Into the Woods

Thomas Jones on the Italian Election

I recently discovered that when my friend Giovanni was a boy scout, the leader of his troop was none other than Matteo Renzi. I asked what he had been like. Giovanni shrugged. ‘Com’è,’ he said. (‘As he is.’) He wouldn’t be drawn further. When Renzi was prime minister, his scouting career – he’s still a keen supporter of the movement – was a source of much mirth in the Italian press. A photo of him with his backpack and neckerchief, laughing merrily, circulated alongside a severe picture of Vladimir Putin in his KGB uniform. One of these politicians was to be taken seriously, the comparison implied, and one was not. Renzi’s supporters might plausibly argue that there are reasons to prefer the boy scout over the secret policeman, but given the standing of his Partito Democratico (PD) in the last polls before we head into the general election on 4 March (22 per cent and falling) it’s hard not to think that he’s led them deep into the woods with a broken compass and no idea which way to turn to get them out again: certainly not to the left; but should they go dead ahead, or further to the right – or can we pretend there’s no difference? Meanwhile, the stragglers at the back – who happen to include the speakers of both houses of parliament, as well as three former party leaders – have broken away from the rest of the troop, and are striking out on their own; but no one can agree whether they are heading to the left or just going backwards. Meanwhile, as the scouts frantically rub sticks together in the hope of generating a spark, night is falling, and the forces of xenophobic nationalism are gathering.

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