Grillo-Farage: 5-Star Independence?
Grillo and Farage may come from different ends of the political spectrum; they may have different methods of approaching politics. But they do agree on one thing: the smug elite running Europe needs a good kicking
As UKIP in Britain pushes its way slowly towards mainstream politics, its Italian counterpart (I won’t say equivalent) looks to some as if it may have peaked, for the moment at least.
The parties have had remarkably different histories. UKIP has taken twenty years to reach its present position, dragging itself up the political rankings, helped by the occasional scandal, but essentially just ploughing away at its message.
Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star movement, by contrast, exploded on to the political scene. Grillo, a comedian but possibly more famous as a blogger, started the party in 2009 and at the 2013 election reached around a quarter of the popular vote, subsequently refusing to enter into one of the traditional alliances which have marked Italian post war politics, largely for the worse.
In May’s Euro elections, 5-Star’s vote had slipped to 21 percent – but in an election completely dominated by Matteo Renzi.
Whilst Nigel Farage’s image is blokey, Grillo’s is violently iconoclastic. The party’s motto is ‘Vaffanculo’ (Fuck off!) and its slogans aggressive: ‘Mandiamoli a casa’ (Lets send them home).
Perhaps the main difference between them is that the two leaders had different material on which to work. Even as Farage won the European Elections in Britain, the issue of Europe was, in polls, way down the voters’ priorities. By tacking on immigration (from Europe) and the faintest whiff of anti-establishment sentiment, Farage built his tally up to 27 percent and is looking to upset Britain’s two or three party system (let’s say two-and-a-half), which by and large has served the nation well.
In Italy, by contrast, both Grillo and the entire electorate know that the political system has served the nation badly. In each change of government, and there have been more than 50 since the war, the party names seemed to change but the people remained the same, many of them, even communists, growing surprisingly wealthy.
So out of touch were the politicians that they didn’t notice the popular dissatisfaction until Grillo cried ‘Let’s send them all home!’ and published lists of how many MPs and senators had criminal convictions – including who was under official investigation for fraud.
It is hard to dislike Beppe Grillo, with his insouciant attitude to power, his mass rallies of hundreds of thousands which went unreported in the mainstream media, and his modern communications, where even the party policies are decided by popular Internet vote.
At the same time it is hard to like him. Whilst changing the system is his main theme, he has a raft of policies, mainly centre-left and green, which carry little appeal with the mainstream voter. Such was his violence when protesting against a new train line to France that he was arrested – and yet few people outside a small area in the northwest are at all interested. He is protectionist (popular here) but likes immigration (not popular).
And now these two parties – which claim individually to have broken the mould of politics (to coin a phrase used in 1980s Britain of the defunct SDP) – are contemplating an alliance, the one with 24 seats in the European Parliament, the other with 17 (out of a total of 766).
This alliance is being considered because of European Parliamentary rules that state that, to form a party grouping, you need 25 members of 7 nationalities; financial grants and speaking time are regulated accordingly. Grillo-Farage (5-star Independence?) meet the membership requirements and would only need some very small parties from other countries to meet this target.
This new grouping may cause a modest amount of trouble – not much, I would say, but, strangely, the whole world seems up in arms about it. Nicholas Farrell (the journalist not the actor), writing in the Spectator, compares Grillo to Mussolini (Farrell lives in Predappio, Mussolini’s home town), says he is a killer (Grillo was involved in a fatal car crash years ago and convicted of dangerous driving) and a greenish Leftie.
Anyone would have thought the two were contemplating marriage, rather than the sort of loose alliance common in the European Parliament. But, strangely enough, the mirror image of this mock outrage is taking place in Italy, where people are describing Farage as some racist demon. On his blog, Grillo is at lengths to protect him. The two seem to get on well.
Grillo and Farage may come from different ends of the political spectrum; they may have different methods of approaching politics. But they do agree on one thing: the smug elite running Europe needs a good kicking.
And many more agree with them.Sharpen your toecaps, gentlemen, and let’s get stuck in.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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