You know we are in the midst of a populist surge when a politician or political campaign can make hay by rallying against an "unaccountable elite" and dismiss experts in favour of "ordinary common sense".

Along with scaremongering around immigration, the Leave Campaign has put"'ordinary common sense" – as opposed to scientific rationality – at the heart of its campaign and it shows. "I think people in this country have had enough of experts," declared Michael Gove last week. According to YouGov, more than two thirds of Leave supporters say it is wrong to rely too much on these "experts".

This is of course a philistinism which, in private, Gove himself doesn't accept. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Justice is perfectly happy to listen to experts when it matters – in his brief at the Ministry of Justice he recently travelled to Germany to consult experts in his field.

But at a time when the popularity of politicians is scraping the bottom of the barrel, posing as an "anti-elitist" is about the most effective campaigning tactic around. Conveniently, being an insider yourself is no bar to deploying such a tactic: as soon as they've finished denigrating the elite, both Gove the Ukip leader Nigel Farage will head back to the Westminster bubble they find it so profitable to denigrate.

It's easy to emit a derisive snort at this sort of thing, but there's a reason it works – and it's not only because in 2016 politicians are almost universally treated with contempt. The fact is, politics – as well as journalism and a number of other professions – is more elitist today than in the recent past. It has become easier to rally against the elite because when you turn on a television or open a newspaper it is almost unfailingly the progeny of the elite that are staring straight back at you.

The House of Commons is a good example of this. At the 2015 election there were more women and ethnic minorities elected to parliament but also more public schoolboys. Progress on the one hand but regression on the other. That doesn't mean the anti-elite politicians are right – politicians like Farage would probably claim the fault lies in the onward march of women and ethnic minorities – but it does mean that we have laid some fairly fertile ground for anti-establishment politics.

The picture is much the same in journalism, the medium through which politics has to travel before it actually reaches an audience. Just 3% of journalists today have parents in unskilled occupations, compared to 17% of the public as a whole. As a result of an ever-smaller section of society writing the news, the media often resembles the establishment talking to itself.

Combine that with a drawn-out recovery from the biggest recession in living memory and it isn't hard to see why the ground might be propitious to populism. To anyone not ensconced in the bubble, politics is something done to you by a fairly small section of the upper middle class.

Tokenistically dwelling on the class backgrounds of today's "anti-elitists" only gets you so far, however. For one thing, not all of them were born with silver spoons in their mouths – Michael Gove for instance comes from very humble beginnings.

To anyone not ensconced in the bubble, politics is something done to you by a fairly small section of the upper middle class.

Instead, rather than assessing the referendum campaign's supposed rebels by who they are, we would be wiser judging them on what they stand for. Ironically enough, those who scream the loudest about a distant "elite" are the least inclined to enact measures to democratise it or – even better – abolish it all together.

This holds true whether we talk about social mobility or low pay. The best way of improving social mobility is to create a more equal society. More equal societies tend to have better rates of social mobility. The Leave campaign is led by Ukip and the Tory right – political tendencies which see large inequalities as intrinsically good. It was after all Boris Johnson who in 2013 said that inequality was essential to foster a "spirit of envy". Meanwhile, Nigel Farage wants to privatise the National Health Service and has in the past opposed maternity pay.

It is true of course that migration from poor Eastern European countries probably has a small downward impact on the wages of those at the bottom of the labour market (every time a low paying employer says they "can't find British staff" they give the game away – without a limitless supply of Eastern European workers they would have to do more to entice British staff). But any potential gains from a tighter labour market would almost certainly be offset by the wider damage to the economy of Brexit as well as by the bonfire of "red tape" (see workers' rights) that any UK government would invariably enact.

For example, were Britain to stay in the single market upon leaving the EU, migration to the UK would carry on much as it is now – just as it does for Norway, a country which is outside of the EU yet inside the single market. Yet were that to happen, British workers would no longer benefit from workplace protections enshrined by the EU. One of the first employment laws to go would probably be the agency workers directive, which confers the same basic rights on agency staff as enjoyed by full-time employees.

Those areas of the British economy which employ the most unskilled migrants (so companies like Amazon where I recently spent time working undercover) also tend overwhelmingly to rely on agency staff. Thus by voting for Brexit, low-paid British workers would be throwing away one set of rights with no guarantee that they would be getting anything in return.

It should be clear, then, that rather than striking a blow against the elites, Brexit is a project whose aim is to hand even more power to bosses and corporations who are every bit as undemocratic and unaccountable as anything found in the darkest corners of the European Union. The situation may be ripe for revolt, but the call to "take back power" has never sounded so hollow.

James Bloodworth is former editor of Left Foot Forward, one of the UK's top political blogs, and the author of The Myth of Meritocracy.