Is this Italy's Tony Blair? Meet Matteo Renzi, the rising star of Italian politics

Youthful, charismatic and on the left, Matteo Renzi is being tipped as a new force on Italy's fractured political scene

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The Independent Online

Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is celebrating after rising star Matteo Renzi was crowned as its secretary at the party primaries on Sunday night with a crushing 68 per cent of the vote.

The big question now is whether the charismatic, 38-year-old "post ideologue" can live up to his reputation as the new Tony Blair and finally give Italy’s centre-left - and its political system - the credibility it’s been missing for decades.

When the centre-left pulled off its age-old trick of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in this year’s general election, it was clear to everyone that dynamic new leadership was essential for a party that promises much, but delivers very little.

A late surge by the tainted but irrepressible Silvio Berlusconi denied the Democratic Party the majority in the senate that it should have walked away with. The PD’s amiable but uninspiring leader Pierluigi Bersani, 62, quit soon after.

Two months after the inconclusive February poll, a cross-party coalition was installed, leaving PD activists to think hard what might have been. Now their hopes are rising again. And the optimism springs from the energetic and ambitious Mr Renzi.

James Walston, a professor of politics at the American University of Rome, said Mr Renzi had considerable political skills.

“In some ways he is the new Tony Blair, for example, he is a very good communicator,” he said.

Mr Renzi has staked his claim on the centre-ground and made little secret of his opposition to the unreconstructed leftist policies held dear by large swathes of his own party. Shrewdly playing the age card, he has also campaigned for the hoary old guard of Italian politics to be "scrapped”.

"This is not the end of the left, it is the end for a group of the left's political leaders," said Mr Renzi, after winning the party leadership. "We have to show that we can win.”

Berlusconi, who has previously sung Mr Renzi’s praises, rang the new leader to congratulate him with wishes that may have been both mischievous and to some extent genuine.

But Mr Renzi, who is currently the mayor of Florence, could yet see his ambitions impeded by the current Italian Prime Minister, the quiet but capable Enrico Letta, who has, for the last eight months managed to hold together an unlikely left-right coalition government.

Mr Letta is also a centrist member of the PD.

“Renzi might be secretary of the party. But is he really the leader if he’s not Prime Minister?” said Professor Walston.

Mr Letta, who at 47 is also one of the new generation of centre-left politicians, has said he is confident there will be no problems despite frequent sniping by Renzi regarding the performance of the coalition.

But few doubt that the pair – the prime minister and neo-PD leader are now anything but rivals. Italian pundits say that were ideologues from both the left and right to succeed in sinking the current coalition, then Mr Renzi would be well placed to become centre-left candidate in a spring general election.

Should the left-right coalition carry on for another year or more and make a half-decent fist of things, then Mr Letta’s chances of leading the PD into the next general election would rise.

Either way, if, as seems distinctly possible, Mr Renzi or Mr Letta were to face a centre-right led by a 78-year-old Silvio Berlusconi, the centre-left would certainly have youth on its side.