British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, gives a speech during a UK general election campaign visit at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in London on April 27, 2015. Britain goes to the polls on May 7 to elect a new parliament. AFP PHOTO / POOL / ADRIAN DENNIS Image Credit: AFP

Every election campaign has its stations of the cross — very cross, sometimes — which an incumbent party must pass through. One such ritual ordeal is the “wobbly weekend”, which,according to reports, David Cameron has just experienced.

In the screenplay of electoral contests, these alleged wobbles can be a minor setback to make the final triumph all the more dramatically exciting; or they can be a prelude to disaster. Two significant donors to the Conservative party — Peter Hall, an investment manager, and Hugh Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns — broke cover to maul Cameron for his alleged lack of vision and inspiration, and to call upon London Mayor Boris Johnson to fulfil his supposed destiny. And this much is true: A rebellion of party benefactors can indeed bring down a Tory leader. Just ask Iain Duncan Smith.

The Vogon tone of the Conservative campaign — “Economy good! Miliband bad! Resistance is useless!” — has been the cause of complaint from the start and blamed upon what Cameron happily calls the “Lyntonisation” of the party. I was with a Tory cabinet member recently who saw the words “cogs in a machine” on a poster and remarked ruefully: “That’s what Lynton wants us to be.”

Discipline is essential to any political undertaking, but not if it drains hope and humanity from the enterprise.

What is simply not true is the contention that Cameron’s key lieutenants are panicking. You could argue that they ought to be — less than 10 days to go and no sign of the long-promised Conservative breakthrough — but the fact is they are not. Having spent a bit of time with the prime minister himself for a forthcoming Guardian article, I can also attest that he is neither laid back nor demob happy.

Indeed, the charge of patrician apathy is one of the few that riles him (“How can anyone notsee how passionate I am?”). Cameron has announced a plan for the first 100 days of his putative second term, including bills to exempt those on the minimum wage from income tax, create 3 million more apprenticeships, double free child care for three and four-year-olds and enact a British bill of rights. This week, he will focus relentlessly upon the economy and the work that remains to be done if British jobs and investment are to be safeguarded. If he fails to communicate his prime ministerial passion before May 7, it will not be for want of trying.

I also believe, unfashionably, that the Conservatives are richly entitled to draw attention to the Scottish National Party (SNP) surge and its potential impact upon a Labour minority government. Imagine if United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) was about to win 30 or 40 seats and set fair to hold a Conservative minority administration to ransom in the Commons. Labour would be loudly speculating about the reactionary party’s demands — and quite rightly. So it is hard to take seriously Ed Miliband’s pious denunciation of Cameron’s rhetoric concerning a future pact between himself and Nicola Sturgeon.

The subject is absolutely fair game. More sympathy is owed to the unionist parties in Northern Ireland, for whom the question of the UK’s composition has been, in the not-so-distant past, one of life and death. In the Guardian, the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, calls upon all pro-union parties to behave responsibly in this election. Cameron would do well to heed him: if the DUP holds on to its eight seats, its support for a Tory-led parliamentary bloc might make the difference between a second term and exit from the frontline of politics at the relatively tender age of 48.

If Cameron is indeed ejected from No 10 in this election, in any case, it will not mean that the campaign lost it. Two much earlier dates spring to mind. The collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, persuaded him (wrongly, in my view) that his plan to modernise the Conservative party was no longer a priority: The new economic mission superseded all that touchy-feely stuff. Then on August 6, 2012, in retaliation for the Tory sabotage of Lords reform, Nick Clegg withdrew Lib Dem support for the redrawn constituency map — a disaster for Tory electoral prospects.

So why is Cameron still smiling? As he never tires of saying, he is only 23 seats short of a Commons majority. In fact, since Sinn Fein will not take its seats, the threshold will be lower — though I have not spoken to a single senior Tory who expects the party to win the number required. But there is cautious optimism about the all-important marginals — more so than a month ago. In as much as the national opinion polls are a useful guide to such a fragmented political landscape, two out of three showed the Tories still in the lead. Incumbency is a powerful force. So too is an economic recovery that has created as many jobs as this one.

Last Friday, Clegg told the Financial Times that he would not participate in any pact that required “life support” from the SNP and that, as in 2010, he would start negotiations (should they be necessary) with the party that had “the biggest mandate” in the Commons. This is constitution-drafting on the hoof. Clegg would be under no such formal obligation. But he rejects Sturgeon’s conviction that, no matter who wins the most seats, the other parties have a duty to cobble together an anti-Tory alliance. “If you want political excitement,” Cameron said, “go to Greece. If you want more showbiz in this election, go to Hollywood.”

The Tory leader knows that he is operating in a mayfly culture that does not reward stamina, patience or postponed gratification. He cannot compete with Boris as a celebrity, or Sturgeon as a novelty. His depth of experience may, in the end, be dismissed as obsolescence by an easily bored electorate. But not necessarily. Cameron is right to hold his nerve. He does not need every single beneficiary of the recovery to vote for him. He just requires a sufficiency of pencils to hover for long enough in the polling booth, as voters decide, at the only moment that matters, that this is no time for a change.

Why panic when such an outcome remains possible — plausible, even? Why heed all the speculation until the count is in? Though he dismissed Hollywood yesterday, Cameron knows that one of its laws, coined by the great William Goldman, is the only rule that really applies to this most peculiar election: Nobody Knows Anything.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd