The biggest thing I learned from the result of the general election was that the electorate have a much lower threshold for being taken for granted than I would have ever imagined. Theresa May spent the campaign going from one staged “rally” to another; airplane hangers or factories, stocked with Tory activists given pre-arranged lines to chant. She avoided the actual public as much as possible while appearing on media as minimally as she and her advisors thought she could get away with, and when she was forced to do so, repeated the same boring tag lines over and over again in an avoidance of talking about actual policy. Then, to add insult to injury, she decided to slip several very controversial policies into her manifesto (because, let’s face it, it was her manifesto), thinking that at no point would this disrupt her plans to attempt to glide through the election while having to do and say as little as possible.
I predicted a large Tory majority, right up until polling day, because I thought that the electorate ultimately wouldn’t care about this treatment. They had been lied to so badly in the recent past and not seemed to care at all – the £350 million on the NHS post-Brexit springs to mind instantly – so why would they care this time?
This brings me to the other thing I’ve realised about democracy since Thursday: it doesn’t work along easy to understand lines or predictable narratives. If you try and pull a cogent thread through the 2015 general election result, the 2016 EU referendum result, and the 2017 general election result, you will find it impossible. If people voted Tory in 2015 for stability, why vote Leave in 2016? And then, if they really wanted to leave the EU as fully as possible, halting freedom of movement, why vote for the pro-immigration guy in enough numbers to make that very difficult to happen in 2017? One could land on this alternative narrative: that the electorate are just rebelling, using their votes to screw with the system as much as they can at any given time.
I don’t believe that’s the truth either though. What is true is that democracy is the act of asking a very diverse group of millions of people who they want to run the show – and there is a lot of chaos that follows from that. But that isn’t bad, it’s great – all of the alternatives are far worse, and besides, there is something glorious about democracy, real democracy, where the people really do get to decide the end result. What you need in a democracy is the ability for the electorate to change its mind, though. I realise now this is why I really don’t like referenda – they are so final and absolute. If the country wanted to elect Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister, I could dislike it, but I would accept it as the result of democracy. But if you said that the result of that election then meant Corbyn got to be prime minister for the rest of his life without question, I would then have something to say about it. This isn’t an argument for a second EU referendum, by the way (which I’m not in favour of anyhow), but just food for thought, particularly as we head into a period in which the shape of Brexit is in question. The “will of the people” is all important – but ultimately transitory, and that’s what’s also great about democracy.