David Cameron's speech offers a fascinating, even radical, way forward. There is probably no doubt in Nick Clegg's mind that it is Cameron who carries the electoral legitimacy; his earlier comments said as much. There is also no doubt as to Gordon Brown's sheer desperation now to remain in power, and to ensure that he controls the levers of power as long as possible. The almost blank page that Labour are now offering Clegg on which to write an electoral reform policy is extraordinary. Cameron, by contrast, speaking from a position of strength as the leader who has garnered most votes, but conscious of the weakness of his parliamentary position as the largest minority party, has offered something far more nuanced, interesting and far-reaching.
Cameron offered some reassurance to his own party, notably on Europe and immigration. But, possibly unlike many of his party die-hards, Cameron, as ever, does 'get it', just as he 'got it' when the expenses scandal broke out. Cameron knows that it is vital he taps into the electorate's mood for change, without unbalancing their continuing suspicion of party politics. He has offered a deal to the Liberals that could move this currently stalemated political proces forward in a way that suits the verdict proclaimed yesterday. By identifying common interests in policy with the Lib Dems, and by proposing a commission to consider electoral reform, Cameron has taken a huge gamble, for these are things many in his party are innately suspicious of. But Cameron has steel, and he is also - tantalisingly for the Tories - within a hair's breadth of power, and he is assuming that no sane Tory (not a fully inclusive label) will want to rock the boat away from such a prospect now.
If Nick Clegg responds - as it seems he might - in a positive way to Cameron's wide-ranging overtures, the prospect of an intelligent, effective, reforming and 'new' type of government could well emerge. I think Cameron and Clegg both have the vision and pragmatic grasp to make this work, but boy are their parties going to be difficult! Cameron's speech has, at any rate, confirmed the view that this is indeed a leader who knows how to grasp a situation and steer it impressively. He is absolutely a prime minister in waiting now, and the man in Number 10 needs to make way quickly.
UPDATE: Blogger Guido Fawkes carries this upbeat response to the Cameron project. If it comes off, he reckons, we could see the death of Labour.