Instead of worrying how to put together another coalition (or even minority) government today, David Cameron has won an outright majority:
At the time of writing, with almost all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives had 325, Labour 229, the SNP 56 and the Liberal Democrats eight. In practice 323 Members of Parliament is the number needed to form a majority government.
As Cameron drove to Buckingham Palace to notify Queen Elizabeth that she had a new government from day one, rather than the chaotic search for a viable cross-party coalition of either the right or the left, [Ed] Miliband resigned as Labour leader, shocked by the scale of his rejection by the electorate. Among the night’s casualties were a raft of senior Labour figures, including his shadow chancellor Ed Balls, defeated in Leeds.
The result was a vindication of Cameron’s much-criticized decision to run a largely negative campaign, stressing the risks to Britain’s still-fragile economic recovery of a Labour government that would overspend and drive away investors through taxes aimed at the wealthy and their tax-avoiding practices.
The majority isn't large enough to guarantee passage of the Conservative agenda in full. For one thing, Conservative back-benchers will probably agitate to pull the country out of the European Union, which would be disastrous for Britain. And with the SNP's 56-vote bloc, another referendum on Scotland seems likely in two or three years.
Europe is especially dangerous for the Conservatives. Under pressure from Eurosceptics in his party, Mr Cameron promised to spend two years renegotiating Britain’s place in the EU before holding an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. Setting such a firm deadline was foolish: there is a real risk that, in the mid-term doldrums, British voters will sever their country’s relationship with its most important trading partner. But Mr Cameron has no option but to stick with it.
The difficulty will be calibrating Britain’s demands. Ask for too much and he will come home empty-handed. Win too little from Brussels and he will lose too many of his own party for his government to survive. He should avoid all talk of treaty change (which European governments are unlikely to countenance) and focus instead on cutting red tape, extending the single market and cracking down on welfare tourism. Then he should spin every slight achievement as a mighty victory.
Scotland poses a bigger problem. The Nationalists’ triumph was almost complete and they now have a large foothold in the parliament of a country that they wish to dismember. A second independence referendum in the next few years seems increasingly likely. English resentment of Scotland is growing, and is particularly strong among Tory backbenchers. One way out of this bind is for Mr Cameron to move more boldly towards far-reaching devolution. That might restore some Scottish faith in Westminster. And the country’s rent-seeking political culture will end only when the Scottish government has power over finances.
Like a lot of Labour-leaning people, I'm curious to see how the party recover from the loss today. The Liberal Democrats have a harder time of it, though: Nick Clegg also resigned, now that the entire Lib-Dem caucus is small enough to fit in a minivan.