Skip to main content

Photo: “We voted leave“, by Mark Ramsay licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Flinders, Matthew. “Not a Brexit Election? Pessimism, Promises and Populism ‘UK-Style’.” Parliamentary Affairs 73, no. Supplement_1 (2020): 225-242.


The Nobel prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom (2000, p. 33) once warned against ‘the danger of self-evident truths’ and suggested that ‘the fact that something is widely believed does not make it correct’. The role of the social and political scientist was, for Ostrom, not simply to examine and explore a specific topic, event or theme but also to be constantly aware of the need to step back and question, challenge and disrupt the dominant lens through which the object of analysis is generally conceived. This article injects Ostrom’s provocative plea into the sphere of British politics to question the ‘self-evident truth’ that the 2019 general election was ‘a Brexit election’. The ‘danger’ of accepting this interpretation is that it is arguably too obvious. It risks over-emphasising the visible machinations of recent events while under-emphasising the deeper socio-political factors that manifested themselves in the election. To accept the 2019 contest as a Brexit election is to focus on the tip of the iceberg and the aim of this contribution is to look beneath the (political) waterline. Its central argument is that the general election was less a Brexit election and more a disaffection election.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.