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Special editorial note
We have gone to town in the following article on the Italian elections. This is because of the hope we vest, perhaps rashly, on the breakthrough made by the radical Five Star Movement. The article is divided into six parts: (1) an introduction focused on the repudiation of the results by the democracy-hating European elite; (2) the election results, highlighting the fictive “bonus” seats that are created out of thin air – a sort of electoral quantitative easing – to boost the score of the leading party; (3) the defenestration of “Super Mario”, Mario Monti, Italian Prime Minister and blue-eyed boy of Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington; (4) the Five Star Movement and the dangers that beset it; (5) Beppe Grillo, Dario Fo and Pinocchio (6) a round-up of press reaction to the election result; and (7) finally, by way of an epilogue, a rant about the euro.
In order to allow the article time for maximum exposure, we shall not blog again for a week. Our next post, therefore, will be on Tuesday 12 March 2013.
5 March 2013
“The people have spoken, the bastards!”
These are the immortal words of Dick Tuck (b. 1924), an aspirant for nomination as Democratic Party candidate for the 1966 election to the California State Senate, on learning that he had lost to George Danielson.
Tuck’s remark chimes perfectly with the howls of rage and disbelief that have emanated from the gullets of the European elitocracy at the news that, in a parliamentary election on 24 and 25 February 2013, the voters of Italy had had the brass neck to elect the upstart anti-party Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) – hitherto without any national political representation – as the largest single party in the lower chamber of the bicameral Italian Parliament (if the votes of overseas Italians are excluded).
The German political class is said to have reacted with the wish that Italy had a different electorate. Perhaps a German electorate? The German social democratic party (SPD) deputy chairman Peer Steinbrück said he was appalled that the election had been won by “two clowns” (Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo).
In public, most other European leaders prudently refrained from commenting directly on the outcome of the election, but in private comments, made public via the media, they made plain their shock and outrage at the upsurge of “populism” among voters who refused to toe the line of Italy’s established pro-austerity political parties. The message of the Euro-elite relayed by the usual pliant media was that Italy may have chosen a new parliament but the policies that this parliament adopts must remain the same (continued austerity and belt-tightening) – or else!
The idea that politicians are elected to represent the views of the voters who elect them is an alien concept in Brussels or Frankfurt. To the Eurocrats, democracy means that a tiny handful of senior establishment politicians fix policy among themselves behind closed doors and then rely on docile media and biddable party underlings to persuade a passive electorate that there is no alternative.
Writing in the London Guardian on 27 February, contrarian commentator Simon Jenkins said that “wildcat populism always terrifies the existing order”, adding that “if there is one thing a politician dreads more than a central banker, it is an election”.
But what is this “populism” of which they are frit?
It is simply means that those aspiring to public office undertake to represent the views of those who put them there. Instead of imposing on people policies which they do not want, it means listening to what the voters say and giving them what they want. It is in fact nothing other than our old friend democracy, to which the powers-that-be pay lip-service in public but do everything they can to thwart in practice. In theory democracy means “rule by the people”. In practice, it means “rule over the people” by a tiny elite of political bosses who have manoeuvred themselves into public office via the springboard of political parties which they themselves control.
RESULTS OF THE ITALIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS ON 24 AND 25 FEBRUARY 2013
Result of the elections to the Italian Parliament on 24 and 25 February 2013. The figures relate to blocs (alliances of individual parties), not to individual parties, except in the case of M5S, which is not allied to any other party.
Senate (315 seats) Chamber of Deputies (630 seats)
123 31.6% Bersani centre-left bloc 345 29.5%
19 9.1% Monti centrist bloc 47 10.6%
54 23.8% Grillo non-allied M5S 109 25.6%
117 30.7% Berlusconi centre-right bloc 125 29.2%
2 4.8% Others 4 5.1%
315 seats 630 seats
Bersani is Pier Luigi Bersani, Monti is Mario Monti (Prime Minister since November 2011), Grillo is Beppe Grillo and Berlusconi is Silvio Berlusconi (who was Prime Minister three times: 1994-1995, 2001-2006 and 2008-2011).
