The people have spoken, and now it is up to the politicians that they have elected to behave responsibly and calmly in order to create a government that will serve out the Parliament and establish a stable framework for the decisions that must now be taken to strengthen our economy and our politics.
The Conservatives have offered a coalition beyond a confidence and supply agreement, and that is -at least on the surface- a handsome gesture. Labour have removed their leader, knowing that the British public would not tolerate his return to office. However the mathematics of the new Parliament does not permit Labour to form anything but an unstable and fractious multi-party coalition. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have more in common in their approach to the economy too.
Nevertheless, certain figures within the Liberal Democrats, such as Sir Menzies Campbell and Baroness Williams remain deeply concerned about going into a coalition with David Cameron. I can understand their point of view, but I do not agree with it. The fact is that the only stable coalition that can be formed is Liberal Democrat and Conservative.
Nevertheless, there are two critical points that the Conservatives must understand. Without electoral reform, such a coalition would be enormously damaging to the Liberal Democrats: PR, at least for an elected House of Lords and local councils should be conceded, while the possibility of AV/AV+ reform of votes for the House of Commons must be put to referendum. This is the minimum that the Liberal Democrats must insist on. Furthermore, the programme for both economic and political change must be agreed for a minimum fixed term. There can be no early election until these measures are passed, and again this must be a red line. Ideally Mr. Cameron should set the date for the next general election as part of the coalition agreement.
Unless these measures can be agreed, then a coalition can probably not be constructed in the way that Mr. Cameron hopes. Nevertheless, despite the wishes of Sir Ming and Lady Williams, a coalition with Labour would not pass the triple lock within the Liberal Democrats. I for one could not support such a coalition.
So, in the next few hours we can either agree a common programme with Mr. Cameron or agree that he goes it alone. Any deal with the SNP would be a catastrophe, and any deal with Labour would be in my view unacceptable to the majority of the British electorate, including many of those that voted for the Liberal Democrats. Labour lost more than the Conservatives did and the fair play of the British would take their return to office very ill indeed.
In the end, we have to trust to the fair dealing of the negotiating team. It is fair- even essential- to consider all options, but the reality is that there is on one coalition that works, and however reluctantly and subject to the points I make above, this is the one that we are trying to construct.