The rise of Laura Boldrini bodes well for Italy's political class. They need more of her ilk

Yet her decision to stand for parliament unleashed a tidal wave of sexist hostility

Share

When I was this paper’s correspondent in Rome, Laura Boldrini was a treasure. Once or twice a month, sometimes far more frequently, leaky boats crammed with migrants from Africa and beyond limped into the harbour of Lampedusa, or were rescued and towed into port by the Coast Guard.

 If there were storms very often the boats would sink and the Coast Guard and the UN refugee agency would have the task of recovering and counting and disposing of the bodies. It was a relentlessly depressing and repetitive news story about which it was hard not to become jaded. But Boldrini, who worked for the UN for 20 years, for many of them as spokesperson for the UNHCR, never grew jaded or cynical or dismissive. She was empathy incarnate. She always knew exactly what was going on, was always available for interview on her mobile. I never had cause to doubt that she was totally committed to the welfare of the thousands of poor people washing up on Italy’s doorstep every year.

So I was delighted and amazed when, one year ago, following her election as an MP with the Left Ecology Freedom party, she was pulled from the ranks of novice parliamentarians and promoted to Speaker of the Camera, the lower house. Delighted  because commitment of Laura’s sort is precious in any sphere of life; amazed because in the Italian system the speakers of the two houses are, along with the President of the Republic, the three senior-most officials in the land and the jobs normally go to very senior politicians with long careers behind them. It was great to see her get the recognition, but it did not seem exactly the sort of recognition she merited.

In the next week or two that situation may well change for the better. Italy is in the middle of an old-fashioned power struggle between centre-left factions, with the young pretender, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, predicted to oust his Democratic party colleague Enrico Letta as prime minister some time soon. So far so normal: only the Berlusconi anomaly, it seems, interrupted the tendency of Italian governments to lead short, intense lives. Mr Renzi is fancied by many who know him as the most exciting new face to emerge for a long time, with the freshness and drive to break Italy’s long weary cycle of stagnation and decline. We shall see. Hope springs eternal.

This week he let it be known that, if he does form a government, Laura Boldrini will be in it. That is a good thing. It would the strongest way to send the message that he is in the business of changing ethics, not merely faces.

Italian politics has been dogged for as long as anyone can remember by a sense of caste entitlement, symbolised by the huge salaries and expenses and pension arrangements, the swollen fleet of oversize blue Lancias at politicians’ beck and call, the pervading sense that having got elected they are beyond the reach of the hoi polloi. That mentality has been under siege for a long time, but as in Britain it takes a lot of shifting. The 25 per cent of the electorate who voted for comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement were protesting above all against the political caste. Likewise a generation ago the notherners who put Umberto Bossi and the Northern League in Parliament, with the slogan “big thief Rome”. Yet Bossi and his crew succumbed to Rome’s blandishments in the end.

With a woman as passionate and honest as Laura Boldrini involved as a minister, with her wide knowledge of the larger world and her vivid understanding of Italy’s moral failings, the new government would have a good claim to be making a fresh start. But there is no point in pretending it would be easy for Boldrini herself.

Her decision to stand for parliament last year unleashed a tidal wave of sexist hostility against her: threats, insults, vile images. Her sudden promotion to Speaker brought out the sarcasm in her political adversaries, who addressed her with exaggerated formality as “signor presidente” (a handle to which she is entitled). But the real aggression began when she recently used her authority to cut short a filibuster by the comedian Grillo’s party. The comment section of the blog which is Grillo’s main portal to the world filled up with insults and violent threats. She received photos of herself pasted onto the image of a woman being raped. Grillo himself, supposed godfather of a brave new world of cyber democracy, posted a video on the blog with the title, “What would you do alone in a car with Boldrini?”

Vulgar abuse and menaces and innuendo of this sort bring home how much damage Silvio Berlusconi has done to Italy’s moral fibre. Grillo and Berlusconi are worlds apart politically, but Grillo is heir to the latter’s ugly macho bravado. By filling his party up with topless models and wannabe starlets, Berlusconi’s reductive view of women and their role became the Italian norm. Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful leader, was dismissed as “an unfuckable lard arse.” Politicians whose looks were not their strong suit were relentlessly sneered at. Even Margaret Thatcher, whom Berlusconi admired, he insulted in sexual terms. The bizarre world-view of this pathetic lothario insinuated itself everywhere.

Giving Laura Boldrini a senior ministerial post would send the strongest imaginable signal that at last the times are changing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
 

I've tried reason, but my cat is pig-ignorant

Dom Joly
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin