The Fall of The Northern League



Brand Positioning: the Northern League political party in Italy was created as movement after Tangentopoli, a huge investigation that showed how mainstream political parties were illegally interconnected with the private sector through corruption.

Not much has changed since then. It is just kept hidden from the public eye.

As a consequence of that investigation, the Northern League found a great deal of support in the more productive areas of the country.

The Northern League has been the only political party to promote a libertarian view of the collective organization of Italian society from the end of the Second World War until now.

Guided by the intellectual Gianfranco Miglio, a philosopher and jurist, Umberto Bossi, the founder and former leader of the Northern League, was able to appeal to the discontent of millions of voters who wanted independence from the central state, which was perceived as the root of corruption through its structural inefficiency.

Umberto Bossi, whose aim was a federalist organization of the territory with fiscal independence from the central government, was pioneering two main concepts:

  • There is a huge imbalance in how the central government manages taxes from region to region;
  • There is too much State (to be read: taxes, regulations, and bureaucracy) in the life of the private sector.

In the early stages of the party, Umberto Bossi was a great political leader in terms of the strategy adopted to build support for the national success of the party, giving the party itself

  • a flag
  • a hymn
  • a well focused name
  • a military hierarchical organisation
  • a radio station
  • a tv channel
  • a daily newspaper… .

Alone, in 1994, he organised the biggest political demonstration since the end of the Second World War by coordinating a human chain on the river that symbolically divides the North from the South of Italy: Po River.

His target audience was the small entrepreneur, the artisan, the free professional, who was overwhelmed by taxes and bureaucratic practices and who formed the backbone of the Northern economy where most of the Made in Italy myth was created (also thanks to the workers that migrated from the South of Italy to the North during the Fifties and Sixties).

Before getting partially paralysed after a temporary obstruction of blood flow to the brain, he was able to organise a referendum for a federalist constitutional reform of the country while he was a member of the majority of the government run by Silvio Berlusconi.

That referendum got a negative response, and the Northern League could have been declared dead right then and there.

Due to Umberto Bossi‘s illness, members of the party decided to elect (by plebiscite) the current leader Matteo Salvini who during the early stages of the Northern League was member of the so called Comunisti Padani (the communist faction of the Northern League).

You can clearly see a well defined political divergence here:

  • Umberto Bossi was advised by Gianfranco Miglio to ideologically and practically reorganize the territory according to a libertarian approach of transversal deregulation;
  • Matteo Salvini had a statist point of view on political life where the State is to be seen as the end of all means.

What Matteo Salvini had in mind, however, wasn’t to follow the vision of the former leader of the Northern League but to stretch the brand, thus extending the appeal of the party to the Southern electorate, in order to increase the progressively declining numbers of the consent machine.

What was the common stress point that could have brought together the average person of the North with the average person of the South?

  • The eternal fear of immigrants.
  • The European Union that was causing Italian companies to close due to excessive and unfair regulation decided and applied by the European Commission.

From a political point of view, they are very divisive and controversial topics.

But from a marketing point of view, Matteo Salvini has been a total mess.

  • He has defocused the party. Matteo Salvini has stretched a territory-based political party to the extent of a national party with a nationalist political program, strengthened by his alliance with the leader of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy).
  • He closed all the media that belonged to the party and that were the integral part of the propaganda machine as relentless instruments of content production: the daily newspaper, TV channel, and radio station; while on the other side, the Movement 5 Stars (Five Star Movement) was rising by amplifying the reach of its blog and by producing excellent content on social, economic, and political issues, maintaining a single view on the topics and a coherent ideological approach to the matters discussed. Since his election, Matteo Salvini has monopolised the information of the Northern League party by becoming the only source of relevant news with widely followed Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • He changed the target audience of the party. As stated above, the Northern League was heavily supported by small and medium entrepreneurs from the North of Italy as it was seen as an opportunity to lobby the central government for reducing taxation and bureaucratic impediments. As a consequence of that, even the common worker was inclined to support the party: if companies can grow due to a major availability of resources, even the workers can enjoy the flourishing sunshine at the horizon. With the leadership of Matteo Salvini, who doesn’t seem to be very keen on boring but vital fiscal matters, the target of the party has become the common frustrated man who believes not to have a job because the illegal immigrant who doesn’t speak Italian, has no documents, and survives by selling drugs at the corner of the street came to steal his job.

