This work examines the electoral successes of anti-system forces in the rich democracies. It explains the rise of anti-system politicians and parties in terms of two separate but closely related developments: the rise of economic inequality and insecurity over the last four decades, and the failure of technocratic elites to address them.
The expanding literature on growth regimes has recently been applied to explain the growth of populist movements across the OECD. Such applications posit a stand-off between debtors and creditors as the core conflict that generates populism. While insightful, the theory has problems explaining why, in some European countries, such movements pre-date both the global financial crisis and the austerity measures that followed, factors that are commonly seen as causing the rise of populism. This article takes a different tack. It derives shifts in both political parties and party systems from the growth regime framework. In doing so it seeks to explain the evolution of the cartel form of party that dominated the political systems of Europe from the late 1990s through to the current period and why that form proved unable to respond meaningfully to both the financial crisis and the political crisis that followed it.
The vote for Brexit is not an isolated event, but part of a wave of populist, anti-elite revolts: a new 'anti-system' politics Western democracies are experiencing, shaking the existing consensus around economic integration, free markets and liberal values. This wave takes a variety of forms, but has in common a robust, even violent, rejection of the mainstream political elites and their values, and a demand for governments to act on the sources of social and economic distress and inequality. This article views Brexit as a part of this new anti-system politics, a reaction to the decline in ideological competition in democracies and the increasing impotence of politicians to address the upheavals wrought by global free market capitalism. This reaction has become particularly acute after the financial crisis of the late 2000s, which affected Britain disproportionately, and the failure of austerity policies to revive growth, crystallising the ineffectiveness of existing policies to deal with economic stagnation and cultural change. This policy failure is compounded by a perceived refusal of politicians to engage with the broader public and a lack of real choice between the mainstream political parties. The article will present evidence that a failed policy consensus, a rise in inequality and a decline in the representativeness of political elites, rather than a resurgence of intolerance or xenophobia, are the principal causes of the Brexit vote.