Friday, 1 March 2013

A message from the voters of Italeigh

Anger? Fury? Disgust? Apathy? Which word would you choose to describe what the voters in Italeigh have displayed this week?

(Note to readers on the Planet Zog: Italy is a country in southern Europe; Eastleigh is a constituency in southern England. They've both just held elections.)

The wonderful thing about elections is how powerless they make politicians feel. Suddenly, their fate is in the hands of people they have no control over -- some of them are stupid, malevolent, ignorant or plain cussed. It doesn't matter, because they all have a vote, and, if the election is fairly conducted, every vote counts.

The man with the biggest smile on his face in Italy this week has been Beppe Grillo, a comedian who heads an anarchic movement of political novices whose most memorable campaign slogan translates, very approximately, as: "Kindly depart and have sexual relations with yourself." 

His English counterpart (yes, I know it's a bit of a stretch) is Nigel Farage of UKIP, not a comedian in the conventional sense, perhaps, but certainly a man who taps into the same vein of voter anger that signor Grillo has so successfully identified.

What significant numbers of voters in Italeigh have in common is a profound sense that conventional politicians have let them down. They lie, they cheat, they make promises that they have no intention of keeping -- and, most seriously, they preside over a collapse in living standards that throws thousands of people out of work and creates real, palpable misery.

I suggested last September, after elections in France, Greece and the Netherlands, that European voters had cast their ballots in a spirit of either anger or fear. In those three countries in 2012, it seemed as if the fear had overcome the anger -- fear of the unknown, and therefore fear of voting for parties (the Front National in France, Syriza in Greece) that might well take them out of the euro and perhaps even out of the EU.

In Italeigh, on the other hand, for significant numbers of voters (25 per cent voted for Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement in Italy, nearly 28 per cent voted for UKIP in Eastleigh, the highest parliamentary share in their history), the anger has triumphed. The message to the major, traditional parties can be simply summarised: "Get lost." Or in the far more colourful Italian version: "Vaffanculo."

The last time something similar happened in Italy, in 1994, after the meltdown of the sclerotic and deeply corrupt traditional ruling parties, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, the new man on the scene was the country's richest and most colourful business tycoon, a certain Silvio Berlusconi. His campaign slogan, indeed the name of the party he created, was "Forza Italia", the Italian football fans' equivalent of "Eng-er-land", which at least had the merit of being markedly more upbeat than "Go f*** yourself."

As for UKIP, they can now claim (though they won't, of course) to be the new Lib Dems, the home for the "dustbin votes", the pox-on-both-your-houses votes, now that the Lib Dems are joined at the hip to the Tories. Remember those "stunning Lib Dem by-election upsets" of the past? Stand by for equally stunning UKIP upsets in the months to come.
I don't understand why anyone is surprised by what's happened in Italeigh. What does surprise me is how many voters still support the traditional parties, given the utter balls-up they've made of dealing with the crisis of the past five years. 

And herein lies the danger: if that stubborn loyalty crumbles, if more voters turn to the populist fringes, we need only look to Greece to see what ugly political forces start crawling out of the woodwork when voters lose faith in conventional politics. Gangs of thugs roaming the streets, hunting for ethnic minorities to beat up; mysterious attacks on political targets -- Europe knows only too well where that can lead.

So the lesson for Europe's current leaders is this: start being more honest about the choices you're making. Tell us we're in a hole and you're doing your best to dig us out of it -- but admit that you can't be sure it'll work, and you can't be sure how long it'll take.

Admit there are alternatives: austerity is a policy option, not an immutable law of physics. As the columnist Simon Jenkins put it, in a phrase I would dearly love to have come up with myself: "These [EU] finance ministers are like Aztec priests at an altar. If the blood sacrifice fails to deliver rain, there must be more blood."

And one final lesson from Italeigh -- voters don't seem to care a hoot about politicians' sexual proclivities. Whether it's Silvio Berlusconi's bunga bunga parties (and remember, he's still facing criminal charges over allegations that he paid for sex with an underage prostitute), or allegations of milord Rennard's "inappropriate behaviour", the reaction from voters seems to be much along the lines of what I was told when I asked African-American women at a Washington soup kitchen in 1998 what they thought of President Clinton's behaviour towards the White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"He's a man, ain't he?"


aare said...

How deep is the hole we are in and what are it's implications for the man on the "clapham omnibus"?

Anonymous said...

Rejection of mainstream parties & their policies!
Over 50% percent voted for parties that spoke against the EU. PM Mario Monti (supported by Brussels, Berlin, Catholic Church & elitist Italian businessmen, received a miserable 10% of the vote.
Joint slate of the Democratic Party & Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL) = strongest force in the lower house = 340/630 seats under electoral law.

The real mess is the Senate (where the seats are not awarded nationally, but are based on the results of the twenty regions).
Bersani 119 seats,
Berlusconi 117,
Grillo 54 & Monti 18.
Since all laws must be passed by both chambers of parliament, Bersani needs the support of Berlusconi or Grillo to form a working majority.

Apparently, Italians prefer the political entertainers like Berlusconi and Grillo to the sober analysis of the economic politician Mario Monti and the social democrat Pier Luigi Bersani. Perhaps Italians have seen Mario Monti is anything but a sober professor of economics; he is a minion of international finance capital. He has worked for the investment bank Goldman Sachs & was a board member of the Bilderberg Conference.

What now?

Grillo is not a poor man; he is one of the top earners in the country. In 2011, he paid taxes on an official income of €4.5M.
Behind his populist tirades lies a right-wing liberal politician, which would not stop him from cozying up to the far right. Grillo insists that he is neither right-wing nor left-wing, and invited neo-Nazis and supporters of the racist Northern League to support his movement. In the northern Italian city of Parma, where Grillo’s Five Stars Movement has held the office of mayor since May, strict austerity measures have been implemented.
Conclusion: Grillo and right-wing Berlusconi demonstrate bankruptcy of the Italian left.

In the 2008 parliamentary elections, Sinistra Critica, which belongs to the Pabloite United Secretariat, received 169,000 votes. This time, it opted not to participate in the elections in order not to take away any votes from Bersani. It justified this by saying that “today there is no political and organizational basis … for a broad anti-capitalist alliance”. What does this mean - a turn backwards towards communism?

The Italian elections herald fierce social struggles in Italy, throughout Europe…and perhaps even the UK & USA..

quietoaktree said...

One thing is clear, Europe never functioned properly before the EEC, EU or Euro. Many countries were ´neck deep´in poverty, social inequality, dictatorships, Civil Wars, prejudices and hatreds.

Despite the advantages the EEC, EU and Euro offered and delivered -- It´s back to ´business as usual´, with previous advantages now proclaimed hinderances and oppression-- by some governments and their populations.

I would be grateful if anyone could tell me of anything the EEC, EU or Euro has done to be blamed for this situation.

If we look at the 3 countries mentioned -- Italy, UK and Greece --all have specific problems ( Political system, social inequalities, prejudices and hatreds -- that are totally independent of the EEC, EU and Euro but are once again coming to the forefront as the failures of their political systems, politicians and themselves becomes obvious.

The EU was/is the only game in town that offers an eventual hope of leaving this undeserved Nationalism and self delusion that only an election is sufficient to change the world --if others pay the bills.

Anonymous said...

High time the BBC and other newsreporting federations began to appoint leaders to countries already oozing over with news that it leaves listeners boggled over what the outcomes.Distressed to see and hear so many things over the receptacle limit to prevent pollutions in the world air! To our minds news readers and correspondents sound better than politicians already in a binge!