Now the real work starts. In eight days' time, barring the greatest upset in political history, David Cameron will become the leader of the Conservative Party. Some of his supporters will no doubt celebrate the occasion by depleting Britain's champagne reserves. Mr Cameron himself will be unable to join them for long. The next day, he is due to face Tony Blair at PM's Questions; not an insuperable task, but one which would benefit from a clear head.
Within a couple of days, Mr Cameron will also have to begin the process of setting out his course. Personnel decisions are the first priority. The indications are that William Hague will return to the front bench, preferably as Shadow Chancellor. He certainly ought to. He may have been the party's youngest leader since William Pitt, but that would not excuse him from becoming the Tories' youngest-ever bald bed-blocker. He would be unable to find a moral justification for refusing to serve.
Next is the David Davis question. It would be wrong to suggest that there would be widespread dismay in the Cameron camp if Mr Davis refused to serve. But he will be offered a senior post, in good faith.
It is less clear whether he would accept it in a similar spirit. Until the party conference, Mr Davis assumed that he was going to win. There is no evidence that he has yet recovered from the shock of disappointment, while a lot of evidence indicates that he is a bad loser. Is he capable of devoting all his energies to helping Mr Cameron to become Prime Minister? We shall see.
Plenty of other talented people will give their uttermost. They are unlikely to include Kenneth Clarke, and it is hard to blame him. Mr Clarke was in government for 18 years, 12 of them in cabinet. He was home secretary and chancellor. He is 65. It is no disrespect to the current Shadow Leader of the House, Chris Grayling, who has done well and is going places, to say that Mr Clarke would do that job magnificently. Not the most arduous task in opposition, it merely involves regular opportunities to biff government ministers around the Chamber, which Mr Clarke would enjoy. But he is not short of the means of enjoyment. He is unlikely to return to the colours.
In his absence, Malcolm Rifkind would be an obvious alternative. It was both inevitable and understandable that he should have had difficulty in coming to terms with his colleagues' refusal to acknowledge his leadership credentials. But he should consider the example of Michael Howard.
In 2001, Mr Howard was not even a candidate for the Tory leadership. To widespread surprise, he then agreed to serve as Iain Duncan Smith's shadow chancellor: the second hardest job in opposition. At the time, that seemed a noble example of self-sacrifice. Why should a man approaching the end of his political career put himself to all that trouble? Two years later, virtue was rewarded.
I do not believe that the leadership question figured much in Mr Howard's calculations when he accepted the job. I think that he did so because he felt that if asked, it was his duty to serve: an admirable attitude, worthy of widespread emulation. But it did give Mr Howard the opportunity to lead his party. At present, it seems unlikely that the Tories will need another leader for at least 15 years - but in politics, Mr Rifkind, you never know.
It is important that Mr Cameron should find the right people for the main portfolios, because a huge amount of hard thinking needs to be done. Some of Mr Cameron's friends are saying that he will initiate a renewal of Tory policy-making on a scale that has not been seen since Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph. That is not so. The Cameron renewal will be even more comprehensive.
Although there was a lot of Tory policy activity in the late Seventies, much of the intellectual effort was devoted to a solitary great question; was Britain still viable? An affirmative answer required three challenges to be surmounted: trade union lawlessness, the economic anarchy of inflation and the Cold War. By comparison, all other policy questions were trivial.
Mr Cameron also has dragons to slay: two of them, public sector waste and rampant regulation. But these are lesser beasts than the monsters of the early Eighties. They require a slog through the small print rather than a cavalry charge. The other policy priorities are equally complex. They include the future of energy supplies, education reform, value for money in health, a new diplomacy for Europe and a rebalancing of fiscal policy.
These challenges explain Mr Cameron's reluctance to invent policy on the campaign trail. It is not that he is policy-averse. On the contrary: from experience, he knows how much hard work is required before a policy proposal can be launched on the open seas.
In one area, Mr Cameron is determined to be radical. Like many of us, he has brooded over one of the grimmest paradoxes of modern British life. London is one of the world's most glorious cities, sumptuously endowed with culture, civilisation and economic dynamism. Yet within two or three miles of those endowments are housing estates whose inmates are untouched by the culture, immune to the dynamism and enemies of the civilisation. Nor is the underclass problem unique to London. Wherever it is to be found, Mr Cameron believes it intolerable.
Putting it right will be a priority for a Cameron opposition and a Cameron government. Government: Mr Cameron will focus Tory minds on that goal, rather than on party management. In this, he has two advantages. The first is followership. If he provides the leadership, most Tories will be longing to follow him. There will be little tolerance for bilious dissidents who try to undermine the leadership.
The second is modernisation. Over the past few months, the party has wasted far too much time in agonising over that vague concept, which in practice seems to mean little apart from a desire for many more female parliamentary candidates: a laudable aim. But up to now, Francis Maude - who is likely to remain party chairman - has often seemed to confuse modernisation with masochism. It is time for the Tory party to stop apologising and stop putting out its backside to be kicked. If it does that, someone will always be happy to oblige.
Mr Cameron can bring the futilities of the modernisation debate to a rapid end, because as soon as he is elected, the party will appear to have modernised. As he is modernity personified, he can devote himself to stressing those traditional Tory values and principles which still resonate with the electorate.
We cannot be sure whether Mr Cameron will reach No 10, but on one point, we can be certain. Over the next few months, it is going to be exciting to be a Tory. The party is back in the winning business.Reuse content