Régime censitaire is an interesting phrase: cens was a fee paid to a feudal lord which sometimes accorded voting rights. Thus the régime censitaire refers, in Peter Mair’s and Richard Katz’ seminal 1995 article Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy: The Emergence of the Cartel Party, to the state of democracy in the late 19th century, where some degree of property ownership was necessary in order to vote.
The "cartel party" refers to a situation where major parties compete for an electorate’s votes with none offering anything qualitatively different from the other, therefore they gain more from cooperating with each other than competing, to democracy’s cost. (Hobbling the free press, anyone?)
Parties evolve from "caucus" entities representing the minority entitled to vote to “mass parties” upon universal suffrage, then "catch-all" parties offering all things to all people, little different from each other. Here the titular cartel starts to form.
Scarily, Mair and Katz note that other bodies such as trade unions and employers’ associations "[develop] relationships with the state that are not unlike those developed by the parties themselves" – I would add developers and the diversity industry. They call this "neocorporatism". I have to wonder if they were referring to a quote by Mussolini, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power". Is neo-fascism the corollary of neo-corporatism?
There is hope: new parties can challenge the cosy huddle, but must resist the trap the Liberal Democrats (identified by the authors) have fallen into of joining "the establishment they once decried".
Mass parties on either side of the pond produced Churchill, Attlee and Thatcher, and FDR, JFK and the Bushes before political cartels reincarnated the régime censitaire by restricting power within the circle of those who possess it already.
My money’s on UKIP and the Tea Party to shake things up. How about yours?
Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy: The Emergence of the Cartel Party - Richard S. Katz and Peter Mair, originally from Party Politics
(Leveson deal: MPs debate press legislation: as it happens - Rowena Mason, Daily Telegraph, 18 March 2013
"Mussolini on the Corporate state - Political Research Associates
Click for reviews of Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy, in which Mair's ideas on the political cartel arising from the article reviewed were posthumously developed from his notes
click for a review of The Triumph of the Political Class, in which Peter Oborne continues on Mair's ideas in Ruling the Void