Rolling blog on Italy’s election: Reports of populism’s death have been greatly exaggerated
This blog will be updated throughout the day. Pictured above – the Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio casting his vote.
Michael Burleigh at 3.30pm: Unserious people
Voting in the reformed Italian electoral system is merely the preliminary to months of horse-trading orchestrated by President Matterella. As things stand, the Right-centre coalition (a significant reversal of words) will get the first crack at forming a government, with League leader Matteo Salvini rather than Berlusconi choosing a prime minister, assuming their ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ holds. Since Salvini hasn’t proposed one, that could equally be Berlusconi’s choice – Antonio Tajani – or even the caretaker incumbent Paolo Gentiloni whose achievements (in stemming illegal migrant flows) were eclipsed by detestation of Matteo Renzi.
5SM has not made a great fist of even governing a single city (Rome and Turin), and lacks any creditable ministerial team. Its left-right mishmash of a programme has been well described as ‘like En Marche for children’, with such ultimate goals as a ‘world government’ and perpetual online referenda. As for the League, were one to transpose its programme and support base onto the UK, a ‘Southern League’ in the richest parts of Britain would seek to jettison everywhere north of Watford, while slinging out every kind of non-European immigrant. Regardless of who ends up in the Palazzo Chigi, almost party made extravagant promises, particularly to elderly voters (29% of Italians are aged over 60) or in the case of 5SM, to people on low incomes. All of these promises would entail breaching EU budget deficit ceilings. In the longer view, the election merely confirms that a country with many world class businesses is constantly let down by its politicians. What more could go wrong by handing power to unserious people on the grounds that they haven’t been in power so far?
Nigel Cameron at 2.30pm: Italians want heads on pikes
Elites were on the ropes yet again last night as Italy voted itself into the disaffected column.
While France destroyed its political establishment by handing the Elysee Palace to a neo-phyte pro-European centrist, the rebels in Rome have moved in more predictable directions by crushing the centre and left in favour of electoral hectoring that resembles remarkably the anti-immigrant revanchism of Donald Trump. No surprise that his eminence grise, the now-fired but ever-present lover of anarchy Steve Bannon, hailed the emerging result and heaped praise on League leader Salvi, one of the clear winners of the night. The Five Star movement, which looks from the outside as a ragbag of malcontents, was an even bigger winner, with around one-third of the votes.
From one point of view it’s populism; from another, as I argued elsewhere of the emerging American discontent back when the Tea Party and Occupy movements ravaged the establishments of right and left respectively, it’s a shift into exopolitics, a politics outside politics, in which the power of the frustrated and “disenfranchised” people is focused only indirectly on politics and politicians and policy. It’s better seen as a time of revolution. As Newt Gingrich, once one of the smartest men in Washington though now somewhat run to seed, put it as Trump barreled through the Republican primaries, Americans want to send someone to Washington to kick over the kitchen table. The peasants are once again in revolt, and they want heads on their pikes.
Italy offers the Europe’s best possible opportunity for exopolitical earthquake. Always a patchwork, despite Garibaldi’s triumphant efforts that led in the late 19th century to the founding of the nation, its combination of vibrant post-WW2 Communism, a weak and troubled state and judiciary (e.g. the Cosa Nostra, and the terrorism that killed former PM Aldo Moro and many more), a Byzantine political system, weak, random political leadership (it takes a lot to make Bunga-bunga Berlusconi look good), and now waves of maritime refugees (as we know, resulting as much from smart calculus in the Kremlin as any other cause), has created the perfect storm.
If he’s still a free man after Mueller does his dread work rounding up the Russophiles who helped vault Trump into the White House, maybe Bannon will be offering his services to whomever emerges as leader of Italy’s disaffected.
Peter Franklin at 12.30pm: 50 shades of populist – a rough guide to Italy’s parties of protest
Make no mistake, the Italian election result is a disaster for the pro-EU establishment. However, analysing the outcome is hampered by Italy’s convoluted politics with its multiple parties of protest. Perhaps that’s why the BBC barely bothered this morning – bringing us hard-hitting reports from the, er, Oscars instead.
So, here’s a quick explainer, based on the groupings in which similar parties from different countries sit together in the European Parliament:
- We’ll start with the centre-right, pro-EU European People’s Party (EPP) – this is where Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia sits. That’s right, Berlusconi is the moderate one in this list.
- To the right of the EPP we find the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), who are moderately Eurosceptic. The UK Conservative Party left the EPP to join the ECR, where they sit with Raffaele Fitto of the minor Us with Italy Party.
- To the right of, or at least more radically populist than, the ECR is Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). This is home to last night’s biggest winner, the Five Star Movement – along with Britain’s UKIP. Five Star is officially ‘broad tent’ rather than rightwing in its populism, but that will be of scant comfort to the EU establishment.
- Even further to the right is Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), to which last night’s other big winner, the League, belongs. Formerly, the Northern League, the party has de-emphasised its separatist agenda to bring its anti-immigration message to the whole of Italy. Other ENF parties include the French National Front and Austrian Freedom Party.
- Though not part of any European grouping, one should also mention the Brothers of Italy, yet another rightwing populist outfit, which is sometimes described as ‘post-fascist’. Though much smaller than the League, the Brothers will win enough seats to be a big influence in the new parliament.
So, to sum up, nearly half the votes cast yesterday went to the allies of Nigel Farage and the friends of Marine Le Pen.