Plus ça Change
For any observer of Italy, the new political landscape might seem more of the same – just a new coalition government of the many that have succeeded each other.
Italy is, however, often a political trailblazer (celebrated property tycoon turned politician Trump sometimes looks awfully like a brasher model of celebrated property tycoon turned politician Berlusconi), and it is worth taking a closer look at the colourful characters who have descended onto Rome’s governmental machinery after 6 years of centre-left and technocratic rule.
The MOVIMENTO 5 STELLE is not your ordinary political party. Founded by polemic comedian Beppe Grillo and futuristic marketeer Gianroberto Casaleggio, it has cleverly embraced the anger and populism which the prolonged economic contraction have created, by mixing the golden possibilities of technology and redistributive economic policies, and by being the firsts to use social media to it’s fullest political possibilities. Grillo has moved back to comedy, Casaleggio passed away, leaving the levers of the marketing machinery to his shy son Davide and the political machinery to Luigi di Maio, a 31 year old who didn’t complete university and never had a meaningful job before, who led the Movement to over 30% of the vote in the 2018 elections.
The Movement didn’t have enough votes to form a government, and after months of negotiations and instability managed to co-opt La Lega from Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, to form the self-styled Government of Change. Matteo Salvini, the head of La Lega inherited a moribund party 5 years ago to take it to take just over 17% of the vote, by moving it away from anti-southern Italian positions, to the more fashionable anti-Europe and anti-euro. It can only be a coincidence that Salvini also never completed his university degree and outside politics never had a job more meaningful than flipping burgers. The establishment parties, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Renzi’s PD could barely make it over the 30% between them, leaving the populists in charge.
The Movimento and Lega cleverly overcame any negotiation difficulties by agreeing to pretty much everything that was in their respective electoral manifestos – helped by a certain affinity in anti-immigration positions and a desire to show change. The contract ruling the coalition program gives big welfare increases to the poor and big tax cuts to the rich, satisfying both constituents and all those who believe pigs can fly.
As the first budget is currently going thought the lens of the European Union and the pork barrelling of the Italian parliament, no doubt through the sheer will not to loose face and an unparalleled imagination in the ability to fact-twist, they will manage to make the pig fly. Probably only as far as the closest macelleria, where it will be turned in to succulent prosciutto, which both the populists and the establishment parties will be happy to feast upon. Tommaso di Lampedusa famously wrote in his masterpiece The Leopard, “everything has to change for everything to stay the same.” And you can feel the current changes bringing both fear and ferver to the feast.