These are the definitive results from the Italian Interior Ministry as published in the Corriere della Sera on 27 February 2013. They cover all constituencies, whether inside Italy or overseas. However, the figures for the Senate do not include the four current Senators for Life. The latter are by definition not involved in elections but have full voting rights and so can swing the balance in a close vote. The percentage is the percentage of votes cast for each bloc (alliance of parties) or non-allied party (M5S). The votes and seats are the total received by each bloc or non-allied party. They are not broken down, in this table, into the outcome for the separate parties in each alliance. M5S is a special case in that it is not allied to any other party. Moreover, while legally classified as a party for the purposes of the election, M5S regards itself as a movement rather than a party.
Turnout was about 75% – the lowest it has been since the foundation of the Italian republic after World War II. According to commentators, apart from bad weather, the high abstention rate reflected widespread disillusion with political corruption and stagnation.
Both Houses of Parliament have equal powers, which means that laws must be approved in both houses before they can take effect.
Electors vote not for individual candidates but for lists of candidates drawn up behind closed doors by the political parties.
The voting system is said to be proportional but in fact it is nothing but.
The keen-eyed will have noticed that, in the Chamber of Deputies, Bersani’s bloc gained 345 seats with 29.5 % of the poll, whereas Berlusconi’s bloc has only 117 seats, despite having won 29.2 % of the vote. This is because, according to an electoral law adopted in 2005 (Legge Calderoli), the bloc with the highest percentage of votes in the poll gains a minimum of 340 seats, thereby demolishing at a stroke any pretence at proportionality – or even democracy.
An undemocratic bonus of seats is also allocated in the Senate elections but on a different basis than in the Chamber of Deputies. In the Senate it is the party with the largest proportion of votes in each of the 20 regions that garners the jackpot of bonus seats.
Only two other countries in Europe have an electoral system which involves the creation of “bonus” seats out of thin air – Greece and San Marino.
Two previous parliamentary elections have taken place under the Legge Calderoli – those of 2006 and 2008 – but the law has aroused controversy from the start. Now that it has resulted in gridlock, since no bloc has an overall majority in the senate, there are calls from all sides for it to be amended or replaced. The law is popularly known as the “porcellum”. This is because of a comment made by the Minister that drafted it, Roberto Calderoli, who subsequently became disillusioned with it and said: “La legge elettorale? L’ho scritta io, ma è una porcata.” (The electoral law? I am the person who drafted it, but it’s a dog’s breakfast.)
In the elections to the Casa dei Deputati, M5S gained 8.7 million votes in mainland Italy, compared with 8.6 million for Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left Partito Democratico and 7.3 million for Silvio Berlusconi’s Populo della Libertà.
However, if the votes of overseas Italians are included, Bersani has the edge with 8.9 million votes for the Partito Democratico, 8.8 million for M5S and 7.5 million for the Populo della Libertà.
To sum up, Bersani’s centre-left coalition and Berlusconi’s centre-right bloc both gained around 30 % of the vote in both chambers, while M5S, contesting the election as a single party which is not part of any coalition, gained about a quarter of the votes cast.
THE DEFENESTRATON OF SUPER MARIO
The all-time loser in the election was “ Il Professore”, Mario Monti, dubbed “Super Mario” by his admirers, the so-called “technocratic, non-party” candidate, who has been Prime Minister since November 2011. Monti was the candidate favoured by the triad – Brussels (European Commission), Frankfurt (European Central Bank) and Washington (International Monetary Fund). Since becoming Prime Minister, he has worked slavishly to impose on Italy the programme of austerity and tax hikes dictated by the triad. In the election on 24 and 25 February, Monti was humiliated, his centrist coalition gaining only about 10% of the votes cast in either house.