Matteo Salvini, the present leader of the Northern League, has declared many times to be open to changing the name of the party. He hasn’t done it yet, probably because he knows that a huge slice of the party, still warmly attached to the original purpose of the political battle fought by the former leader Umberto Bossi, would revolt and abandon him.

However, even changing the name of the party, Matteo Salvini will never be the choice of the Italian electorate.


  • He is unable to articulate a single sentence more complex than a slogan.
  • His public dress code doesn’t convey the image of someone who should be in Washington dealing with the President of the United States of America or in Beijing reformulating the fiscal benefits for Chinese investors in Italy.
  • The average Italian might be stereotypically more non-foreign friendly than the classic European, but he knows that the problems of the country are far bigger than the single immigrant from Libya who eats at the table of a charitable institution, and he also knows that the leader of the Northern League doesn’t have a single solution to those problems.

I’ll give you an example.

Anyone can wake up tomorrow and promote the exit of Italy from the EU.

Even you and I can do it, too.

However, there is a problem that the leader of the Northern League hasn’t solved yet, that lies in a single question: HOW?
How can you reformulate the trade deals?

How can you save the wealth of the citizens by re-monopolising the currency within a national central bank?

How can you deal with the creditors of the public debt?

How can you lead the country out of the EU without exponentially leveraging the public debt?

How can you guarantee that the deposits will be safe in the banks?

How can you sustain the export of Italian companies that sell their products to European countries?

Why can’t Matteo Salvini answer these questions, but Umberto Bossi could have?

Matteo Salvini can’t answer these questions because the party is publicly perceived as a populist party with right-wing nationalist aims.

When you have this positioning, it is difficult to find a well reputed professional or university professor willing to align with the party to boost its ideological claims.

Instead, Umberto Bossi, following the example of Silvio Berlusconi, knew well that if you want to win a political battle you will need the endorsement of intellectuals and be surrounded by the very best among them.
At the moment, very, very few intellectuals and high profile professionals are publicly promoting the Northern League, which has nothing to do with the original Northern League, the original problems and ideological view that it was supposed to solve and represent.

Matteo Salvini has destroyed the Northern League, but he doesn’t know it yet.

He will discover it soon, while the Five Stars Movement will declare the need to stop illegal immigration, to regulate legal immigration, and to negotiate the exit of Italy from the EU in the middle of the largest financial crisis in human history (that is right around the corner) and just before the next national elections.

In that moment, Matteo Salvini will realise that the Northern League could have not only survived but also ideologically dominated the political arena just by keeping the original brand positioning of the party, promoting a federalist constitutional reform of the country to fight against the consistent unjustified fiscal unbalance between regions;

fiscal reform with a libertarian approach to fight against the consistent exploitation of private property through high tax rates which has destroyed the small to medium enterprise and created the prosperity of the Italian myth together with the Italian economic miracle.

Instead, he decided to promote positions that didn’t align with the original positioning of the party, wasting the roots of twenty years worth of opportunities.
He will pay the price soon.

Line extension is a Samurai.

It doesn’t have any mercy.

“il Progresso online”

Robert Lingard

Brand Positioning Consultant

Founder of Brand Bullets,the UK's first broadcast PR agency led by a brand expert and specialised in brand building for startups and SME, Robert Lingard is the international bestseller author of BRAND TO SELL. Ignite Your Influence and Build Your Brand with Broadcast PR, the very first book in the world ever written on Broadcast PR.

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