I look forward to continuing my regular columns. Three weeks on from the election and two weeks as a minister in the coalition cabinet I am still trying to absorb the shock. But several things are clear.

First, it makes me enormously proud to be re-elected as the local MP with a bigger majority. I want to stay close to the local community; I will continue to live in the constituency and commute, as before, from Twickenham station; and I will maintain my regular weekly advice surgeries.

Second, the decision, to form a coalition with the Conservatives as the only way to establish a stable government, has I think pleased most people but distressed a few. The arithmetic of the election left no other practical alternative and there has been a remarkable degree of goodwill and compromise to get the arrangement off the ground and working.

Third, we inherit a massively difficult financial legacy. The country is now at least 5% poorer than before the financial crash and the recession. The budget deficit is now the biggest in Europe and makes us highly vulnerable to loss of confidence by creditors. That is why we shall soon face very painful public spending cuts.

Last week I had to find hundreds of millions of savings in my own department. Not easy. Thousands of livelihoods are at stake. I have tried to protect key priority areas: science, adult education and post-16 vocational training. But other things have to be cut instead: industry support, universities. There is a lot of waste and bureaucracy to be taken out but it is difficult, in a hurry, to ensure that front line services are fully protected.

I don’t expect this process to be popular, but I hope at least it is understood.