Italy’s ‘anti-political’ rebel seems to have a liking for the uno duce, una voce doctrine
Yet another political bubble bursts as movement’s demagoguery exposed
Beppe Grillo leaves after casting his vote at the polling station in Genoa in February this year. He has been accused of having an autocratic style of leadership. Photograph: Reuters
They say of left-wing politics that the first agenda item is the split. But Beppe Grillo, Italy’s comic-turned-politician, is above all that. Or so he says. He is, by his own account, neither left-wing, nor a politician. His MoVimento 5 Stelle (M5S – Five Star Movement) is not a party – parties are the problem, not the solution – but an irreverent “movement”, he insists, much as Mussolini once did of his own. The capital “V”, Italy’s equivalent to “f**k off”.
Nevertheless the split is coming down the tracks. The purges have begun – this week Senator Adele Gumbaro was expelled in an online vote of party members for breaching party discipline, an “unauthorised” TV interview blaming Grillo’s aggressive style for the party’s disastrous local election showing this month – it won two towns out of over 500, and failed to finish in the top two in any of the 16 provincial capital mayorals.
In February, polling 26.9 per cent, M5S took the largest share of seats in Italy’s lower house on a pledge to clean up Italian politics. Above all, it was going finally to kick out Silvio Berlusconi. It had a chance to do it – the balance of power in parliament – but it didn’t. Instead, at Grillo’s insistence, by refusing to back any candidate for PM, it forced centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom together into uneasy coalition.
And to the disgust of many Italians, including Grillo supporters, we saw the political resurrection of Silvio (although still pursued by the courts – this week he lost another battle). Little wonder the locals went badly.
Gambaro’s departure, following two other resignations that probably had more to do with the M5S appropriation of its politicians’ daily allowances, is likely to be followed by up to 30 more. That could potentially create a parliamentary faction large enough to give the PD a majority without Berlusconi.
Grillo, who is not a member of parliament and runs M5S by blog from his home in Turin, has been compared somewhat unfairly to Mussolini, although he shares some of the latter’s personality, his Berlusconi-like autocratic traits and some of his political ideas.
But journalist Nicholas Farrell sees a close parallel: “Mussolini wrote soon after founding fascism that it is ‘difficult to define’. Fascism does not have ‘statutes’ or ‘transcending programmes’. Therefore ‘it is natural’ that it should attract ‘the young’ rather than the old who are likely to refuse its ‘freshness’. Grillo’s manifesto is called Il non statuto. On his blog he says, ‘We’re all young . . . We’re a movement of many people who are uniting from the bottom up. We don’t have structures, hierarchies, bosses, secretaries . . . No one gives us orders.’ ”
But they do. Grillo does. Uno duce, una voce. “The problem is not criticising; we believe absolutely in freedom of speech and expression, but freedom does not mean going ahead without any limits,” Nicola Morra, party leader in the Senate, insisted implausibly after the Gambaro vote. But Paola Pinna, a deputy, on TV denounced a “climate of psycho-police” in the movement.
“He [Grillo] talks of himself as the mouthpiece,” political analyst Roberto D’Alimonte says, “but he is really the orchestra director. And the musicians are not supposed to play their own music. It reminds me of the Fellini movie [Orchestra Rehearsal].”
Mussolini, perhaps not. But Grillo’s politics have, however, more direct parallels with contemporary “anti-politics” movements that have flourished in the new austerity: from Britan’s Ukip, to Sweden’s Pirate Party, the new Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the True Finns . . . Some are clearly on the right and xenophobic – Grillo dabbles in anti-immigrant politics – but what they mainly appeal to is a notional “new way of doing politics” and a general contempt for the political system, parliament’s “impotence” and the perceived corruption of all politicians that verges on the antidemocratic.
M5S is also challenged by its own election demagoguery – in the one major city it has controlled, Parma, the movement ran on a pledge to stop construction of an incinerator. “It will be built over the mayor’s dead body,” Grillo harrumphed at one pre-election rally. The incinerator began operating late last month, and mayor Federico Pizzarotti is hale and hearty.
M5S had also pledged to lower a loathed property tax. That promise was broken, too, as the new council found itself faced with a billion-euro debt. New politics?
Grillo’s extraordinary success has been the product of his charisma and ability to articulate the anger and disillusionment of young people, and to have found new channels on the internet and through public rallies to articulate his message.
But it’s a bubble that may well be burst by the reality of political power and his inability to comprehend or deal with his own success.