William Feerick emailed me some interesting thoughts on an old EconLog post, reprinted below with his permission.

Hello Bryan,
I recently came across an
article you wrote some time ago on your EconLog blog, where you
mentioned Tim Besley’s counter-examples to your ‘you get the Government
you deserve’ argument in the UK. It was a while ago, but I thought you might be interested in an explanation I have developed on the topic.
I think the key element is the way in which politicians
are appointed to positions within political parties. Unlike the United
States, primaries are totally ‘closed’. In the Conservative Party the
leader is elected by MPs alone, and in the Labour Party the leader is
elected by a mixture of MPs, trade union members and rank-and-file party
members. As leaders have a strong say in MP candidates for the next
election, this leads to quite strong homogeneity amongst the political
This manifests itself especially in educational
background, probably due to a mixture of ability bias and previous
relationships – 69% of the current Cabinet attended either Oxford or
Cambridge University; 5 out of the 22 previous Prime Ministers and 10%
of the current Cabinet attended Eton, a school of just 1300 pupils. I
believe this creates a political consensus on certain issues that is not
shared by the public. Of course, politicians gravitate towards public
opinion on the important issues like in any democracy, but crucially not
on other, less important issues. Instead, they rely on the party
consensus, which is more strongly influenced by the less populist debate
and ideas within universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.
For example, capital punishment is widely supported in
public opinion polls, but barely a handful of MPs support it. In your
article, you mentioned that perhaps the British public feared becoming
an EU pariah, but given the strong Euroscepticism that most polls
indicate, I don’t think this is on the mark. I suggest that as capital
punishment is hardly an important issue on the minds of the British
electorate, whereas to take a non-consensus position within the party
would threaten their future advancement, politicians stick with the
party consensus. This consensus is mainly driven by the influence of
more intellectual debate within the nation’s top universities. This
could be extended to the EU, where public policy does not seem to
reflect the widespread distaste with the union.
In short, populism on more fringe issues in the UK is
somewhat restrained by the primary structure of the major  political
parties. However, on important issues, the external political value of
populism outweighs the need to stay within the political consensus – for
example, Margaret Thatcher’s major change to the position of the
Conservative Party.