(Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)
It’s hard to know what to make of what has just happened in Italy. In the continued absence of the Medici, political leadership in Europe’s fourth-biggest country has rarely been of the highest calibre. People of the greatest ability tend to go into business, the Church, the law or the Mafia, which are frequently interlinked. Italy changes governments more than some people I know change their underpants. The people – including millions of down-at-heel whingers, slackers and gougers – support those they’ve voted in for at most five minutes before demanding their arrest or resignation.
On this occasion, they have voted all over the place. Il Folle Partito Mostruoso Infuriarsi, otherwise known as the Five Star Movement (technically the Movimento 5 Stelle, or M5S), founded by ex-clown Beppe Grillo, emerged with the most votes, but not enough to form a government. It says it is not willing to enter a coalition, which it believes would dilute its message, whatever that is. Lega, formerly Lega Nord, is a far-right regional party, based in the prosperous North, which now aspires to go national. It did well as well, but still trailed the outgoing governing party, the centre-left Partito Democratico, whose hapless leader Matteo Renzi now seems bound to spend more time with his devout, mass-going family. Forza Italia, the big-bucks party led by disgraced former prime minister and octogenarian swinger Silvio Berlusconi, came a decent fourth ahead of the Out and Out Nutters Party, going under the banner of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), one of whose leaders, oddly enough, is a woman, Giorgia Meloni.
The only surprise is that the Illuminati were not on the ballot paper.
What it all comes down to is that Italians are both chronically and acutely outraged over immigration, worsening public services and unemployment. Everyone blames Brussels for everything. They think that the financial crash of 2007-2008, which began in America, was a plot to destabilise Italy, though why this should be so nobody can say. As it happens, the economy is at last moving into recovery, behind Spain and Portugal and a long way behind Ireland, but ahead of Greece. Even the country’s notoriously delinquent banks are being kicked into a semblance of order. Not that anyone cares. It will be several more years before the jobless lines shrink back to normal, and in the meantime Italians want to know what the European Union ever did for them – apart, that is, from transforming them into a prosperous modern state after the chaos of Mussolini and the ravages of WWII.
They could always look to the European Central Bank for help. After all, it is headed by an Italian, “Super” Mario Draghi, consistently listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the most powerful people in the world. Alternatively, they could ask themselves why Berlusconi, as prime minister during the boom years, never saw the crisis coming and did nothing to put things right. They could even reflect on the fact that Romano Prodi, another Italian, was president of the European Commission when the euro went into a tailspin. Prodi may not have been a Medici, but it is safe to say that he never acted against what he saw as his country’s interests.
At least the euro is more stable these days – more so than sterling – and the EU economy overall is powering ahead, giving the lie to Brexiteers’ claim that the UK is tethered to a corpse. If Italy is dragging its feet, maybe it is time it learned to pick up the pace.
But it is not all about money. No one doubts that Italy, together with Greece, has suffered worst from the immigration crisis. Geography is responsible for this, not the EU. At the same time, Brussels, unlike Berlin, has done little to redress the imbalance. It is the East European countries that are the main cause of the problem, certainly in terms of sharing the burden. They refuse to take any refugees or migrants. In this context I can’t help recalling that it was Margaret Thatcher who campaigned to bring the East Bloc in as full member states as quickly as possible, without waiting for them to fully embrace western values. She did so to weaken and destabilise the EU, and there is no doubting the extent of her triumph. It is, however, now up to the world at large to stem the flow of migrants. A good starting point would be to force Libya to police its own borders and halt the migrant boats that set off each day from its shores, bound for Italy. But again, oh yes, it was the British (and the French and the Americans) who chose to take down the ghastly Gaddafi, with no plan in place for a functioning alternative. Blame the EU if you like, but the truth is it had nothing to do with it.
But let’s see what happens now. Populism and the far-right look to have been given the whip hand in Italy. The people have made their bed;
now the nightmare can begin. Already I can hear the cry go up: “Salvini must go! Di Maio must go! Berlusconi must go! Bring back the Medici!”.