Italy’s coalition government has collapsed in the most bizarre circumstances, even in the best theatrical tradition of Italian politics.

The centre–left alliance led by the Democratic party and the radical populist 5 Star Alliance has just lost its parliamentary majority as 18 members belonging to the tiny Italia Viva (Living Italy) party in the upper house have withdrawn their support.

Italia Viva has done so under the orders of its founder, the former socialist prime minister Matteo Renzi, who created the party last year and who for a long time saw himself as Italy’s answer to Tony Blair.