London’s benchmark stock index, the FTSE 100, rallied more than 2pc, with banks and energy companies chalking up big gains. The FTSE 250, which tracks medium-sized British companies, surged even more. The pound was rampant, rising steadily as the dramatic Thursday night exit poll solidified into a Friday morning realisation the Conservatives hadn’t just beaten Labour, but secured a slender overall majority.
Not only would the UK now be more business-friendly, with lower bank levies and less nasty market intervention during the coming parliament. Markets were also relieved to avoid the messy negotiations, the days or even weeks of uncertainty, over who would be running the world’s fifth-biggest economy.
“I wouldn’t hold French shares,” said Nigel Farage with a wink, belying his previous life as a stockbroker. “The country is in real trouble,” the Ukip leader told me at an investment conference in London last week. “As someone who loves France, it gives me no pleasure to say that”.
While Farage casually dishes out advice to sell French stocks, he knows only too well that, for all his admiration of Gallic gastronomy and tabacs, the singular weakness of the French economy, and related political fall-out, is playing into his hands.
In the small hours of Friday morning, when most of my fellow economics scribes were in Washington at the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, I was eating cheese on toast on my sofa. With Labour having just held on in Heywood and Middleton by-election, there was I, like the rest of the UK’s political obsessives, staring at the television bug-eyed, awaiting Clacton’s verdict.
I’m not a Ukip supporter and Carswell isn’t a personal friend. Yet, as I wrote three days after he defected from the Tories, I really wanted the member for Clacton to hold his Commons seat. That because, over many years of talking to MPs and ministers of all parties, he’s one of the few politicians I’ve encountered who has truly grasped the realities of the Western world’s current economic predicament.
David Davis is, in his own words, “intensely relaxed”. As we meet in Howden, an attractive market town nestled in the Yorkshire constituency he’s held since 1987, the Former Shadow Home Secretary and one-time Tory Leadership candidate certainly seems laid back.
Tieless, and with a beaming smile, Davis guides me to a delightful local pub for an unflashy lunch. Over scotch eggs and spicy chicken, the Tory backbencher Downing Street most fears launches into frank conversation.
“The Conservatives have just had a wake-up call with a baseball bat,” says the Former Minister for Europe. “What we’ve just seen was a very, very clear statement from a lot of people, half of whom previously voted Tory, that they’re not happy”.
The “wake-up call”, of course, was UKIP’s outright victory in last week’s European elections – chalking-up 27.5pc of the vote, ahead of Labour on 25.4pc and the Tories on 23.9pc, with the Liberal Democrats trailing on 6.9pc. Nigel Farage’s party also took 163 local council seats – more than tripling their tally, despite what Davis describes as an “anti-UKIP media onslaught”.
“The euro is no longer under existential threat,” said Herman Van Rompuy three weeks ago. “Financial stability has been restored”. Van Rompuy, if you can’t place the name, is President of the European Union. That makes him the most senior policy-maker in Brussels, wielding considerable power over the governments of 28 countries with a combined population exceeding 500m people.
Despite this reality, Van Rompuy has a near-zero public profile. He’s probably best known, not only in the UK but across much of Western Europe, for being the man that UKIP leader Nigel Farage once described as having “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”.