Steve Bannon has been alarming Europe with his plans for a new populist force. But there’s no need to worry, says former UKIP official GAWAIN TOWLER, who knows a thing or two about upsetting liberals
Many people are worried that arch Trumpian Steve Bannon is in Europe and planning to create a movement to give power to nationalists and undermine the post-war European consensus. Perhaps they should not be too worried.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, a very rich man woke up very angry. A small aspect of his life that he had loved a child had been destroyed by distant bureaucrats. Sense, history and culture had been dumped on the altar of big business and power. He resolved to act. An opportunity arrived in the shape of a new constitutional arrangement. He used his business and media acumen and set up a revolt against the greater power, a revolt which he, and others awake to the threat, won.
The big power was having none of this and, with local supporters within and without, government overturned the man’s victory. The rich man got even angrier and vowed to take on the big power, wherever it lay. So he spent millions of his and other supporter’s money. He attacked the big power through the ballot box. He was destroyed.
History forgets the man, his victory and his defeat. Today he, Declan Ganley is a footnote of European history. A study of his Libertas movement and why it failed should be required reading for Steve Bannon, and anybody either invested in or opposed to, his right-wing ‘Movement’.
Libertas won the first Irish Lisbon Referendum in 2008 but lost in 2009. In revenge, Libertas stood candidates in 20 EU countries. It fielded 600, had one elected – the veteran French monarchist, aristocrat and anti-Islam campaigner, Phillipe, Viscount de Villiers – and proceeded to lose a mint. Those who see Bannon as either a threat or an inspiration should take heed.
Whether one likes him or not, Bannon is some form of genius. His strategic work and positioning of Trump during the election as the outsider, using methods and systems that bypassed mainstream media, yet fed the increasing dissatisfaction with Washington, was one of the most effective pieces of political strategy in modern politics. Now, he is relocating to Europe and promises to create his own movement, based on his US experience. It well behoves us to wake up and listen. But not to panic. The countries of Europe are not the USA. The divisions between the various nationalist, patriotic and largely anti-migrant and anti-EU parties that are bubbling under across the continent are at least as great as the elements that bind them. In the US, Bannon had, in Trump, a central figure, who could, in his own way, project the anti-establishment message effectively. Trump acted as a unifier for a significant array of anti-Washington sentiments and forces.
No such figure exists in Europe, so any attempt to forge a unity among the diversity of Hungary, the UK, Sweden, Germany and Italy is going to be bedevilled by spilts and egos. The only figure of any import that has pan-European appeal is Nigel Farage, whose YouTube videos attacking prominent EU figures have gone viral from Greece to Iceland. But he has his detractors in all those countries. The cultural differences that make creating an EU identity so intractable also undermine those who oppose it. And far more viscerally.
Bannon is a great focus for funding and is, among his acolytes, a great motivator. But that brash US persona just doesn’t cut it with the millions across Europe who may have sympathy with his aims but just cannot cleave to his character. Bannon claims to have raised the finance, or at least the seed finance, for his movement. He is a supporter of a peculiar conservative Catholic academy, based in the medieval Trisulti monastery, 60 miles east of Rome, and he is on a permanent travelator between right-wing movements across the continent. But his view of Europe is not new, nor are his ambitions.
He said this is 2014: ‘Whether that was UKIP and Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, whether it’s these groups in the Low Countries in Europe, whether it’s in France, there’s a new tea party in Germany. The theme is all the same. And the theme is middle-class and working-class people… And that centre-right revolt is really a global revolt.’
Despite these well-signposted views, he and we need to remember Libertas – both its success and its failures – and not get too excited.
Gawain Towler is UKIP’s former head of media; he now runs CWC Strategy, a PR and reputation management consultancy