16 May 2019 - 18 May 2019

The rise of populism: a crisis of democracy or noisy renewal?

Chair: The Rt Hon David Davis MP

As we approach the European parliamentary elections across the EU, it is appropriate to ask what is driving the popularity of political movements offering radical and often apparently simple solutions to the complex problems that have defeated more traditional centrist politicians.

Is it right to equate populism with extremism? Behind the rhetoric, are new policies being offered that should be considered? Are these policies consistent with the core values of democracy and the rule of law? Is “populist” a useful categorisation of these various movements across the democratic world?

Are these movements in different countries being driven by actual immigration or fear of immigration? If the latter, why is fear of immigration growing? Is this a cultural or economic fear or both? To what extent is this more about changing demographics than immigration? Is there a broader fear of changes in the world from the rise of China; the explosion of population in Africa; the impact of technology, especially AI; or in the West of Europe, the migration from the East? 

To what extent is the rise of new political movements driven by economic factors? Does the rise of such movements track relative economic stagnation across different countries? Is this about growth or unemployment or the quality of employment?

Is this a crisis of democracy or a crisis of confidence in the leadership of elites? Is representative democracy still viable? Do people really want direct democracy or just better leadership with a more compelling vision?

What are the options for responding to the rise of new movements? How can anger be turned to positive purpose? How can technology be used to reinvent democracy rather than degrade it? What does better leadership look like? What can Europe learn from the US and vice versa?