Of course, Monti was never simply a technical non-party Prime Minister. He is a card-carrying member of the European political establishment with impeccable credentials as a pillar of the status quo. A Member of David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, of the shadowy ultra-conservative Bilderberg Group and of the Atlantic Commission, he has also been an adviser to Goldman Sachs and Coca-Cola. As far as Europe is concerned, he has been associated with the Friends of Europe, the Bruegel think-tank, the Spinelli Group and the “États Généraux de l’Europe” civic forum.
A rightwing economist who was a member of the European Commission from 1995 to 2004, Monti has always been at the heart of the ideological project to create a United States of Europe based on free-market capitalism one plank of which is the euro currency union. If this required hardship from the citizens of Italy, Monti was not the man to flinch from imposing it. The Italians appear to have had enough of hair-shirts, however. Their rejection of the triad’s man in Rome is a slap in the face for Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington.
It is amusing to consider the lamentations attributed to Bill Emmott, former editor of the far-right Economist business magazine, as the election results became known: “What a disaster for Monti! A huge communications failure.” Monti, according to reported comments by Emmott, was “the only choice” for the country. Italians, in the event, thought otherwise. We mention Emmott since the remarks attributed to him represent the classic response of the political establishment to defeat at the polls. For them, it is not conceivable that it is their actual policies that the electorate rejects. It is simply “a communications failure”.
“Voters could not have failed to endorse our policies,” they bleat, “if only we had been better at getting them across.”
No, mate. They knew precisely what you were about and they wanted none of it. Failure of communication had nothing to do with it. They got the message fair and square – and rejected it.
THE FIVE STAR MOVEMENT (M5S)
The significance of M5S lies in the fact that it has brought the voice of protest out of the streets and into the heart of the political establishment. Whereas recent popular movements such as “Occupy” and the “indignados” splintered their lances against the ramparts of the citadel and then fizzled out, M5S has managed to make a breach in the walls and ensconce itself in the heart of the enemy camp. There is no precedent for what will happen next, but dangers beset the intruders on every side.
M5S is a revolutionary political creation emblematic of our dotcom 21st century. Formed during the last decade, it was the fruit of collaboration between Beppe Grillo, a comedian, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a software whizz-kid sometimes referred to as the Italian Assange. Grillo is the frontman, while Casaleggio beavers away in the background, but both are equally important to the movement.
By the beginning of 2013 M5S is reported to have had more than 250 000 members and almost 650 local groups. However, we have not been able to verify these figures.
M5S originated with the realization that the internet made conventional media superfluous. Interactive direct contact was now possible between writers and readers. Moreover, readers could become writers and writers readers. The distinction between the two had broken down. Accordingly, with technical support from Casaleggio, Grillo started a political blog, which soon attracted a huge readership among an audience disenfranchised by the hermetic nature of conventional politics based on stitch-ups inside the closed circle of Italy’s tiny log-rolling political elite.
Encouraged by the success of the blog, Grillo and Casaleggio then used the social networking portal “Meetup” to promote the formation of local M5S groups. These local groups subsequently ventured into the political arena and put up candidates of their own. Members of the groups vote on line to select their candidates. Because Italian television is largely in hock to established political interests, it is generally shunned by M5S.
Because of the existence of the internet, M5S takes the view that conventional political parties, which stand between the electorate and the authorities, are now redundant. M5S is pioneering direct democracy based on the elimination of all barriers between citizen and state.
What policies does M5S espouse?
This is not easy to find out but the Five Stars are said to refer to: (1) publicly owned water, (2) better transport, (3) development, (4) internet access and (5) environmentalism.
Not, at first sight, an eye-catchingly radical programme.
However, further goals appear to include:
- A reformed electoral system based on genuine proportional representation. The number of parliamentarians should be halved. Parliamentarians should take only a part of their salaries and should serve for two terms at most. The public funding of political parties, which are private bodies, should be ended. The voting age should be reduced from 18 to 16 for the lower chamber and from 25 to 18 for the senate. Coalitions with the established political parties, which have brought Italy to its knees, are ruled out: these parties are all the same and should be run out of town (“Vaffanculo” is Grillo’s rude injunction to the politocrats). Italy’s parliament, it appears, is stuffed with politicians who have been convicted of crimes. Hence, no supporter of M5S who has a conviction can be a parliamentary candidate. That includes Grillo himself, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after a fatal accident.
- Free internet provision.
- Support for renewable energy.
- A referendum should be held on whether Italy should stay within the eurozone.
- Sympathy with the demands of international protesters associated with the “indignados” and the “Occupy” movement.
- Support for Fair Trade and Slow Food.
- Tax cuts for small businesses and the self-employed.
- Distrust of trade unions (presumably because, like the discredited social democratic parties of which they form the industrial wing, they have become an integral, largely passive part of the capitalist establishment, whose role, if they any longer have a role, is to nip any rumblings of discontent in the bud, keeping workers docilely in line rather than encouraging them to shake off their chains).
Looking ahead, a number of questions arise.
1. Will the anti-austerity momentum be maintained in post-election Italy? If political stalement leads to fresh elections, possibly this June, will M5S lose or gain support?
2. Will the new electoral system likely to be cobbled together by Bersani (centre-left) and Berlusconi (centre-right) be skewed to the detriment of M5S and smaller parties? A silly question, of course, as that will be the primary object of the exercise.
3. Grillo refused to become a parliamentary candidate for his own movement on the grounds that he has a conviction for involuntary manslaughter following a road accident. According to the movement’s rules, no one can be a candidate if they have been convicted of breaking the law.
However, is it possible that Grillo will be able to continue to guide the movement’s parliamentarians without a seat in parliament? We have grave doubts about this. The parliamentarians elected on the M5S ticket – “i grillini” may lack technical political experience but they are where they are out of conviction. Many of them are extremely well educated. They will not want simply to be Beppe’s puppets.
4. Puffed up by the electoral success of his movement, Grillo may assume that he has the right to dictate to the grillini what they must do in parliament. He may be tempted to try to exercise quasi-dictatorial powers over them, particularly if, in his eyes, the grillini are straying from the true path. This would be a major mistake. Having decided – mistakenly, in our view – to stay out of parliament, Grillo can now do nothing more than advise his supporters. Otherwise, the M5S parliamentarians could be accused of taking instructions from a non-elected pressure group (Grillo and Casaleggio) instead of representing, according to their lights, the views of the people who elected them.
5. Given the universally acknowledged corruption in Italian politics, the inexperienced M5S parliamentarians just elected are entering a den of vipers. Low tricks, double-dealing, treachery backstabbing, insincere flattery, attempts at bribery and false friendships are the common coin of politics everywhere and no less so in Italy. Will the grillini have the grit to resist the threats and blandishments that will now assail them from all sides. How long before some of them are invited to weekend bunga bunga parties at the country estate of a certain well-known establishment politician on the Emerald Coast of Sardinia?
6. Grillo is under a lot of pressure from within the movement (including the playwright Dario Fo) to join forces with Bersani, leader the centre-left block. In point of fact, in Sicily the movement’s locally elected representatives are already working in tandem with the centre-left. In our view, if Grillo succumbs to the pressure to extend this practice to the national arena, he might as well wrap up and go home. His movement will have lost its credibility, its independence and its integrity. Bersani will eat him alive.
7. Is there any hope of contagion in other European states whose peoples are currently being crushed under the steam-roller of sado-monetarism? One thinks instinctively of Portugal, Spain and Greece. Is it possible that groups similar to M5S could thrive outside as well as inside Italy? After all, the problems – austerity, zero growth, unemployment, partitocracy – are very similar everywhere. As it happens, in Portugal, two actors, the Duarte brothers, have formed a group called “Homes da luta”, which they hope to transform into a political movement on the lines of M5S. Greece, too, in “Syriza”, has an anti-establishment party, but we were severely disappointed on our fact-finding trip to Athens last summer to find that this party was hoping, naively, to negotiate an end to austerity with the European Union, the very organization that is imposing the cutbacks.
