Last week, in my political preview of 2010, I put my head on the block and predicted that this year’s general election will result in a slim Tory majority of the order of that achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1979.
The chances of such an outcome have doubtless been strengthened by the past week’s events, and yet another botched coup attempt against Gordon Brown which has left the Prime Minister badly wounded, but not quite dead.
But if a narrow Tory victory is what I think will happen come May 6 – if indeed that proves to be the election date – what do I think should happen when the country finally goes to the polls?
Well, at the risk of infuriating the supporters of both main parties – and it wouldn’t be the first time, after all – I have no hesitation in saying that I very much hope the electorate will deliver us a hung Parliament.
At this point, I can practically hear the collective ranks of the North-East’s Conservative and Labour stalwarts sighing to themselves: “We always knew he was a Liberal Democrat.”
But actually, the reason I want to see a hung Parliament is not because I want to see a Lib-Lab coalition, or even a Lib-Con one, but because I think the country now badly needs a government of national unity.
It may seem an odd time to say this, given the increasingly bitter nature of the two parties’ attacks on eachother over the past few days as the pre-election skirmishing got under way in earnest.
But in my view, the peculiar circumstances of this time in politics demand a degree of cross-party co-operation that can only happen if the two main parties are working together in government.
Why do I say this? Well, because the country is facing three big challenges at the moment which, in my view, would be best handled by a bipartisan approach.
They are, firstly, the economy, and specifically the question of how to tackle the budget deficit. Secondly, how to restore trust in politics after the twin scandals of the Iraq War and MPs’ expenses. And thirdly, how to bring our involvement in Afghanistan to a successful, or at the very least an honourable, conclusion.
On all of these key questions, whichever party wins the election will have to make some hard and potentially unpopular choices.
It would, in my view, be better if they were in a position to build a national cross-party consensus for those difficult choices rather than having to make them in the knowledge that they will be opposed for opposition’s sake.
This is particularly true of the economy. Everyone now knows that the next government will have to carry out the most vicious public spending cuts since the early 80s – so why indulge in the pretence that there is actually an alternative?
On political reform, too, it would be better if the parties could as far as possible reach agreement on the way forward, rather than for one side to face the inevitable accusations of fixing the system to suit their own ends.
The last Lab-Con coalition was, of course, the wartime one formed by Sir Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee in 1940 which successfully saw the country through to victory over Hitler in 1945.
I do not claim the peril facing us now is anything like of the order of that dark hour, but the sense of national emergency that has gripped the UK for the past year or so perhaps comes closer to it than anything since.