Imagine you’re David Cameron for a minute.
I’m sorry to have put that thought into your head. Just stop screaming and try and imagine you’re the Tory leader on May 5th, this year. What the hell would be going through your mind?
You were leader of the Opposition against a party that was morally, intellectually and financially bankrupt. They were led by a leader whom most of the country despised, and the rest grudgingly admitted was just not up to the job. Your party has been 10-15 points ahead in the opinion polls for about 18 months before the election.
Even with a massive swing needed for an overall majority in the Commons, attaining that majority still seemed possible. You would become Prime Minister on a handsome majority, vindicating your decision to tack to the centre ground during your leadership, and go down in history as an electoral genius.
Just to make sure of your victory, you get the leaders of the other main parties to take part in a series of TV debates. You might not have many policies, but the fact that you’re a much better communicator than the Prime Minister should come across easily.
Then it all goes wrong!
There was only one major flaw. You’d forgotten that a third man would have to be part of the TV debates. You didn’t even know his name until he introduced himself as “Nick” before the start of the first one. Then the cheeky bugger only goes and wins the debate, by looking at the camera and addressing questioners by their name.
Suddenly there’s a Lib Dem surge in the polls, your momentum vanishes, and you spend the final 48 hours of the campaign touring Britain non-stop to try and get that elusive majority that looked so certain at the start of the campaign, but to no avail.
There’s a hung Parliament: you haven’t won the election. You are miserable, but then a plan begins to form in your mind.
Obviously you must take your revenge on the upstart Clegg, but you know your political history. Sulking and being bitter won’t do any good, and will just make you look foolish (c.f. Ted Heath, Gordon Brown). Instead, you devise an even more cunning strategy. You will kill Clegg with kindness; drown him in candy floss.
First, you make a full, comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats, knowing they have little choice but to join you in a coalition.
Then you have Clegg where you want him, and you can systematically start making him the most hated, most ridiculous man in Britain.
For instance, when he says that this will be the greenest government in Britain’s history, you announce a plan to sell off Britain’s forests, raise train fares by 10% and water down emissions standards for coal power stations.
When he says that Britons will be “more liberal” at the end of this government’s term of office in 2015, you revive plans to spy on everyone’s e-mails and text messages, whilst also retaining control orders.
Then you find out that Clegg signed a pledge before the election to vote against any rise in university fees:
So you immediately annouce plans to triple them. Then you say to Clegg that it’s fine for him to abstain against the rise if he likes, knowing that if he does then he will be hated by everyone.
Clegg is now being pilloried by everyone. You have had your revenge. And it feels so, so sweet.