There were some bumps in the road to get to this point. Silvio Berlusconi, who leads one of her coalition partners, came under fire last week for leaked recordings of pro-Putin remarks; the new foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, is from Berlusconi’s party but is generally seen as pro-European. The leader of the other junior partner, Matteo Salvini (also a long-time Putin supporter), failed in his bid to return to the interior ministry, instead taking the job of infrastructure minister.
On paper, the government’s prospects look solid. Its three parties have now worked together over a fairly long period, and between them they have a clear majority in both houses of parliament (although that is not based on a majority of the vote). Their opponents are divided and demoralised.
Nonetheless, last week’s revelations have highlighted the fact that the division over the Ukraine war, which is becoming the major fault line in European politics, runs down the middle of the Meloni government. Time will tell whether she has the authority to impose her view on her unruly partners.
Meanwhile in Britain, the choice of a new prime minister is almost final, following the resignation of Liz Truss on Thursday. Last night Boris Johnson, Truss’s predecessor, announced that he would not be a candidate for the Conservative leadership, leaving former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak almost certain to be unopposed for the position when nominations close later today.
Johnson claimed that he had the support of the hundred Conservative MPs necessary to nominate, but there is good reason to be sceptical of that claim. According to the BBC’s tabulation, immediately before his announcement Johnson had the support of only a quarter of the 228 MPs who at that point had gone on the record: 57, as against 147 for Sunak and 24 for the other declared candidate, Penny Mordaunt.
If the 129 who were at that point uncommitted had lined up in the same proportions, Johnson would have finished with only 89 supporters to Sunak’s 230 and Mordaunt’s 38. His chance of getting to a hundred would have depended either on having a disproportionate share of backers who were keeping quiet about it, or on Mordaunt withdrawing and throwing some of her support to him. Neither seems particularly likely.
Sunak now has a clear run, leaving the party members out of the picture. He could be sworn in as early as tonight, and will be Britain’s first non-white prime minister. More significantly for the moment, he represents a seriousness in relation to economic policy that Johnson and Truss both lacked: the financial markets will be greatly relieved, and he will have a bit of breathing space to try to get things back on an even keel.
Nonetheless, the problem of governing the Tory Party, which has become more acute every year since the members first went to war with David Cameron a decade or so ago, has not been resolved. Sunak won a respectable 42.6% of the vote in the ballot against Truss, so it would be wrong to say he is totally out of sync with the party membership, but there are clearly some major differences of emphasis, if not of fundamental outlook.
In any case, he is now their only hope, and with two years to go to an election there is still time for the chaos of recent months to be forgotten and for the party to get itself back into a competitive position. But with Labour holding a lead of more than thirty points in the polls, it’s going to be an uphill task.