Michael Brown: The fortunes of Clegg and Cameron are now inextricably bound together

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The Independent Online

When the end came, all that was missing was the revelation that a pearl-handled revolver had been discovered, still smoking, in the Cabinet Room at No 10. The last days in the bunker did not actually end in death – at any rate no body has been found. A man resembling the former prime minister was last seen in a car heading for Buckingham Palace. But he might have been Gordon Brown's double.

For months, even when the opinion polls pointed to an overall Tory majority, I have suggested that we should never underestimate the ability of the Tories to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And so it turned out when the results of last Thursday's general election were counted. Yesterday, however, David Cameron snatched victory from what seemed the jaws of defeat following the anarchy caused by Labour's attempt to cling on like limpets in the Downing Street bunker.

But throughout the intervening period, since the votes were counted last Thursday, Mr Cameron has behaved with integrity, openness and honesty. If this is a taste of what he is capable of under pressure, in government, then it augers well for the weeks and months ahead. If he thought – like the rest of us – that he had been double-crossed by Nick Clegg, during the Liberal Democrats' farcical 24-hour dalliance with the dying embers of the outgoing Labour government, he never showed it. Throughout, in his public comments, he has maintained an outward dignity and patience during the tortuous events of the past few days.

Even though he enters Downing Street as the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812 – and with no ministerial experience – his reputation has already been enhanced since the voters passed judgement last week. If there was another general election tomorrow he would be elected with an overwhelming majority – and the Lib Dems would be devastated. Nevertheless, Mr Cameron still has to work with, and trust, Mr Clegg in the months ahead. Whatever the lack of clarity in the voice of the voters, they clearly wanted to sack Gordon Brown and the Labour party. And when Mr Clegg said that the party with the largest number of seats and votes has the first right to form a government, most voters assumed that this meant he would recognise the legitimacy of a Cameron premiership.

Whatever misgivings both Tory and Lib Dem backbenchers and party workers might have about this arrangement, there is every prospect that it could be a success.

As a formal coalition Government, it will have both the authority to govern for a full parliament and the voting strength in the Commons to implement an agreed legislative programme. Ultimately this is a victory for both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, whose fortunes and future electoral prospects are now inextricably bound together. If the test is "stable government", the arrangement, the details of which will become clearer during the coming days, has every prospect of success – at least in the medium term.

If lack of "trust" in our politicians was the context in which the recent general election was fought, the same question of "trust" will underlie the Conservatives' relationship with the Lib Dems – both at Cabinet level and among backbench MPs of both parties. But the omens are good. Plainly, notwithstanding the hiccup involving the Lib Dems' momentary dalliance with Labour, there has been a good working relationship between the respective negotiating teams.

Clearly many Tory MPs expecting preferment may have to give way to Lib Dems. Mr Cameron appears, however, to have had little trouble in reassuring his backbenchers so far. Ultimately, he has power and patronage. His party returns to the government benches after 13 years. This ensures that much internal opposition will evaporate – for now. But he should recall David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith to reassure the Tory right to dissipate the criticism of cliquishness.

For all the Tories' opposition to electoral reform, Mr Cameron's administration may be historic in proving whether multi-party politics can work. It will be the biggest irony if the case for fair votes is proved and achieved under a Conservative Prime Minister.

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