Italy, the morning after

And so the next day brought little relief from Italy’s political deadlock. The sharemarket in Milan was down 4%; Paris fell 2.75% and Frankfurt 2%. Banking stocks, understandably, were worse still. That’s pretty bad, but it’s not yet a bloodbath. The Italian political class still has time to get its act together.

The result is being interpreted as a vote against austerity; as the Guardian puts it, a “withering popular verdict on cuts and taxes”. In a sense that’s clearly true, since Silvio Berlusconi and Beppo Grillo both railed against the austerity measures, and their parties won almost 55% of the vote between them.

But when you’ve got the centre-left supporting austerity and the centre-right opposing it, it’s a bit hard to generalise; there would have been many supporters of each who disagreed with those positions but stuck to their traditional party loyalties. Maybe they would cancel out. Maybe not. Either way, it’s still the case that Pier Luigi Bersani, who supported austerity, won the election – at least in the sense of winning a majority in the lower house.

The markets, or at least the pundits (whom the markets no doubt listen to, even if they shouldn’t), seem to have been particularly spooked by Mario Monti’s poor showing, but that was always predictable: new centrist parties have a pretty poor record. The voters already think they’re being offered too little choice; they don’t want yet another lot crowding into the middle ground.

It’s now up to Grillo’s 5-Star Movement as to just how obstructive it’s willing to be. Clearly it has the power to make Italy ungovernable if it chooses. But Bersani (who rejected the alternative possibility of a grand coalition with Berlusconi) has offered a set of principles that he hopes will lure the populists to co-operate. As he’s quoted by the Guardian, “Up to now, they have been saying: ‘All go home.’ But now they’re here, too. So either they go home as well, or they say what they want to do for their country and their children.”

Grillo says his forces won’t join a coalition but will consider government measures “law by law”. That at least implies that they are willing for a government to be established in the first place. And because the centre-left is the largest group in the Senate, Bersani doesn’t actually need a coalition, he just needs either the 5-Star Movement or the centre-right to abstain on votes of confidence.

Which brings me to my major gripe about media coverage of the election. It could be called “the tyranny of the early results”: because the centre-right led for a time in the count for the Senate, much of the commentary proceeded on that basis, and once out there it proved difficult to recall.

This morning the BBC is still showing a graphic (stamped 5pm GMT, or 4am today Melbourne time) that gives the centre-right 116 Senate seats to the centre-left’s 113. But it isn’t true.

And look, it’s really not that hard. If you go to the website of the interior ministry (which the BBC cites as its source, although of course it doesn’t give a hyperlink), under Senate scrutiny, you get a table that totals to 301 seats. That alone should clue you that something’s missing, since any number of sources will tell you there are 315 elected Senate seats, but at the bottom right under the total the ministry prints in capitals, “SONO ESCLUSE DAL RIEPILOGO LE REGIONI VALLE D’AOSTA E TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE.”

Even if you don’t know a word of Italian, Google will render that for you as “Are excluded from summary of the regions and Aosta Trentino Alto Adige.” In other words, the two autonomous regions of Valle d’Aosta and Trentino-South Tyrol (Alto Adige) aren’t counted in the table. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist: if you click on them on the map to the left you’ll get their results, which show that one seat in Trentino-South Tyrol went to the centre-right and the other six to the various local parties that vote with the centre-left, and that Valle d’Aosta’s one seat went to Vallee d’Aoste, the local autonomist group, which La Repubblica counts as non-aligned.

That brings the total to 309. Then there are the six overseas seats, which have now been decided; they’re on the tab marked “Estero” (“Foreign”) on the website. They went just as I said they would yesterday: four centre-left, one centre, one non-aligned. Add in the four senators for life – Mario Monti himself and three retired centre-right politicians, whom I’ll count as non-aligned – and you get the following totals:

  • Centre-left   123
  • Centre-right   117
  • 5-Star Movement   54
  • Centre   20
  • Non-aligned   5

If a lone blogger can do this, why can’t one of the world’s biggest media organisations?


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