Yesterday, the Italian electors voted to smash the establishment. On Mr. Renzi’s side, you could find public and private TV channels, major papers and mainstream media, big corporations, and vested special interests. In spite of this huge support and a constant barrage of scare-tactics, the prime minister’s proposal was literally wiped out.
Don’t look at institutional details now: look at the big picture. Even in Italy, the media and the political “élites” (the same bigwigs who haven’t understood Brexit and Trump) suffer from a sort of detachment from reality.
The real point the establishment fails to consider is an immense middle-class (and lower middle-class) whose living standards have been stagnating for years. They may have kept their jobs, but, in spite of that, they feel poorer and less secure. And at night, angry as they are, they turn on their TVs and are forced to watch the political class talking about electoral laws and constitutional details. That’s why, when they are allowed to vote (not so often, in Italy), every election becomes the instrument of their “revenge”.
Mr Renzi made a giant mistake. When he took over, in 2014, he looked like a fresh guy, a “disruptor” of the old political schemes. And he was lucky enough to enjoy three “magic” mega-trends: QE from the ECB, a 50% crash in oil prices, and the devaluation of the Euro. Instead of making the most of that to boost the economy and focusing on a shock tax cut, a shock spending cut, and a shock sovereign debt cut with a proper privatization-plan, he decided to waste three years on the institutional architecture (transforming the Senate, etc). Yesterday, the electors had their final say on his political priorities.
Now Italy will have to come to terms with reality, and it will be no picnic. The country has the third largest sovereign debt in the world and some of its major banks are on the verge of crisis, all in a stagnating economic environment.
The main anti-establishment force, the Five Star Movement, has been extremely clever at making the most of popular anger. But, in Rome and in some other local governments, they are proving to be dramatically incompetent. If you have to scream, being an amateur is an asset, but once you have to make decisions, it turns out to be a liability…
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Mr Renzi’s future is unpredictable. So, another interesting question on the carpet is the future of the Italian center-right in this tripolar political system.
We, as Italian Conservatives and Reformists, a pro-market “start-up” in the Italian center-right, call for primary elections in this political area, to trigger a competition of ideas and proposals, and to turn over a new leaf. Stay tuned.
Daniele Capezzone (Rome, 1972) is a Member of the Italian Parliament, for the center-right movement Conservatives and Reformists.