Since its failure in the general election the Irish far right has come to the obvious conclusion that it has an image problem. As we’ve covered here at The Beacon, talk amongst far-right activists has been filled with how and why the general election panned out the way it did. There has also been talk about what to do next. With the circulation of a detailed strategy document — and the public discussion of the internal problems of the National Party — it’s clear that these image concerns are being taken to heart.
We must keep an eye on this. Because the next steps the far right may take could very well be the rebranding suggested in the leaked strategic plan. Of course, this has its own risks as the true believers could see it as a watering down of their image and beliefs. But rebranding has been successful for the far right elsewhere in Europe.
It worked in Sweden. Once a fringe political party, the Sweden Democrats (SD) is now the third-largest party in the Swedish parliament. It also took note of its own image problem and subsequently took the appropriate steps. As Stieg Larsson, author of the Millennium Trilogy and expert on the Swedish far right, documented, this was vital to the success of the SD.
He pointed out that it hid the skinheads and blatant racists amongst it ranks; out of sight and out of mind. When a new leader took over in the mid-90s, “one of his first actions was to ban the wearing of uniforms at public meetings”. Not stopping there, he “sidelined the most obvious madmen and militants”. They were replaced “with elegantly dressed and comparatively house-trained activists”. It obviously worked.
The Irish far right appears to be in the process of this. It also seems to be increasing its focus on the misbehaviour, criminal or otherwise, of the powerful in Irish society. Once again we can learn from the Swedish experience. As Larsson wrote in a 2003 article:
The most common propaganda message is the claim that somehow other democratic politicians are scoundrels who cheat and line their pockets at the expense of ordinary people, and who have “sold out” or “betrayed” their country.
As it stands the far right frames most issues around asylum seekers and immigration in general. Thankfully, this is unpalatable to most. However, if mainstream politics continues to deliver neoliberal destitution to a large portion of the population the far right can easily gain from it.
All it has to do is clothe itself in the image of an anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal movement and keep the more obnoxious racists out of earshot and out of sight. If it manages to do this then it’s quite possible that we may see a surge in the popularity of far-right individuals and parties here in the coming years. And then we’ll be in real trouble.
Featured image via Flickr – Ryan Adams