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A Lesson for the Bigoted Right

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Italian politics rarely make British headlines unless it’s a story about Berlusconi’s buffoonery and this weekend’s local elections have been no exception. But they may hold a salutary lesson for the bigoted right elsewhere in Europe. The results have been anything but predictable, with surprise first-round wins for the centre-left in former right-wing strongholds across the north of the country, though it’s less a victory for the centre-left – the mainstream Partito Democratico didn’t do especially well, relying on votes for smaller coalition partners – than a defeat for the right.

Much of the blame is being laid at the feet of the unpopular prime minister, who hasn’t been seen today but apparently exchanged an ‘icy’ phone call with Umberto Bossi, the leader of the Lega Nord. And it isn’t unusual for a government that’s presided over an economic downturn to be punished at the polls.

But the results may also be a promising sign that voters aren’t falling for the right’s rhetoric: attempts to blame the nation’s ills on immigration and Communist conspiracies, it seems, just won’t wash. On the other hand, voters everywhere use local elections to express discontent with the government and the real test will be the next general election, scheduled for 2013, when Berlusconi has said he’ll stand down. Though if relations between the prime minister and the xenophobic Lega Nord, which he depends on for his majority in parliament, are as strained as people say, it may well come sooner.

Comments on “A Lesson for the Bigoted Right”

  1. Perhaps the most encouraging sign in these elections – for those who would prefer to see Berlusconi removed from the game – is the significant drop in the number of single preferences for the man, less than half the number he’d predicted for himself not too long ago and a sure sign that whatever fascination he may have exerted on segments of the electorate is on the wane. Italian voters may change their minds – and votes – when it comes to parties – traditionally they’ve had a wider choice than in practically any other western country – but personality politics, like that played by Berlusconi, depend on personal loyalty and that seems to have plummeted. It would be interesting to know why.

    • Thomas Jones says:

      Why? Rubygate, corruption, Gaddafi, the state of the economy… A general election may be imminent: the government has lost four votes in Parliament today already.

      • Yes, obviously, but so many of these factors have been present for quite a while now without their seeming to have had any real effect on B’s standing in the opinion polls. Nobody has regarded B as a figure of moral or financial probity for the past few years, certainly since the Naomi business (which, I’d say, did more damage than the Mills case and its ramifications), but he’s seemed to hover above it all. Rather than a single thing I imagine the effect has been cumulative, but I can’t help wondering if there might not have been one last straw. I don’t think it’s likely to have been the economy, which isn’t significantly worse now – in day-to-day terms – than it was a year ago. I’d like to think it was a final revulsion at the man’s treatment of women, bolstered by the recent – and long-awaited -lukewarm shoulder of the church. And I’d say that the fact that the government has lost votes in parliament today is a reflection of disaffection and internal conflict within the coalition rather than a gut rejection of Berlusconi the man.

        • Phil says:

          The church had already given a sharp intake of breath over Noemi Letizia, though. I don’t know – I think it’s a bit like seeing a juggler drop the 21st plate, then asking why that was different from the first 20. The fall of a figure like Berlusconi is an utterly predictable event in any society (even Italy), to the point where it won’t really be worth the effort of asking what the last straw was. His survival up to now is what’s really remarkable. It’s only when he’s gone that we’ll appreciate just how much effort he and his gang have been putting in to keep the show on the road, on multiple different fronts (commercial, legal, media, political…).

          Having said that, I think the crumbling of the alliance on which he was originally elected would be one place to start digging. He lost the centre-right years ago; he lost the post-Fascists last year (although he did keep the slightly-less-than-post-Fascists); and he only won the last vote of confidence thanks to abstentions and the votes of people like Massimo Calearo, who makes Clemente Mastella look consistent and principled. (British analogy: imagine John Harvey-Jones being recruited by Tony Blair, then repeating Reg Prentice’s political trajectory in two years flat.)

  2. Thomas Jones says:

    Bossi is still clearly convinced that racism is the way forward, kicking off the Northern League’s campaign for the run-off in Milan with a grotesque tirade:

    The Milanese will not put the city in the hands of left-wing extremists. The League will see to it. We will not leave it in the hands of a lunatic, Pisapia [the centre-left candidate who came top of the first round], who wants to fill the city with illegal immigrants and mosques and turn it into Gipsytown. We will not abandon Milan to the hands of these people.

  3. LupinP says:

    You can’t but admire Bossi for continuing to be effective politically after his stroke; however it has given him a very handy ‘I was misheard’ get-out, which he has used again today: “Non ho detto che è matto ma il suo progetto non è compatibile con una Milano decente.”

    • Phil says:

      Bossi will always be convinced that racism is the way forward – but without a larger ally he’d be proved wrong fairly soon (unless he can fall back on actual Padanian nationalism, but I don’t get the impression that’s a big part of his appeal any longer). And if he hadn’t been misheard it would just have been a battuta. He’s a card, that Bossi – between him and Berlusconi it’s a wonder anyone gets any work done for laughing. Seriously, I wonder if that’s the real secret of the bond between B & B – they both get a kick out of saying really appalling things and passing them off as jokes, like Nick Griffin pretending to be impression of Bernard Manning.

  4. Userdafi says:

    I’m sorry to have to inform you that the bigoted right won a pretty stunning landslide victory in yesterday’s elecciones autonómicas in Spain.

    al parecer, they didn’t learn the ‘lesson’, cariño.

    with all due respect this post is completely off the mark.

    you have jumped to conclusions too hastily, I’m afraid.

    Please enlighten me: what exactly is mainstream in the PD?

  5. Geoff Roberts says:

    From where I’m sitting, the swing to the right seems to be pretty well European-wide. From Hungary, Czech Republic to Finland, Denmark and down to Spain, the nationalists are on the march. The left has been outwitted by the financial geniuses, the right is content to let them do their worst. What follows? Ask the Rumanians in Italy or the Roma from France. I see a dark moon rising.

  6. Thomas Jones says:

    The racist smears and despotic TV appearances failed: the ‘centre’-right was resoundingly defeated in yesterday’s run-offs almost everywhere from Milan to Naples. Politicians and overexcitable media may think that aggressive anti-immigration rhetoric wins votes, but the results suggest otherwise. In both Italy and Spain, a tired party of government, presiding over a failing economy, has been punished in local elections. The right won in Spain because it wasn’t in power; it lost in Italy because it was.

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