Generation Brexit

Is populism a threat to democracy?

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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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The ideology of the Leave campaign is founded upon the principle of the British people taking back control of their own nation. To deliver their message convincingly, proponents of the Leave movement warned of the consequences of staying in the EU while simultaneously preaching the benefits of leaving the EU.  When it comes to consequences, Leave campaigners speak of the enormous sums of money that the UK has to send to the EU, which amounts to roughly 350 million pounds per week, of which...

Daniel Sudit
by Daniel Sudit
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Daniel Sudit

The causes of the Brexit vote were essentially economic. Leave voters are composed by people with various education and socioeconomic background. In this particular referendum, the middle class, who is often "left out" of political decisions, agglomerate and had certainly demonstrated their impact in the British society. Now, some argues that the turn out undermines liberal democracy in the UK; however, reliable research suggests that the UK middle class is more diverse than people expect....

Haoyu Xu
by Haoyu Xu
1 Votes
Comments 0
Haoyu Xu

The motives behind the Brexit vote differed from the Remain and Leave platforms. As the Remain campaign tried to address the real economic concerns of a potential Brexit, the Leave campaign fueled frustration over social issues impacting mainly lower paid workers. People preferring to ‘Remain’ aligned with the campaign’s concern over disrupting the economic relationship between the EU and UK. Understanding the intricacies of the trade agreements between the EU and UK drove the Remain vote,...

Megan Kahn
by Megan Kahn
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Comments 1
Megan Kahn

In many ways, Populism can present itself as a harbinger of democracy, as it bases itself on the people and elevates those who have been left behind socially, politically, and economically. In the United States, it first presented itself with farmers during the Panic of 1873, which was marked by low wages, plummeting prices of agricultural products, and agricultural debts, leaving many feeling forgotten and left behind in the political system. It led to the nation's first political...

Annie Wang
by Annie Wang
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Comments 0
Annie Wang

Many political pundits these days push the idea that populism and democracy are destined foes and that the demagogues who lead these movements like Trump and Orban represent the greatest threat to democracy in the modern era. However, populism is what democracy needs. It's easy to dismiss populists as racists or idiots but that ignores the fact that there are legitimate issues being brought up. One of the catchphrases of the Leave camp during Brexit was, "I want my country back." To the...

Bryan Chen
by Bryan Chen
2 Votes
Comments 2
Bryan Chen

Many would agree that Brexit was voted on extremely divisive lines. The primary base for leave voters consisted of lower educated, worse off, blue collar workers. The basis for the leave vote often came down to perceived economics, or the supposed notion that immigration was prioritizing the well being of refugees and foreigners over UK Citizens. Though the long-term economic benefits of being a part of the EU are evident, it is important to take account those that economic integration has...

Adam Xie
by Adam Xie
0 Votes
Comments 0
Adam Xie
Idea thumbnail

While it depends on the industry, most economists believe that joining the EU has had a significant positive impact on Britain’s economy. While some firms were put out of business as a result of joining the single market, the many that survived were forced to innovate to compete. The UK’s market size expanded dramatically, and so long as UK firms were able to fend off competition, they would have access to several times more customers and thus several times more profits. And so far, most...

Whitney Dankworth
by Whitney Dankworth
0 Votes
Comments 1
Whitney Dankworth

The vote to leave the European Union was heavily influenced by populist sentiment and the populist tinges can be clearly seen from the xenophobic attitudes that come from the strong feelings of national identity and  the anxiety felt over perceived threats to the “natives”, from immigration and the free movement of EU nationals. There was also a severe increase in the distrust of political elites; a crucial element of populism. Many Brexit voters thought that leaving the EU would be...

Hursh Desai
by Hursh Desai
0 Votes
Comments 1
Hursh Desai

The Brexit referendum can certainly be regarded as a populist movement, specifically one that arose because of social reasons. In other words, Brexit serves as a symbol of a right-wing populist movement, one which conjures a high sense of nativism and depicts the UK as being threatened by the influx of immigration in recent decades. Of course, the left-wing anti-elitist populist approach held its own significance too, but LSE studies conducted in April 2015 revealed that the difference...

Daniel Sudit
by Daniel Sudit
0 Votes
Comments 0
Daniel Sudit
Idea thumbnail

Populist parties and movements, in recent years, have gained traction and momentum across both the continent, the UK and across the pond in the USA. In Washington; Donald Trump's xenophobic, nationalistic, nearing far right-wing populist campaign and success proved the power of populism in a globalist world. The Italian Five-Star Movement and Northern League coalition government, with anti-establishment PM Giuseppe Conte leading the charge, head towards a populist Italy planning mass...

Oliver Lambourn
by Oliver Lambourn
8 Votes
Comments 6
Oliver Lambourn
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