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Nationalist Populism and the Future of Political Risk in the West

20th November 2018 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

The political events of recent years have sent shockwaves throughout the established order of Western liberal democracies. Election after election has thrown up astonishing results, with the traditional parties on the back foot as populist and fringe candidates/parties make historical gains. Can we view these years of instability as a cathartic release, ahead of a correction back to the former status quo, or are we simply at the start of a dramatic new era of fundamental change and upheaval? 

To mark the publication of Prof. Matthew Goodwin’s new book, National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, this event will bring together a panel of experts on British and European politics and society, for a provocative and lively debate about how we found ourselves in an era of political risk, and what might be coming next. The discussion will cover the root causes of the volatility engulfing the West, the drivers of national populism, the impact and potential for genuine change and influence such movements hold, and how traditional parties could win back trust and legitimacy. 


  • Prof. Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at the University of Kent and Senior Visiting Research Fellow, Chatham House
  • Rt. Hon. Gisela Stewart, Chair of Wilton Park and Chair of Change Britain
  • Sebastian Payne, Political Leader Writer and Digital Comment Editor, The FT
  • Sophia Gaston, Director of the Centre for Social and Political Risk at HJS, and Visiting Research Fellow at the LSE




On November the 20th the Henry Jackson Society hosted a panel of experts to discuss Nationalist Populism and the future of political risk in the West. The panel consisted of Prof. Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent, Rt. Gisela Stewart Chair of Wilton Park and Chair of Change Britain, Sebastian Payne, Political Lead Writer for The Financial Times and Sophia Gaston, Director of the Centre for Social and Political Risk at the Henry Jackson Society.

Prof. Goodwin started the presentation by how individual political alignments differ when aiming to answer this question. He proceeded to give an insight into the different populist movements across in Europe and the demographics and statistics of their voters. Further, he explained that the populist activity is frequently misinterpreted by the public debate by use of arguments of convenience, such as it only being affected by certain demographics for example older generation and mainly white males voting for these parties, which can be rejected when looking at the obtained numbers, showing that the gender gap is closing and increasingly young voters are supporting these movements. Prof. Goodwin continued to elaborate on issues of elite-scepticism and political-representativeness affecting those numbers. Additionally, two major predictors for likelihood of voting for these parties were that more people have become distrusting of the political system and feel threatened in their national identity through immigration politics, which counters the narrative that populist support comes due to economic reasons. He summed this up with the notion of relative deprivation a sense of individual and group loss relative to others in society, dignity of work and cultural grievances. He concludes by discussing how the traditional political systems are fragmenting and that the support for mainstream parties has been on a steady decline since the 1960s, meaning that present electorates are more fluid and susceptible to change.

Rt. Gisela Stewart then continued by saying that she was optimistic that this would allow our generation to re-write the rules of how to govern ourselves, without having to experience a war. She then spoke about her personal experiences as an MP and how attitudes towards openly stating political opinions changed over the years from open discussions to politely denying to vote for a certain party in public, to avoid being labelled, using the example of the Brexit debate. This then leads to the issue of beliefs not being expressed and argued, which is a fundamental part of a democracy. She closed her presentation by describing how Britain is in a state of trying out ‘new’ ways of governing ourselves but she remained optimistic about the outcome.

Sebastian Payne then started to describe his early days as a political reporter, following UKIP and how Nigel Farage’s campaign was not focused on economics but on social issues instead echoing Prof. Goodwin’s earlier remarks. Hence populists like Farage and Trump are able to appeal to voters since they address problems that are at the heart of many people’s believes, despite inconsistent policies and politically incorrect rhetoric. He then explained how the public trust in the media has deteriorated and many voters view newspapers and television channel very critically due to their focus on easy headlines rather than longer, in-depth journalism. Therefore the media needs to self-correct, to adapt towards populism and to look where people are voting, whom they are listening to and taking these issues seriously.

The Henry Jackson Society would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Matthew Goodwin, Rt. Gisela Stewart and Sebastian Payne for their insights and opinions on this topic.



Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank
Westminster, SW1P 4RS United Kingdom


Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


Prof. Matthew Goodwin


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