Italy gives thumbs down to secessionists

Voters say no to Northern League's dream of independent Padania, writes Andrew Gumbel in Rome

Insults and publicity stunts do not a revolution make: such was the message Italian voters sent yesterday to Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, who spent the past month embroiled in a flamboyant campaign to split Italy and set up an independent republic in the northern third of the country.

As results came in from elections in 160 communities, it became clear the League's antics had made a negative impression. Mr Bossi's party came in a poor third in the key northern cities - Mantua, Pavia and Lodi - where League candidates were running for mayor.

Instead, candidates from the governing centre-left Olive Tree alliance led in all three cities and seemed in a strong position to win the elections in next week's run-off with the centre-right Freedom Alliance. "The League got what it deserved," said Fabio Mussi, a leader of the left-wing PDS.

In the run-up to the elections the League established a separate "government" in the north and called for independence and a separate currency. Mr Bossi compared himself to Gandhi, described his detractors as riff-raff and Fascists, and dressed his supporters in militaristic green shirts.

Were Mr Bossi's an orthodox separatist movement, one could conclude that his dreams of an independent Padania, as he has renamed his core constituency, had been shattered. The elections were certainly a setback after the League's strong showing in the general election in April. But whether they will silence Italy's most voluble politician is another matter.

It has never been entirely clear if Mr Bossi is serious about secession, or if he is using it as a propaganda tool to pressure the government into delivering what his voters really want: greater local autonomy, less bureaucratic hassle from Rome and, above all, lower and less complicated taxes.

Yesterday one of Mr Bossi's most prominent lieutenants, the former speaker of the Rome parliament, Irene Pivetti, admitted that Padania was more a "poetic expression" than a geographical reality and described secession as no more than a talking-point. Yet the campaigns and threats of civil disobedience are carrying on.

Yesterday, the provincial authorities in Mantua, which are in League hands, slapped an eviction order on the office of the central government prefect for the area, a provocation intended to stir up debate on the role and questionable usefulness of the office of prefect.

The League's "government", held its first cabinet meeting in a Venetian palace loaned by an aristocratic sympathiser. And in the industrial town of Mestre, across the lagoon, a breakaway group of anti-tax protesters staged a noisy rally.

The past month has brought out the two key characteristics of the League. On the one hand, its value as a political force is severely limited.

"It dresses itself up as a national protest movement but in fact its strength on the ground is patchy at best," said another senior parliamentarian from the government benches, Diego Masi. On the other hand, as a propaganda machine and a permanent thorn in the side of the establishment, it can be remarkably effective.

The secession campaign may have outraged ministers but has also scared them into acting more quickly than they otherwise might to address the appalling tax and administration legacy of the past.

Yesterday, as the prefect of Mantua was being evicted, the Regional Affairs Minister, Franco Bassanini, admitted prefects do not do much anyway and may be abolished. He is working overtime to produce a draft law on administration of the regions within the next month and his colleagues have promised an emergency review of taxation procedures.

Top of the hit-list is the detested bolla di accompagnamento, a tax stamp that must be bought when even the smallest consignment of goods is transported. Even a takeaway pizza has to have its bolla di accompagnamento, which helps explain why almost no restaurant countenances home deliveries.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living