Oh no. Another election in Italy?
Amazing as it may sound, Berlusconi, for all his venality and amorality, is the only person since the war to have led a party through its full five year term. As for Salvini, he is makng much of standing on principle, which may well mean that Italy goes back to the polls in June, and Salvini strenghens his hand
There is an Italian saying that the difference between the Genovese and the Venetians is that, whilst both would sell you their grandmothers, the Venetians will deliver.
What is perhaps no longer true of the great renaissance powers is widely held to be the case with Italy’s politicians. Some have changed allegiance three times.
To the surprise of many commentators inconstancy is not a condition associated with the Lega party leader, Matteo Salvini. Many believe that the reason Italy still does not have a government is that Salvini sticks to his coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and junior partner Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.
Anti-establishment 5-Star are the largest party (whereas the centre right is the largest group) and refuse to have anything to do with Berlusconi. So everyone was expecting Salvini to wave a tearful goodbye to his erstwhile friends and join 5-Star’s Luigi di Maio in government.
I listened to Salvini’s press conference immediately after the election result and his position, previously unheard of from someone in his profession, was ‘whatever happens I shall stick with my associates’.
For myself, I do not believe that Salvini is supremely confident in his stance, that the early hours of the morning have not seen him at least imagining himself in some great office of state, his party with some influence and power. He will have thought this through, and I am certain he is doing the right thing.
Salvini came to prominence not much more than four years ago, inheriting a party formed by and centred around one man, Umberto Bossi. Bossi saw himself as head of a movement, a preserver of the traditions, poetry and storytelling of his native Po Valley, which he called Padania.
It is worth remembering that as the Northern League, the party had already held office, as sustainers of Silvio Berlusconi. They emerged from the Berlusconi years still thought of as extremists and eccentrics. However, renaming it ‘The League’ and creating a Momentum-like group of supporters called ‘Us with Salvini’, the new man has re-energised what was turning into a group of no-hopers.
In allying himself with Berlusconi and the Brothers of Italy (worth a useful 5% of the vote), Salvini has given his party credibility: Berlusconi, for all his venality and amorality, is the only person since the war to have led a party through its full five year term. Whereas Salvini was referred to as ‘extreme right’ he is now ‘centre-right’ and his appeal extends way beyond the wealthy north.
And the support goes both ways: Berlusconi has been sustained by a younger figure whom he can patronisingly refer to as his heir; he is able to maintain his influence without being allowed, due to his convictions, to hold any kind of office.
The result of Salvini’s refusal to make himself 5-Star’s junior partner will probably result in the nation returning to the polls in June, although President Mattarella has so far refused to countenance it. But Salvini can look forward to the vote with some confidence.
The mood in Italy is still against the established parties, which most people believe have led them to disaster. News has just emerged that Spain is richer per capita than Italy, for the first time in living memory. This sort of thing hurts the bella figura.
And within the arc of non-traditional politics, Salvini is doing better than Di Maio. He has had good regional wins in Molise and Friuli Venezia Giulia, his party’s north-eastern homeland.
If Salvini performs more strongly than 5-Star in new elections he may have made himself an unstoppable force, the undisputed leader of the centre right as Berlusconi withdraws. The EU loathes him, but MPs from other parties might, just, rally behind his banner.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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