The dignified option would be for May to go. It is absurd to suggest a lame duck administration could negotiate the Brexit talks with confidence or credibility
Theresa May is right: this country does indeed need a period of stability. But it is not going to get one with her at the helm, or in the near future. Her dream of a personal mandate lies in ashes, her plan to negotiate an orderly Brexit suddenly at an end.
Having framed the election as a referendum on her leadership as personal a political pitch as one can make she cannot now avoid the implications of the outcome. This is a brutal verdict upon her premiership and considered in aggregate a collective signal that it should draw to a close forthwith.
What went wrong? The Conservative manifesto was already the subject of much muttering on the right, as though the voters would punish May for daring to question the Friedmanite puritanism of small-state Toryism. In fact, this much-maligned document was a timely restatement and recasting of conservatism for the 21st century, imaginative in its approach to intergenerational politics, the role of government, the propriety of taxing wealth, the pathologies of the internet, and much else.
But it all came to naught. The audit of the Tory campaign will be brutal, and rightly so. Indeed, the first question the auditors must ask is: what campaign?
Yes, the contest was twice disrupted by terrorist atrocities that made its petty squabbles seem cheap and tawdry. But Mays bid to achieve a sizeable personal mandate already lacked form, structure and above all energy. To avoid face-to-face debates with Jeremy Corbyn would have been acceptable had the Tory leader been, visibly, a force of kinetic urgency in every other context.
Instead, she chose to mouth platitudinous slogans to audiences that were often handpicked. Much will be made of her U-turn on social care, but an adept campaigner could have shrugged this off by saying that the policy was still being honed and that she stood by its fundamentals. Instead, she refused to acknowledge that anything had changed, insulting the intelligence of the media (unwise) and the public (fatal).
At the time of writing, I can see no coalition, pact or deal emerging from this election not only because the probable parliamentary arithmetic defies such diplomacy, but because (in sharp contrast to 2010) there is no readiness among the parties to forge such an alliance.
More to the point, I cannot see a minority Tory government under May struggling on as though it had suffered an inconvenience rather than a catastrophe. It is simply absurd to suggest that a lame duck administration could go on to negotiate the Brexit talks with confidence or credibility.
The prime minister might allow the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011 to take its course: a vote of no confidence, two weeks to form a government, the failure to do so, and the calling of a second election. How much more dignified and May is a person of considerable dignity to confront the bitter truth, announce her resignation as Conservative leader, urge her party to elect a successor swiftly, declare that she will tender her resignation as prime minister and (in so doing) prepare the ground for the second election that is the inevitable outcome of this extraordinary night.
What an irony: the gamble that was supposed to settle everything has settled only the fate of the woman who, against habit and history, threw the dice on the table and lost it all. The rest of us face only a haze of uncertainty.