The surprise is that we were surprised. The result of the UK general election is still generating shock waves and will do so for months, perhaps years, to come. Yet the outcome is part of a pattern and not an aberration. We should have seen it coming.
Ever since the 2008 financial crash UK politics has been wild and unruly. In 2010, what seemed like a freakish peacetime coalition was formed. In 2015, David Cameron won an overall majority, entirely unexpectedly. A year later he resigned as prime minister, a fall of unprecedented speed. In the summer of 2016, the two major UK parties held leadership contests simultaneously, another unique occurrence. Both battles were deranged: the Labour contest lasted months and at the end, re-elected the same leader; the Conservative battle was over in days, with so many candidates imploding that a new prime minister walked into No 10 untested by any real campaign.
As well as these volcanic eruptions the UK staged two seismic referendums. One endorsed Brexit, the other reframed all Scottish politics around the question of independence and in 2015, the SNP won 56 out of 59 Scottish MPs, reducing its rivals to just one each.
The result of the 2017 election, then, is just one more instance of the post-crash disruption where the unexpected happens. And the UK is not alone. In the United States, Bernie Sanders—a self-described socialist who’d only recently joined the Democrats—very nearly seized that party’s nomination. Then Donald Trump really did take the presidency, an outsider with no experience of politics, a seeming disqualification from power that became a weapon when wooing an electorate disillusioned with the mainstream.
In France, Emmanuel Macron has surfaced from nowhere without the buttress of a traditional party base, and become president; indeed, his main selling point, which has now worked in the Assembly elections as well, was that he offered the chance to stick it to those traditional parties. Back in January 2015, Europe saw an earlier swing to the upstart left, when Syriza was voted into power in Greece on an anti-austerity programme that made the old wheeler-dealers of the Socialist Party seem pathetically compromised, for having served in a coalition government.
But despite this history of unexpected disruption,…