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  1. Politics
4 May 2010

What would happen if — if! — Cameron can’t form a government this week?

Could the Tory party be finished for ever?

By James Macintyre

Let me preface this by saying that David Cameron may well be prime minister by the end of the week. However . . .

At the end of my piece for the magazine out today, I touch on what might happen if he fails to form a government this week, speculating that — after the Tories pursued a “core vote” strategy in 2001 and 2005, and were then seen (wrongly, in my view) to have “modernised” fundamentally in 2010 — they would struggle to know where to turn.

Already, the recriminations have begun on the Thatcherite right of the party, saying Cameron should have stuck to harder-line policies. But in reality, he has, on every issue from tax to Europe to immigration to welfare to the family, and — as I have always said about Cameron — if he loses it will be not because he changed his party too much, but because he didn’t change it enough.

Nonetheless, the likelihood is surely that, thanks to the blanket media narrative that has declared him a “moderniser” and a centrist, the party will once again lurch to the right, possibly under the leadership of David Davis or Liam Fox.

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That is if Cameron goes, of course. But as I point out in the piece, the Tories are much more ruthless than Labour about getting rid of leaders who fail. Some say the “men in grey suits” could move in swiftly for the kill.

But there is no doubt that Cameron has performed extremely competently if not wisely as leader, and a party that has become so used to depending on his personality may baulk at the prospect of getting rid of him.

As a senior backbencher told me, the “problem” is that, as Mehdi Hasan explains here, the goalposts have been shifted so far between where they were months ago, when many people expected Cameron to win by a landslide, and now, when some would regard a hung parliament as a success for him.

Nonetheless, having been seen to have tried every strategy, the Tories would be in crisis — and perhaps be finished for good as a force in their own right — if they don’t win this week. However, as I said at the beginning, Cameron may well win on Thursday, and win big. We shall see.

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