Another election, another huge surprise. Teresa May’s historic electoral catastrophe last week was actually foreshadowed by plunging opinion polls this time, so the pollsters are not to blame for once. But the exit poll on Thursday night still came as a vast shock, as the scale of the collapse of Tory hopes became clear. Andrew Rawnsley of the Guardian blamed overconfidence and hubris for the disaster:
She conducted a campaign that combined vanity with incompetence and had learned nothing from the now myriad examples from around the democratic world of what happens when a politician behaves as if they are simply entitled to power.
There is something strangely magnificent in this episode beneath the shrieks and journalistic drama and personalities. Democracy is a messy, awkward, short-sighted system of governance. But it has a better error control loop than autocracy or bureaucratic planning. Democracy is impatient with failure, as I noted before, and fixes mistakes relatively quickly. It may be terrible at long-term thinking and elegance, but it is good at throwing overconfident and arrogant planners out.
That is actually a good thing, and it means people are wrong to see all the turmoil of the last two years only as a departure from some idealized global liberal ideal, as a car crash on the way to utopia. The system is messily rebalancing in response to problems that had been ignored. Overconfident elites get punished, and underserved groups get an (occasional )voice. The process not ideological. It happened to Progressives in the US last November. It just happened to Conservatives in the UK. If would be worse if the system got stuck – and that may be the case in continental Europe.