The Conservatives have always sold themselves as a safe pair of hands. After seven years of unprecedented instability, this fable must die for ever.
In 2010, after 13 years of, ahem, strong and stable government, the Conservative opposition announced “we can’t go on like this”.
That was less than two years after prime minister Gordon Brown and his chancellor, Alastair Darling, had successfully steered the ship of state through the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s.
In May that year, the Tories won the most MPs and there was a hung parliament – the first since 1974. Tense negotiations resulted in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and neither party was able to fully realise its manifesto.
Five years later, on the eve of another election, coalition leader David Cameron said: “Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband.”
The man who would shortly go on to perpetrate the greatest act of constitutional vandalism in modern British history warned us sagely that Labour “threatens our recovery with … higher instability”.
And yet, prominent in the Conservative plan was a referendum on UK membership of the European Union, an accepted part of the political landscape on which Britain’s prosperity and cultural vitality was based.