As I write, the BBC exit poll looks right, Thursday morning’s polls look hopelessly wrong – and even the forecasters (such as Elections Etc, Election Forecast and May 2015) seem to have underestimated the Conservative seat total.
On the basis of the results so far, the Conservatives are on the verge of a majority; Ed Miliband will have be out by tomorrow evening; the Liberal Democrats will plunge to fewer than 15 seats – so Nick Clegg will go too – and the SNP will sweep Scotland, taking almost every seat.
With England moving in one direction, and Scotland hurtling in another, David Cameron must make the latter the federal offer that this site has long recommended. The implications of yesterday’s results for the Union, one of the most successful political arrangements the world has ever seen, are grim.
None the less, this election is shaping up to be an awesome result for Cameron: the master of last-minuteism appears to have pulled off a last-minute win that not a single pollster, politician or pundit had forecast. If he gains a majority, I will be lining up with Lord Ashdown to eat my hat.
This outcome still hangs in the balance – but, undoubtedly, a 1992-type result of the kind that he helped to engineer as the young head of the Conservatives’ political department is taking shape. Talk of Shy Tories was an understatement: Reclusive Tories have massed silently to the polling booths in droves.
What has driven them? Hope in Cameron and George Osborne? Or fear of Miliband and the SNP – a deep primal apprehension that a Labour led-government would screw their wallets, their families and their country?
The inquests will tell us more, but ConservativeHome’s best guess is that the latter was a bigger part of the mix than the former. The campaign that Cameron, Osborne and Lynton Crosby ran was shaped to that end – and the Prime Minister, in particular, deserves congratulations for holding his nerve.
Our view has consistently been that it was not the campaign to get the Conservatives up to the 40 per cent or more that would once again make them the natural party of government – but that it was the best chance of getting north of 35 per cent. This morning, that looks about right.
In the light of this unforeseen progress, Number 10 could be forgiven for allowing triumph to morph into triumphalism. To put it mildly, this would be a mistake – as even a glance at the Commons arithmetic will confirm.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that Cameron has led for five years had a majority of over 70. Even if he scrapes a majority, the Prime Minister will have one of nothing like that. And it is still possible that he will fall short.
If so, he will look for backing from Clegg’s party and the DUP, with the Tories just short of a majority on 315 seats or so. Under such conditions, might he seek to reach an understanding with the Liberal Democrats? If so, on what terms – and what will his Party think?
It’s too early to have a firm view on these possibilities – but not too early to advance one on how Cameron should handle them. For as he prepares to return to Downing Street, he has a golden chance to host a Conservative family reunion.
The A-list, expenses, not winning in 2010, the handling of same-sex marriage, last year’s shuffle, EU policy – all this and more has put the unity of the Tory family under strain. Not all of the wounds have been inflicted by Cameron (far from it), but he is now best placed to heal them.
That means working with the whole family to negotiate what at best will be a small majority; or a coalition for which endorsement will be necessary; or else no overall majority at all. And that, in turn, means a broadly-based team in Downing Street and round the Cabinet table.
A Chief Whip who is trusted by the opposition parties and Tory backbenchers alike; a powerful new Chief of Staff; a settlement with the Party’s Centre-Right – with the promise of that In-Out EU referendum in place. All this will be a necessary part of the mix.
I recently compared claims by a Cabinet Minister that Cameron would win a majority with forecasts by Harold Camping that the Rapture would happen. (Camping was an evangelist who had a habit of first predicting dates on which it would take place, and then explaining afterwards why it hadn’t happened.)
It’s 6am in the morning, and the Rapture still hasn’t come. But who knows what today may bring? The Prime Minister stands on the verge of being swept up into glory – “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.”