made it credible once again. He fought and battled for weeks campaigning for victory. And then he saw the bitter disappointment of seeing all those efforts come to nothing as the majority wasn’t forthcoming.
And yet, even then, he was able to do what none of us did – to link those two propositions together. He saw the opportunity that the unlikely House of Commons maths gave him to solve both the problems at a stroke. He would form a majority and at the same time turn away some of the wrath of the electorate, by linking with the Liberals.
And not in a half-hearted way. He didn’t want a supply-and-confidence arrangement. He wanted a full-blooded coalition, with Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers, collective responsibility and shared policies.
In that way, he would not only salvage victory from the jaws of defeat. He would do better than that. He would win an outcome better than he could have had by governing alone had he won outright.
David Cameron saw all of that in a night that must have been at first one of the most bitterly disappointing of his life.
Not many people can stay calm and think straight in a crisis. But to have the vision to see how that crisis could be turned into an opportunity, and to have the courage and decisiveness to seize that opportunity, is the mark of greatness.
And David Cameron moves up another notch in my estimation. Of course, he may fail. And it is also fair to say that Nick Clegg too showed more vision than many in his party, and himself moved to take the opportunity that Mr Cameron had offered him. Mr Clegg, and his Liberal colleagues who have been willing to swallow their doubts and accept this offer, have played a full part in the creation of this coalition government.
But it was David Cameron who seized the day. Let the carpers, whingers and doubters in both parties keep silent. Today is Mr Cameron’s day, and Mr Clegg’s. Who knows what the future may bring for us all. But we will face it together.