Have you glanced at what’s been happening in Italy lately?
Just over a week ago, Italians went to the polls. It’s been one of the most alarming election campaign seasons in recent memory – and that’s saying something. The result is a hung parliament with no clear winner. Amid the uncertainty is yet another victory for populism. Stephen Bannon, one of the central forces behind Trump’s presidential victory, visited Italy and liked what he saw:
“The Italian people have gone farther, in a shorter period of time, than the British did for Brexit and the Americans did for Trump. Italy is the leader.”
Reassuring, isn’t it?
Before we get into this, there’s going to be a lot of talk about left wing and right wing. If you find those terms befuddling, check out this super pretty graph which takes you through the difference when applied to US politics. The principles remain the same across the world.
Conditions are ripe
The election comes in the wake of a couple of years of parliamentary headaches for Italy. Matteo Renzi, part of the Democratic Party (centre-left) had to resign back in 2016 when a referendum that he spear-headed was unsuccessful. The referendum was for constitutional reform that would’ve ironed out differences between Italy’s upper and lower houses of Parliament. Many saw the changes as too drastic, and there was were months of debate. The ensuing, band-aid law had fierce opposition from the Five Star Movement, a populist political party with no alliances to right or left. The new law favoured parties which built alliances with other major parties, and the Five Star Movement had ruled that out. So they declared the system was rigged against them. The 2018 election soon became about Italy’s government overall, and the ‘establishment’ parties versus the ‘rebels’ like the Five Star Movement.
Add to this backdrop youth unemployment, economic instability and the collapse of local businesses and growing xenophobia , and you have the perfect conditions for extreme politics to emerge.
The Spectrum
Silvio Berlusconi is a three-time Italian Prime Minister who was resurrected, again, for this election at the age of 81. Berlusconi is a kind of cartoonish prelude to Trump. Before criminality and transparent sexism was at the foundation of a United States Presidency, Berlusconi was already there with far-reaching investigations into his links to the mob, hosting underage women at sex-fueled dinner parties and self-serving policies to protect his business interests. He can’t become president until 2019 because he’s currently under investigation for tax fraud.
He’s turned up again in this election, with the promise to chuck out Italy’s 600,000 undocumented immigrants. To give you an idea of just how extreme Italy’s politics have become, Berlusconi is considered a moderate. (And yes, that’s a photo of him at the top. And yes, that’s an actual human, not a cheap wax model.)
Digital “fake news” has been viral in this election, fuelling mis-trust on all sides. Unlike the United States election, however, the digital meddling doesn’t appear to be coming from foreign sources such as Russia. Putin doesn’t need to meddle in the election, apparently, because all the options are pretty great for him.
Attempts by the big-name parties to grab support have meant some insane election promises.
  • The centre-left party, the Democrats, has seen a sharp decline in support. Renzi, previously retired for his failed electoral reforms, is back promoting a minimum wage, a baby bonus, and fiddling with the European Union on laws surrounding immigration and finance.
  • Forza Italia, the centre right and home to Berlusconi wanted a flat tax, scrapping taxes on cars, first homes, businesses and inheritances. He wants to double the minimum pension and give tax breaks to people who own pets.
  • The Five Star Movement, allied to no one and labelled anti-establishment, want to repeal 400 laws, create a universal basic income, scrap compulsory vaccinations, and give out free nappies.
  • The League, the far-right (who are allied with Forza Italia), want to deport undocumented migrants, possibly leave the European Union, lower the retirement age, reopen Italy’s brothels and tax them, scrap compulsory vaccinations, make it compulsory to serve six months military service and provide free daycare.
What now?
It becomes about who allies with whom. The League and the Five Star Movement had huge swings of support in the election, forcing Forza Italia and the Democratic Party to make some tough decisions about who it sides with to get to a ruling government.
In the final results, the Five Star Movement took home 32% of the total vote (40 is needed to rule). That’s a huge swing to them from the last election, and it looks as though a lot of their votes from the Democratic Party, which came in a miserable second place with just 18.9%. The League was in third place, with 17.69%, followed by Forza Italia with 13.94%. In short, it’s a mess.
On the left, the Democratic Party took a worse hit than anyone expected. The Five Star Movement now becomes a chance to save the left – but the movement swore off doing deals with anyone. Over on the right, the far-right arm of the alliance, the League, has more power than the moderate arm, Forza Italia. It’s somewhat parallel to the United States, where the Republican Party has been slowly eaten by the more extreme Tea Party faction.
Latest reports suggest that the Democratic Party is collapsing under in-fighting on how to proceed in a partnership with the Five Star Movement.
There is no clear resolution in sight.
Lessons for Australia

Italy’s a case study for Europe’s shifting politics, but also a keen lesson in how social media and the internet age are proving fertile soil for extreme politics. In order for more centred parties to keep themselves alive, we’re seeing more concessions to extreme wings. Examine Turnbull’s tongue-tied policy on climate change, or even Shorten’s reach to the left on topics such as the minimum wage or the Adani coal mine and the Great Barrier Reef. Even with extremists such as Pauline Hanson occupying seats in our Parliament, it’s reassuring to know we aren’t as far flung as some of our European neighbours. Although Italy’s election is clear reminder that no government is ever too far away from electoral chaos.

So, um, happy Tuesday I guess.

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