David Jones is MP for Clwyd West and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.
As General Election campaigns go – and this is my fifth – this has been a long one. It’s sometimes hard to remember a time when we were not tramping the streets, knocking on doors, and stuffing leaflets through bristly letterboxes. However, the finishing post is now in sight; we are on the last lap.
Here in Wales, we have much cause for optimism. I believe that we can, and will, hold the ground that we took in 2010 and, in addition, take Brecon and Radnor from the Lib Dems. I am hearing from friends in the South-West, too, that we are well placed to make significant gains from our former coalition partners there.
If the opinion polls are anything to go by, things remain tight. However, every candidate knows that there are still many voters who have not made up their minds. I believe that effectively communicating our strong message on the economy will turn many of them in our direction during the last few days of the campaign, just as it did in 1992. I have no doubt at all that this election is there for the winning.
However, we do of course have to prepare for all eventualities, and I am sure that careful thought is already being given in Downing Street to what will happen if we do not see a clear-cut result. The pundits are predicting a very messy hung Parliament, and whilst they are entirely capable of proving themselves wrong, we do have to acknowledge that possibility.
How we address that outcome will be critical for the future of our party and our country. With the fastest growing economy in Europe, the lowest unemployment for many years, and international recognition that this country really is on the mend, it would be disastrous if we were to throw everything away in an ill-judged coalition.
If the election result is not decisive, inter-party discussions will open immediately. They will have to be handled with extraordinary care if we are to secure that all sections of the Conservative Party are reassured that what they see as the national interest is fully protected.
Dealing with the Liberal Democrats, in particular, will be difficult. It is very clear that they will take a massive hit in this election, and I would not be at all surprised if they lost half their seats. Many Lib Dems will want to return to the opposition benches to lick their wounds. Others may well prefer a deal with Labour. In any negotiations, they will try to exact a high price for their support.
David Cameron will, of course, want to do everything possible to prevent the disastrous scenario of Ed Miliband entering Number 10 with the backing of the SNP. In that, he will have the support of the entire Conservative Party. However, in any coalition discussions the Prime Minister will need to be assured that all wings of the party are with him.
It is fairly clear that a significant number of our supporters were unhappy with the compromises we had to make in coalition. It is vital that we fully reflect and represent the interests of those people if we are to consider a new coalition after May 7 and at the same time safeguard the future of our party. We also have to make sure that our party is united as we face that challenge.
In 2010, there were very speedy negotiations leading to the coalition agreement, conducted by a small team close to the Prime Minister. If there is need in May for a repeat of that process, the party will certainly expect a broader group of people to be involved, to make sure that the interests of all parts of the party are protected.
I believe that, of my former cabinet colleagues, the two individuals who would command the trust of the Right of our party in any coalition negotiations are Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling. I, for one, would wish to see them heavily involved in any inter-party discussions after 7 May.