Centre-left comes to the party in Italy

Writing today in the Guardian, Martin Kettle suggests that British and Italian politics are converging:

Politically, Britain is becoming more like Italy. Like Italy …, Britain appears to be drifting steadily to the right under skilful populist leaders whom the political institutions are proving unable to control.

It’s an apt warning. But in both countries, opposition forces are fighting back. Boris Johnson’s opponents seem to be finally making a serious effort to work together, and now in Italy the centre-left is joining in an effort to halt the far right’s march to power.

Earlier this week Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, an independent aligned with the populist Five-Star Movement, resigned in advance of a no confidence motion moved by his deputy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League.

That put the ball into the court of president Sergio Mattarella, who must now attempt to find a new government that can command a parliamentary majority. If he fails, an early election will follow.

Last week I explained that Conte and Luigi Di Maio, the Five-Star leader, need to win over either the centre-left or the centre-right to deliver a majority. Ideally they want both, to provide for a comfortable margin and to build the broadest possible front against Salvini, who starts with a big lead in the opinion polls.

Silvio Berlusconi, the 82-year-old leader of the centre-right Forza Italia, is yet to move in either direction. He shows no sign of co-operation with the Five-Stars, with whom he has had a poisonous relationship in the past, but he has also rebuffed Salvini’s moves to resurrect their alliance.

On the centre-left, however, there has been movement. Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti announced that his party was willing to co-operate with the Five-Stars, and that it was “unanimously giving me a full mandate to negotiate this solution.” Most importantly, the initiative came first from his predecessor, Matteo Renzi, who had previously been the most hostile to the populists.

Last year, when Renzi prevented his party from responding to the Five-Stars’ overtures, I was strongly critical of his stance, since it resulted in the far right gaining a share of power. Now he seems to have changed his mind – or perhaps he calculated that everyone concerned needed some time to come to appreciate the danger that Salvini posed.

But the story goes back further than that, to the previous election in 2013. Then, the Five-Stars, led by their founder Beppe Grillo, refused to support a centre-left government and did their best to antagonise the then centre-left leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, who had won the election but was unable to secure a majority in the Senate.

So Renzi’s impulse to play tit for tat last year was understandable. But with Salvini bidding to become the first elected far-right leader in western Europe since the 1930s, this is no time to bear grudges. Just as in Britain, it’s time for old enemies to come together to defend democracy.



2 thoughts on “Centre-left comes to the party in Italy

  1. Recent reports suggest that M5S and PD are going to reach an agreement, and that FI is not going to join them. Personally I regard the vehemence with which Silvio Berlusconi is rejecting the proposed new coalition as a strong recommendation for it.


    1. I can understand that reaction, but I do think that having Berlusconi – who does, after all, represent the most moderate force on the right-of-centre in Italy – return to the embrace of the fascists is a very bad thing.


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