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4 The Italian Lega Nord

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Understanding Populist Party Organisation

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology ((PSEPS))


The Lega Nord (LN ) [Northern League] in 2015 is the oldest party group in the Italian Parliament. While this statistic reflects the highly turbulent nature of Italian politics over the past three decades, it also underlines the resilience of a party whose roots lie in a series of regionalist movements that emerged across northern Italy in the 1980s. These were later merged in 1991 into the LN under Umberto Bossi, who led the party until April 2012.

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  1. 1.

    In the mid-1990s, the Lega shifted from advocating federalism to calling for independence for ‘Padania’, an invented nation covering most of Italy’s northern regions. It abandoned this position in 2000 when it re-joined the Berlusconi-led centre-right coalition. See Albertazzi and McDonnell (2005: 995–996).

  2. 2.

    This chapter was written before the June 2015 Lega Nord federal congress, which slightly changed the party statute. The Lega is now defined as a ‘confederal’ rather than ‘federal’ party. Additionally, the President of the party only plays a symbolic role. The new leader, Matteo Salvini, backed this measure in order to weaken the role of the former leader, Umberto Bossi (who remains president for life). Other formal changes are marginal and do not significantly deviate from what is written in this chapter.

  3. 3.

    As Albertazzi and McDonnell (2005: 959–960) show, the Lega in this period adopted an effective strategy of picking ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ within the coalition. In brief, this amounted to the party often attacking its fellow junior coalition partners, the Alleanza Nazionale (AN – National Alliance) and the UDC (Unione di Centro (UDC – Union of the Centre), while generally avoiding conflict with Forza Italia and supporting Berlusconi on issues of particular interest to him (for example, justice).

  4. 4.

    Cas Mudde (2007: 56) said that ‘the LN might not (always) be a perfect example of the populist radical right, but it is too similar to be excluded from the party family’ while Pippa Norris (2005: 65) observed that the party ‘may not be strictly part of the radical right’.

  5. 5.

    Since Salvini took over, the daily paper and the television station have both closed as part of the cost-cutting organizational changes we discuss in the section ‘Between Change and Adaptation’.

  6. 6.

    See, for example, the 2013 local elections manifesto (Lega Nord 2013):

  7. 7.

    Opinion polls and surveys can be found at:

  8. 8.

    Data provided by Daniele Baroncelli (2015) show that in the first 5 months of 2014, the number of Salvini’s Facebook followers rose from 60,000 to 155,000. This was the fifth largest increase among all Italian politicians (see


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McDonnell, D., Vampa, D. (2016). 4 The Italian Lega Nord. In: Heinisch, R., Mazzoleni, O. (eds) Understanding Populist Party Organisation. Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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