So the results are in and Blair's back. Howard is trying to engineer a smooth and professional handover of power within the Tory Party - much similar to the way he conducted his campaign. The two real themes were a Labour crumbling vote nationally, with Liberals benefiting from a largely anti-war sentiment in urban seats they were well positioned in, and the Conservative successful targeting of marginals in what has become a Liberal style in recent years and shoring up their core.
In a controversial move, I'm going to dredge up my pre-poll predictions. I was spot on when I thought we'd see the Liberals barely break into 60s, but underestimated the swing to the Conservatives and hence Labour's majority. Given that, after their campaign and the short period of time Michael Howard had in charge, I would have called getting Blair's majority into double-digits a decent performance I think the Tories can feel pleased about the result. It does represent the beginning of a renaissance, even if it is only the result they should have got four years ago at a time when Labour's vote plummeted. There are now MPs in Wales and Scotland, real targets in the North of England, and an expansion in the numbers of councils and councillors.
For Labour there were a couple of scalps which will make Tony Blair sad. The great UKIP vote never emerged, although they will have suppressed a couple of potential Tory majorities. Galloway behaved disgracefully, and his election is a condemnation of the attitude of many of the people in Bethnal Green & Bow. Nevertheless, it is a win for Labour, an third successive win for Labour, which is some achievement, albeit one we could see coming. The question now is what the opposition can do to make the next one more doubtful.
The Liberal Democrats made gains, and pulled off a couple of extraordinary results in student urban seats: notably Cambridge and Manchester. I don't think it's possible to say that Kennedy made the bold gains he could have done. The party could look back on 2005 as their chance to break into the big game, but that they passed that chance up. The big challenge facing the Liberals is positioning now. Do they seek to hold student and many ethnic minority votes by becoming a left-wing alternative, spurred on by the presence of Brian Sedgemore, a man many joined the SDP to avoid, or do they go for centrist orange-book liberalism, thereby risking spurning the gains they did make this time. Many of the areas in which they made headway will be tough fights against a less revisionist Labour party; to which many supposedly natural Labour supporters may feel inclined to return. With the increases coming in this way, as Labour support crumbled, it makes the question of resolving their "two faces" all the more pressing. As a centrist alternative the omens were less good, with "decapitation" never really emerging as its targets increased their majorities. Directly against the Tories, the Liberals made no substantial headway. So do they try to hold these gains and face up to Labour on the left hoping they won't be soft votes, or do they risk them much more and hope to pick up disillusioned centrists?
Whatever our feelings about the results, I do think "normal politics" can be resumed.