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Duncan McDonnell and James L. Newell, "Outsider parties in government in Western Europe," Party Politics, 17 (July, 2011), 443-452. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Over the past two decades in Western Europe, an increasing number of parties previously excluded from office (whether voluntarily or due to a cordon sanitaire imposed by other parties) have entered broad centre-right and centre-left governing coalitions. Examples of such parties, for which we use the umbrella term 'outsider parties', include actors as diverse as the far-left Rifondazione Comunista (RC &endash; Communist Refoundation) in Italy, the right-wing populist Freiheitliche Partei O¨ sterreichs (FPO¨ &endash; Freedom Party) in Austria and Green and regionalist movements in various states. As we will see, the passage for these parties from outside to inside government is fraught with danger, from that of electoral losses to the break-up of the party itself. Taking office for such parties tends to be a highly contentious issue, often causing internal disputes over the merits of the decision to move from sometimes decades-long 'pure' opposition to the compromises and constraints of coalition government. In electoral terms, the dilemma facing outsiders can be broadly summed up in the question: do they run more risks (a) maintaining their position of 'exit' as movements strongly opposed to the policies and ideologies of the main members of the party system, but perhaps eventually appearing irrelevant in the eyes of the electorate who may decide to exercise their vote more 'usefully'? or (b) opting for 'voice' by participating in government alongside other parties, but possibly losing credibility among their core supporters and activists, particularly if they need to strike compromises on the key issues around which they have constructed their identities and appeals?

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In the event that outsiders do choose to participate in coalition with other, more conventional, parties (whether in pacts prior to elections or following post-election negotiation processes), they are then faced with another dilemma: how should they behave in office? For example, (a) should they play the role of the 'opposition in government' in order to reassure their grassroots that they have not 'sold out'? or (b) should they seek to appear as responsible members of government, capable of governing just as effectively as mainstream political actors, in order to attract new support among those who previously would not have considered voting for them and/or to reassure other parties that they have 'passed the test' and are valid future coalition partners? And whichever approach (or mixture of approaches) is adopted, how should they pursue it? These dilemmas in turn raise questions for those of us studying outsider parties. For example: how do the leaderships of such parties manage the new and conflicting demands placed upon them? How do these parties fare in terms of mid-term and subsequent general election results? What real (or perceived) influence are they seen to wield over government policy? What problems do they face in terms of maintaining party unity and how are these handled? How, more generally, can we conceptualize and explain the successes and failures of outsider parties in government? In an attempt to provide some tentative answers to the above questions, the following articles explore the coalition experiences of a series of ideologically different outsider parties across Western Europe over the past 15 years. Before we go any further, however, it is worth explaining what we mean when we refer to 'outsider parties'.

Last updated August 2011