The manual of politics (rule number one, I presume) suggests that you should listen to the voters (rather than judging and patronising them), specially when they speak in such a loud voice.
Yesterday, the Italian electors voted to smash the establishment and the status quo. The moderate forces of the traditional centre-left (Matteo Renzi) and centre-right (Silvio Berlusconi and his tiny and discredited christian-democrat allies) lost badly: a major defeat. On their side (looking forward to a sort of grand-coalition cabinet) you could find: public and private tv channels, major papers and mainstream media, big corporations, vested interests, and the “Brussels team” (from Jean-Claude Juncker to Manfred Weber…). In spite of (or perhaps: due to) this huge support and a constant scare-tactics, their proposal was literally wiped out.
So, the anti-establishment Five Star movement is by far the largest party (32%), while the other political winner is the lepenist Matteo Salvini (17%).
In spite of the centre-right alliance being the first coalition (in terms of parliamentary seats), the young leader of the Five Star movement, Luigi Di Maio, seems to be likely to be appointed Prime Minister. According to the existing constitutional frame of reference, in fact, the President of Republic can appoint the leader who is supposed to have more chances to get a majority in both of the Houses of the Parliament. Di Maio may have three options: reach out to all directions, pledging a cross-party support for his platform; or forge an alliance whit the left, after Renzi’s defeat; or design a populist coalition with Salvini. The elections of the Speakers of the new Chamber of Deputies and of the new Senate (scheduled on the 23rd of March) will clear up the mistery.
Unfortunately for Italy, in terms of policies, the Five Star movement platform appears statist: they believe in an assertive role of the state, and their key–proposal is a guaranteed minimum wage for unemployed people (boosting debt and public spending). Being Italy already overwhelmed with the third largest sovereign debt in the world, it seems a dangerous prospect. And when it comes to foreign policy, both Di Maio and Salvini are ardent admirers of Vladimir Putin.
But, in terms of politics, they are the clear winners. The Italian establishment (mainstream politicians, mainstream media, “experts”, etc) failed to understand Brexit, they failed to understand Trump, and so they were totally unprepared to figure out what was going to happen at home. The real point that the Italian élites failed to consider is an immense middle-class (and lower middle-class) whose living standards have been stagnating for years. So many people may have kept their jobs: but, in spite of that, they feel poorer and less secure, and they are also fed up with an immigration crisis which has got out of hand. And – what is more – they have been kept out of the official “agenda”, of the public conversation: their fears and worries have been rejected and brushed aside for years. So, the Five Star movement and Salvini have become the instrument for their revenge.
Now, it’s up to them - Five Star and Salvini - to play a major role: this is what the Italian electors decided.
Raising the eyes to the horizon, and considering the next months and years, it won’t be easy to imagine an alternative, principled, conservative, small-government centre-right option. From a cultural point of view, this would be extremely needed. And (that should be the main “British lesson” to learn, in my opinion) someone should offer a constructive proposal to this mass of disappointed and disaffected electors. Instead of “judging” them, they should be offered something better, in order to channel all this social anger.
As far as I’m concerned, the Brexit negotiations could provide an opportunity: Italy should be part of an alliance to trigger a serious renegotiation process also in Continental Europe, helping reforming forces to work together against the European existing status quo, and against the perspective of a “Franco-German” (or Germano-French…) superstate, designed in Berlin-Paris-Bruxelles, and then imposed to all of the others, from Finland to Portugal. A great part of the Italian electorate is looking forward to listening not only to a criticism of the EU, but also to a positive and constructive platform. It would be essential that rational and reforming movements and personalities should promote this kind of public conversation, and a consequent cultural and political challenge: who knows, a decent, pro-market and reliable centre-right could start from here, turning over a new leaf, after Berlusconi’s twilight.