BEPPE GRILLO, DARIO FO AND PINOCCHIO
Giuseppe “Beppe” Grillo, shaggy-haired and habitually tieless, is an Italian comedian, actor, blogger and politician, who was was born at Savignone near Genoa in 1948.
Trained as an accountant, he subsequently became a comedian and a political satirist.
Having attacked leading politicians for corruption – including the Socialist Prime Minister of the time, Bettino Craxi – he was barred from television.
In 1980 Grillo was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after a road accident. He was the driver of a car in which three passengers lost their lives.
At some point in the past decade – some reports say it was in 2009 – Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio founded the Five Star Movement.
Nobel-winning Italian playwright Dario Fo, long-time a supporter of Grillo, says a surreal fantasist like Grillo is needed to rescue Italy. In an article by Tom Kington on the London Observer website on 2 March 2013, Fo is quoted as saying that Grillo “is from that school of medieval minstrels who played with paradox and the absurd”.
According to the Observer article, Fo believes that the key to understanding Grillo is not 21st century Italy but Italy of the 13th century, when storytellers – giullari – roamed Italy, entertaining crowds in piazzas with lewd and ancient tales interwoven with satirical attacks on local potentates.
“He is from the tradition of the wise storyteller, one who knows how to use surreal fantasy, who can turn situations around, who has the right word for the right moment, who can transfix people when he speaks, even in the rain and the snow,” explains Fo in the article.
Even the internet-based forums where Grillo’s followers argue over policy have their roots in the Middle Ages, according to Fo. He told Kington: “We had extremely democratic town councils in medieval Italy which knew the value of working together and every now and then, down the centuries, this spirit returns.”
The real trap for Grillo, warns Fo, is the danger that he will be beguiled by flattery. Turning again to history, he cited Cola Di Rienzo, the charismatic son of a tavern owner in the 14th century, who wooed Romans with his oratory and became the city’s leader, setting his sights high and ousting corrupt noble families, only to see his support slip away before he was murdered by a mob as he sought to flee in disguise.
Grillo is Italian for the insect called a cricket in English. Commentators sometimes compare Beppe Grillo with the Grillo Parlante (talking cricket) in Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s story “The Adventures of Pinocchio”. The cricket features in the book as a sage adviser to the puppet Pinocchio, who is constantly getting into scrapes. M5S watchers believe there is a moral there somewhere.
A SELECTIVE ROUND-UP OF PRESS REACTION TO THE ITALIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS ON 24 AND 25 FEBRUARY 2003
On 21 February 2013, three days before the election, a leader in the centre-right London Guardian newspaper grandly announced that Beppe Grillo was an “essentially irrelevant figure”.
They now have egg on their face.
On 26 February, when the mould-breaking results of the election came in, the paper’s Europe editor adopted a more sombre tone: “…the strong performance by the Berlusconi camp, coupled with the even stronger outcome for the maverick Five Star movement of the comedian Beppe Grillo, is certain to set off alarm bells across austerity-strapped Europe. More than half the Italian electorate voted for politicians viewed by the governing elite as unashamed populists.”
Another report in the same issue said:”European leaders have been desperate to see a stable government in Italy, and are likely to be horrified at the triumph of populism in the eurozone’s third biggest economy”.
Another Guardian leader, after the elections, on 27 February 2013 found “some hope for the future” in efforts by Bersani to tempt Grillo into a coalition. Grillo’s response was a resounding niet. M5S has said it will simply consider each bill presented to parliament on its merits.
