David Cameron began this year's general election campaign with an unprecedented financial advantage, an unusually united Tory party and a largely compliant media. Yet he ended it 20 seats short of a Commons majority and was forced to enter government with the man he once described as his favourite joke: Nick Clegg.
Campaign 2010: the Making of the Prime Minister promises to tell the tale of this reversal of fortune, but the book ends up devoting just 147 of its pages to the campaign. Rather than offering an inside account of the election, Nicholas Jones spends much of his time summarising some of the main political events of the past five years: Cameron's no-notes speech to the 2005 Tory conference, the phantom election of 2007, Rupert Murdoch's defection to the Conservatives, the MPs' expenses scandal.
Expecting to be plunged into the CCHQ war room, one finds instead a lengthy account of Cameron's early years as a special adviser to Norman Lamont and Michael Howard. Not all of this is without merit and Cameron's induction into the "dark arts of media manipulation" does much to explain his later attraction to Andy Coulson. But it is an underwhelming opening for a book that promises to chart the "countdown to the coalition".
The lesson of the 2010 election was that a superficially reformed Conservative Party could not hope to win a majority in the House of Commons. But while Cameron's Tories may be no less right-wing on tax, immigration and Europe, they have had a highly effective facelift. It was the expenses scandal, as Jones correctly notes, that provided Cameron with the opportunity for "a dramatic cull of Tory old-timers". Had it not been for the likes of Douglas Hogg with his moat, Peter Viggers with his duck island and Anthony Steen with his "very, very large house", he would never have had a chance to purge the party of bed-blockers.
If there is a central flaw in the book it is that Jones, a former BBC political correspondent, refuses to pass judgement on any of this. He dwells at tedious length on Gordon Brown's encounter with Gillian Duffy, but fails to mention his speech to Citizens UK on 3 May, the last, eloquent cry of a mortally wounded beast. Elsewhere, one longs for him to point out the bare-faced cheek of Cameron, who ran absurd election broadcasts against the "hung parliament party", but later hailed the coalition agreement as the apotheosis of "the new politics".
Cameron's good fortune is that the coalition has enabled him to achieve what he could not do alone and to marginalise the right of his party. Once widely viewed as an alliance of convenience, the coalition is now recognisably a vehicle to realign British politics. However, Jones has little to say about the long-term implications of this or about how, as Charles Kennedy put it, the agreement drove a "strategic coach and horses" through the long-nurtured realignment of the centre left.
Jones's account of Cameron's first month as Prime Minister ends on an oddly hagiographic note. Discussing his response to the findings of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, Jones claims that Cameron "effortlessly . . . assumed the mantle of a One-Nation Tory". Cameron's statement on the inquiry was an impressive act of catharsis, but there is no sign of him evolving into the One-Nation Conservative he once promised to become. The regressive nature of the coalition's first Budget put paid to any hope of that.
Meanwhile, the Tory inquest into the party's failure to win a majority continues, with grandees, including Michael Ashcroft, promising their own book-length assessments of the chaotic campaign. Others, most notably Andrew Adonis, are competing to write the definitive account of the post-election negotiations. It is from these, rather than Campaign 2010, that our understanding of those feverish days is likely to be enhanced.
Campaign 2010: the Making of the Prime Minister
Biteback, 394pp, £9.99