1. Euro-style coalitions don’t work in Britain. In the last century, there were only four hung parliaments and only one of which (1929-31) lasted more than a year. Our adversarial system means things fall apart: the centre cannot hold. A hung parliament will mean a second election, probably next year. The prospect of a five-year deal with the LibDems is illusory.
2. Cameron must keep his word – and be seen to. His manifesto does not have an asterisk saying “In the event of a hung parliament, none of this is valid and we’ll take power in some backroom deal.” Cameron has spoken persuasively about the need to take principles back into politics. To start his tenure by bartering principles with the party of opportunism would not augur well for the inevitable second election.
3. The Tory Party would not allow such a coalition. In our leader, we say that Cameron would be well advised not to test the limits of his personal authority within the party if he fails to win a majority. Such a result would be, by his definition, a failure. James Forsyth’s politcial column has details of plans by the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories to elect an emergency chairman whose job it would be to lay down the party’s terms to the leadership. It could get very messy.
4. Nick Clegg will not bring down the government: he has more to lose from a second election than Cameron. I suspect there is enough gas left in the LibDem bubble to last until Thursday – Clegg may raise his tally of MPs from 62 to 80 or even 100. He still enjoys the novelty factor: he is not well enough known to be disliked. This will change. You can bet that, in a second election, he would kiss goodbye to his new recruits. It is Cameron that would have a gun against Clegg’s head, not vice versa.
5. Any coalition partners would be biding their time to scuttle a Tory government. Just as the SNP withdrew its support from Labour in 1979, triggering the confidence vote and (ergo) the election, so the Lib Dems would shaft Cameron when they felt it was necessary. It doesn’t matter how small or irrelevant such “partners” are: they hold you to ransom.
All told, far better to struggle on – as Harold Wilson did in 1974 – and ask the country for a proper mandate in a second election after displaying courage and principles. Think what disarray Labour will be in by then. So Cameron should not waste his time thinking about terms for talks about a majority. The only sensible route for him is to go it alone.