Editorial: Italy shows how the tide has turned against elites

If these results do not shake Europe out of its apathy, then perhaps nothing will

Related Topics

Several of the factors that have  produced the likelihood of gridlock and a hung parliament in the aftermath of Italy’s general election are peculiar to that country. The most obviously culpable factor is an election system cynically devised by the centre-right to ensure that the Senate is always likely to tilt in their direction. It was this that brought down the last centre-left government, headed by Romano Prodi, after less than two years.

But the result this time around is a baroque one: Prime Minister Mario Monti relegated to a humiliating fourth place, Silvio Berlusconi once again rampant, and the overtly anti-political Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo coming from nowhere to become the biggest single party in the House of Deputies. If these extraordinary results do not shake Europe out of its apathy, nothing will.

With the feeble turnout for Mr Monti and the revival of Mr Berlusconi’s fortunes we see the centre-right recoiling from the technocratic Prime Minister’s politics of austerity and seeking refuge yet again in the delusive fantasies that the media mogul has been peddling for nearly two decades now. We may be appalled that such a substantial portion of the Italian electorate refuses to judge Mr Berlusconi by his past performance, but they may not be as  foolish as they seem: they know that as long as he is close to the levers of power, the state is not going to chase tax evaders very hard. Mr Berlusconi has long represented a complicity in corruption which has enduring appeal.

What is new, and stunningly so, is the fact that fully one-quarter of the Italian electorate, faced with the most critical election in the nation’s recent history, chose not to scatter their votes among the innumerable fringe parties but to amass behind the one man who articulates their anger.

Mr Grillo’s message has been simple and consistent for many years, and has nothing to do with austerity: unlike Mr Berlusconi, he has never claimed to offer Italy a swift and easy route out of its difficulties. First as the nation’s most popular satirist, then as a hybrid comedian-agitator, and now as the unquestioned champion of this election, he has been telling Italians of all ages, but particularly the young, that Italian politics is rotten to the core.

An accountant by training, he has combined the forensic exposure of political and commercial criminality with an explosive and often hilarious repertoire of abuse. Imagine Ian Hislop of Private Eye, not needling the establishment in a television studio, but haranguing huge crowds up and down the country about the dirty dealings of the powerful, and one gets an idea of the impact he has had. In piazzas from Genoa to Palermo, Mr Grillo has threatened to drive corrupt politicians out of public life. Now they will have to look him in the eye.

Political corruption in Italy appears to be on a different scale from that found in Britain, but both countries, in common with the rest of Europe, face the challenge of navigating the longest period of economic misery in living memory. In times like these, as one election after another has shown over the past four years, the public has very little patience with the leaders it elects. We are willing to cut them very little slack. We see their faults and foibles more clearly than in the good times, and we have far less tolerance for them. In Britain the growing support for Ukip is one sign of this.

Whatever the immediate consequences for Italy’s governability, the urge to punish politicians who feather their own nests is a salutary one. If Mr Grillo’s startling success helps to keep our politicians, too, on their toes, it will have had a useful effect.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific