Generation Brexit

LSE100: Is populism a threat to democracy?


The EU referendum campaign was arguably a suspension of the normal proceedings of liberal democracy in the United Kingdom. Countless analyses have proclaimed the Brexit vote to be an expression of a majoritarian and anti-pluralist democratic process, hence a populist one. For others, the vote mobilised the highest percentage of votes in recent decades and was thus an undiluted expression of popular will. Furthermore, the vote can be seen to have given voice to the disenfranchised and the forgotten and as such may have restored the people’s trust in democracy.

Can we thus classify the Brexit vote as a populist development?

• Where the causes of the Brexit vote primarily economic, and/or political, and/or social?
• What ideology stood behind the Leave campaign, how was its message delivered?
• What precedent does the Brexit vote set for British liberal democracy and with what implications?

Guide to the Brexit vote

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To the populists, the "people" of the nation constitute a hypothetical and homogenous body that can be played off against actual election results (Muller, 2015). They have a tendency to invoke the "silent majority", justifying that they have considerable supporters who have just yet to speak up. This allows them to declare themselves as the legitimate presidents even if election did not go in their favour, as we see in Orban and Obrador, and perhaps even Trump if election results were...

Jiahui Wu
by Jiahui Wu
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Jiahui Wu

Populist movements fight over the meaning of representation in democracies. Because populist politicians present themselves as leaders above party pluralism, and because populist movements make claims in the name of the allegedly unanimous “will of the people,” they challenge and strain constitutional procedures for elections and representative government. Such strains can open the door to regime change in the direction of tyranny or dictatorship.

by Joe164857
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A moment of movie that one may never forget is the classic scene from Mean Girls, where a member of a girls group approached the table not wearing the colour pink that was decided by the group to which the group responded “You can’t sit with us.” For me this scene of a girls clique perfectly describes everything wrong with populism. The inherent weakness of populism is that it divides society into “us” versus “them”. Whether it is the “ordinary people” vs “the elite” or the “pure citizens”...

Jessica Lattouf
by Jessica Lattouf
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Jessica Lattouf

According to Bonikowski (2016), populism is based on a rudimentary moral logic that has few direct policy implications and does not provide a general understanding of society of politics, unlike ideologies such as liberalism or conservatism with clear policy goals, namely the desirability of state intervention in social and economic affairs.  Populism simply offers a simplistic critique of existing configurations of power; the vilification of elites and glorification of the people...

Limichi Okamoto
by Limichi Okamoto
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Limichi Okamoto
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