Online 'non party' likely to clean up in Italian local elections


ROME LETTER:With established parties mired in scandal, a party led by an activist and comedian may gain

IF THE partisan fighters who helped liberate Italy from fascism were to rise from their graves and look around at modern Italy, they would take up their guns again and start shooting.

This polemic was written last week by political activist, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo.

The 63-year-old says that were the second World War partigiani to return they would be horrified by modern Italy, a country without economic or political sovereignty, ruled by the European Central Bank and the US, which has extensive military bases throughout the peninsula.

The old partigiani would be disgusted by the immorality of today’s parliament, peopled by senators and deputies who collude heavily with organised crime, while they would be bitterly disappointed by Italy’s devastating economic and industrial failings.

So what is this? The ravings of an ill-informed, latter-day populist? No, the intriguing thing about Beppe Grillo is that his two-year-old, online “non party”, the Five Star Movement ( is the only one gaining ground in Italian politics.

Recent opinion polls suggest that in the last year his movement has increased its national vote from 1.3 per cent to up to 8 per cent at a time when the electorate’s faith in politics is at an all-time low.

Grillo’s unconventional, anti-party movement could be about to emerge as a serious force.

The time is propitious for any aspiring new entry. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s PDL party is stuck in a deep crisis, in search of a new leader and desperately keen to rid itself of the daily shame of juicy reports from Mr B’s “Rubygate” sex scandal trial.

Worse still for the PDL is the scandal involving senior party figure Roberto Formigoni, president of Lombardy, who is at the centre of a judicial investigation into corruption and bribery for the awarding of public health contracts.

In particular, magistrates would like to know the nature of his relationship with businessman Pierangelo Daccò, in prison on corruption charges.

Investigating magistrates – and public opinion – would also like to know if Formigoni paid for an €80,000 week-long holiday in Anguilla himself or was it paid for by travelling companion Daccò.

Ironically, Formigoni is a member of Memores Domini, a section of Comunione e Liberazione, Italy’s Opus Dei-like Catholic lay movement, whose members allegedly take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Nor is the PDL the only party in trouble. The once pure and true Northern League is running for cover as the excrement hits the ventilator, prompted by stories of public funds used for private investments in diamonds, gold bullion, real estate and Tanzania.

The league’s founder and leader, Umberto Bossi, has resigned because of allegations that family members had helped themselves to public funds.

The major opposition force, the Democratic Party (PD), recently “discovered” that €20 million had gone missing, allegedly siphoned off by the treasurer of one of its component parts, the Margherita Party.

Alleanza Nazionale, a party that no longer exists, has €52 million on its books – €52 million handled by whom? It has been calculated that since 1994, the public coffers have made €2 billion available for “party expenses”, largely electoral expenses.

Furthermore, at a time of widespread cuts for ordinary Italians, the parliamentary classes are careful not to reduce their €14,000-plus monthly salaries.

In such a scenario, the new entry will clearly do well. Just how well will be seen next month, at local elections featuring 1,019 town councils, representing roughly nine million electors and including three major cities: Genoa, Palermo and Verona. The Five Star Movement has 130 town and four regional councillors but that may be about to change.

Grillo has been a thorn in the side of Italy’s political establishment since as far back as November 1986, when he got himself banned from state TV for more than 20 years because he dared to make fun of Socialist prime minister Bettino Craxi. Grillo was banned and Craxi died in self-imposed exile in Tunisia in 1999, convicted of corruption and illegal party financing.

In 2002 Grillo also famously refused to work for the “Tele +” satellite platform when it was bought over by Rupert Murdoch. Instead he went on tour and started off a blog that by 2005 was so successful that Time magazine named him one of the Europeans of the year for his work in public information and communications.

In September 2007 Grillo held his infamous “V Day” rally, where the “V” stood for Vaffanculo (“f*** off”) and where he collected 350,000 signatures for proposed legislation that would “clean up” parliament. Grillo delivered his petition but parliament paid little or no attention.

After being denied access to the PD leadership primaries in 2009, Grillo then formed the Five Star Movement, one without headquarters but with an online party. The forthcoming election will answer the question: can this experiment in direct democracy ride the wave of disillusionment and worry to nationwide electoral success?