Bill Jamieson: Guillotine falls on election leaders

Ballot papers are counted on Thursday night. Picture: Getty
Ballot papers are counted on Thursday night. Picture: Getty
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A BLOODLESS revolution? Even writing this feels like trying to knit to the swish of the guillotine. Election night saw famous figures crammed into the tumbrils – Douglas Alexander, Margaret Curran, Ian Davidson, Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy, Ed Balls – on and on they came in the wailing wagons.

Then yesterday the leaders stepped up to their fate – Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg… Swish! Chop! Bump! The heads rolled into the blood-soaked baskets. And still the mob roared for more. Surely Jim Murphy could not be far behind?

For decades, the words “Labour Hold” seemed to be permanently glued to the names of Scottish constituencies on election night as they scrolled without remark across the bottom of our TV screens. Labour for ever. Nothing to see here. On Thursday night each one became a political sensation as swing records were broken.

Merciless though it all seemed with each despatch, this was the nearest the UK has come to a political revolution without guns going off. And all the while, as if offstage, David Cameron’s Conservatives crept to the victory line, banishing all the fearful hand-wringing for months of a gridlocked result, a hung parliament, weeks of uncertainty… and the 
prospect of another exhausting election before the end of the year.

That’s why, in financial markets, far from traders and investors stampeding in a panicked rush to the hills, they staged a mighty relief rally.

How could the polls get it so wrong? And how could the markets, normally so swift with canny and whispered intelligence, miss the signs?

Yesterday the pound rallied to its highest level against the dollar since late February. Traders fearful of mansion taxes, a purge of non-doms, wealth culls and unfriendly business regulation cheered in relief. Sterling jumped nearly 2 per cent to $1.55 against the dollar at one point before settling at $1.54. And it swept up against the euro to €1.37.

On the stock market shares bounded ahead, with the FTSE100 Index up by more than 115 points or 1.7 per cent in the first minutes of trading. It went on to extend this gain to 145 points or two per cent to 7025.05. The rally was led by banks such as RBS and Lloyds, energy utilities, with building firms such as Bellway, up 7 per cent and Barratt, up 8.28 per cent. The FTSE250 Index, a more accurate reflection of UK-facing companies, bounded up by 2.64 per cent to 17908.67.

However, the rally could prove short-lived as uncertainty over a possible “Brexit” (Britain leaving the EU) and a possible Scoxit (a re-run of the Scottish referendum) looms.

A big question will be whether Cameron can hold the line against a resurgent set of backbenchers. The Ukip rise has been substantial and sends a clear anti-EU message. So a more robust approach on the EU referendum could emerge.

Another early question will be whether the new government will need an emergency Budget in June. There could still be one allowing the Conservatives to quickly reflect promises put forward in their manifesto.

These occasions will provide plenty of opportunity for the hugely swollen ranks of 56 SNP MPs to create tremendous noise in the Commons chamber.

If you thought Question Time was noisy enough, we may have heard nothing yet.