The Rise of the Outsiders

Ben Hale, Politics writer, discusses the political phenomenon.

Edited by Isabel Aruna.


There was a trend throughout 2015 for the rise of outsider candidates. They are dominating the political process and discussion and in the West they have sent shockwaves within the political establishment, which is expected to continue throughout 2016. The USA and the UK display key examples of this, Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump have dominated political discussions in their respective nations and there have been questions as to how far their dominance is spreading. It is yet unknown whether their popularity extends beyond their respective parties and into the public realm, but 2016 will undoubtedly be the year that we see if the trend of outsiders winning elections, was just a flash in the pan or a sign of new things to come.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party was unexpected. Once the leadership contest for Labour leader was announced, there was a feeling among commentators that Andy Burnham would win comfortably, but instead there was an overwhelming for vote for Corbyn. Corbyn’s leadership campaign effectively tapped into the anti-political feeling that had risen in the 2015 general elections and this was seen through the turn away from the three traditionally dominant parties. The fact that UKIP came in third place, in terms of number of votes, shows this. Corbyn addressed this anti-political feeling through the strong grassroots campaigning he used, he went from meeting to meeting talking about the flawed system and the need for change and this struck a chord with listeners. I think that Corbyn was able to show that he was the man to lead the Labour party as he could instigate a dramatic change in the way that the UK functions. His talk about the issue with capitalism and the UK’s foreign policy really played on those with anti-political feelings, which emerged since the turn of the 21st century.

Before Corbyn’s election he was seen as being on the far left of the Labour party; an outsider who never held any role in the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. So his election to the role of Labour Party Leader is a slap in the face to the traditional political thought that you must have held a cabinet role as well as have a significant influence within the party.  In the political arena he is the definition of an outsider.

This trend is not exclusive to the UK, the US has also seen a rise in the significance of political outsiders, particularly in the 2016 Presidential race. This is clear in both the Republican party with Donald Trump and the Democratic party with Bernie Sanders. For instance, Trump has constantly topped the polls for his party’s nomination, often by huge margins; his ideas about how to “make America great again” have come to dominate the discussions within his party. Whilst he has risen in the polls on a wave of anti-political and anti-immigrant sentiment, I think his policies and the statements made are idiotic and would never work.

However, these ideas are popular with the base of the Republican party and such a candidate who was originally thought a joke is now a serious contender for the nomination. Now Trump runs the political agenda, he brought up illegal immigration which is now a hot topic for the 2016 Presidential election. This kind of power is traditionally reserved for seasoned politicians who have spent years forming allies, not a reality TV star. Trump has never held an elected office, he is famous because he is a billionaire with his own TV show, yet he is able to shape the political discussion in the US. Again like Corbyn in the political arena Trump is the definition of an outsider, as he is someone who has never held sway within a political party. If it was any other time he would have been ridiculed and ignored, but in 2015 Trump was able to tap into the anti-Washington attitude and rocket to the top of the polls with his absurd policy ideas.

Whether this trend of the outsider will continue remains to be seen.