In the sometimes dreary world of EU politics a rich Irish bloke coming along and trying to rock the boat is one of the few things that can make life a bit interesting around the Rond Point Schuman. Yes, it’s Declan Ganley and Libertas (more on Wikipedia here) that have been in the news once again. Tony Barber in the FT has it about right – Ganley seems to really have the ability to get under people’s skin within the institutions. But I don’t work in an institution, so maybe I can look at the development of Libertas with a greater degree of distance and dispassion.
Ganley has recruited Aussie strategist Lynton Crosby to work on his UK campaign, as reported by Conservative Home, Guido and Political Betting. Crosby is best known for helping John Howard to election victories in Australia, and also for working on Boris Johnson’s successful London Mayor campaign. With such a reputation Crosby cannot be cheap. Ganley has meanwhile appointed Robin Matthews, a former soldier, as his party leader in the UK, and he’s also given an interesting interview in E!Sharp magazine. England Expects also delves into the controversy of what Ganley’s party even will be called on the ballot papers in the UK.
So what will determine whether Ganley and Libertas are going to be a success or not?
First of all no-one is going to vote for Libertas on the basis of what the party reputedly stands for. They oppose the Treaty of Lisbon, but they also want the European Parliament to decide all European law (foreign policy too?) and for all legislative work to be conducted in the open – all sounds rather federalist. See their policy page for more. Forget the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon actually gives the EP codecision powers on all police and judicial cooperation issues and agriculture spending… Anyway, in essence, Libertas has a ‘yes, but‘ stance on the EU – they do not want out, but they somehow want to change the EU from within. This sort of line is not that far distant from Tories’ stance on the EU. In a debate full of politicians wanting to sound tough they will have a hard time standing out. If you want radical yet reactionary tub thumpers then vote UKIP.
The main way that Libertas can present themselves as different is by playing the politics of anti-politics, presenting themselves as the voice of reason from outside the system. This is just the approach Ganley takes in his E!Sharp interview. In reply to the question “And now do you see yourself more as a businessman or a politician?” he replies “I don’t see myself as a politician, for sure. I’m an entrepreneur – I think I always will be.” The European Union is the very epitomy of the distant and unaccountable political class and Libertas could play on that. However much the Tories and others in the UK might chunter on about EU politics all the main UK parties are very much part of what a substantial part of the population consider to be a cosy consensus, not helped by Giles Chichester and others.
So it’s about the presentation, not the message as such, and for that Libertas needs to have some decent candidates. It needs to have normal and professional people, capable of communicating, and not – UKIP style – looking like a bunch of loony old men with outdated views. So where should Ganley look for such people? The blogosphere might be a decent place to start – as I’ve argued on Twitter I reckon Nosemonkey‘s positions are not too far from those of Libertas, and he’s an award winning journalist and a respected voice in the UK blogosphere on EU matters. Why not? Professional yet non-political people are the sort of folks that Ganley should go for, trying to find the British equivalent of Hans Peter Martin or Paul van Buitenen. You can now even nominate people to be Libertas candidates on their website.
Ganley clearly has serious money to be able to employ Crosby, but as yet his efforts are not to be taken seriously.