The editorialist goes on to speculate on the possibility of fresh elections and asks “how would the established parties avert an even greater triumph for Beppe’s people?” There you hear the authentic voice of the European media claque parroting their masters’ voice: how can we maintain the status quo and keep this maverick out of power?
On the same day, the Financial Times reported from Rome that “neither of the main parties want to go back to the polls and risk outright victory by the Five Star Movement”.
No, that would be just too awful!
On the other hand, the Guardian leader writer on 27 February has the nous to admit that the election “was a verdict on the German-led austerity policy which is Europe’s current remedy for its common currency and other economic ills…This was an Italy saying no to austerity.”
Simon Jenkins, the Guardian’s own maverick commentator, went further. Writing in the paper on 27 February, he said:
“Oh happy day. The Italian election result is a triumph for democracy…Congratulations, Italy.”
Jenkins argues that “if there is one thing a politician dreads more than a central banker, it is an election”, opining that “wildcat populism always terrifies the existing order”.
He adds: “The most spectacular victor is Beppe Grillo, a rollicking satirist but with a clear message: that austerity, the euro and corruption are jointly to blame for Italy’s ills…Grillo’s chief victim is the short-lived prime minister, Mario Monti. He was pushed into office by the banks a year ago to impose unlimited suffering on the Italian economy, so as to shore up the euro and thus protect German and other bank loans from devaluation.”
According to Jenkins, European finance ministers advocating endless austerity but no growth are “like Aztec priests at an altar. If the blood sacrifice fails to deliver rain, there must be more blood.”
Writing in Le Monde on 28 February, Arnaud Leparmentier recalls how voters in France and the Netherlands who had had the barefaced cheek to reject the proposed European Constitution in referendums in 2005 were derided by the Euro establishment for supposedly having failed to understand what the vote was about.
We may add that the Irish and the Danes were similarly criticized when they had the temerity to reject the diktats of Brussels.
“These people, our citizens, are stupid,” is the message from on high. “Why involve them in things they don’t understand? Indeed, why hold referendums at all?” Give them bread and circuses, by all means, but let’s keep politics within the four walls of the club.
Actually, it may be that the people understand only too well.
Le Monde’s Rome correspondent, Philippe Ridet, however, was having none of this. An article by Ridet published on 1 March 2013 carried the headline: “Italian unease with austerity does not signify a rejection of Europe”. A message with which the leader in the Financial Times on 27 February had earlier concurred: “It would be wrong to interpret this result as a vote against the euro.”
This message was repeated in stronger vein by Sylvie Kaufmann in Le Monde on 5 March.
In a fanatically pro-establishment article, she made the astonishing counter-factual claim that the new European protest movements of right and left, including M5S, “are not seeking to overturn the established order”.
“They have no policies (apart from the French National Front) and no real solutions,” she added. “They are protest movements, not revolutionary movements.”
M5S, in particular, she claimed, was not seeking to leave the European Union or even to abandon the euro.
She goes on to quote a political scientist who argued that such movements were akin to political hackers who wanted to wreck the existing system but had nothing to propose in its place.
So that’s all right, then. Notice that, for Kaufmann, even if these movements have solutions, they are not “real” solutions.
As to M5S not having any policies, we have given a long list of them elsewhere in this article.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE EURO?
In his article in the London Guardian on 27 February, to which we refer above, commentator Simon Jenkins, referring to Beppe Grillo’s proposal for a referendum on the euro, says that “leaving the euro is the key that unlocks the prison door”.
Official seasonally-adjusted Eurostat figures published on 1 March show that 10.8 % of the workforce was unemployed in the 27-state European Union inJanuary 2013. In the 17 states of the European Union that have adopted the euro as their official currency, the figure was higher at 11.9 %.
Unemployment in a few of the northern European states is still relatively low: 4.9 % in Austria and 5.3 % in Germany. In France, the figure was worrying at 10.6 %.
Italy fared slightly worse at 11.7 %. According to recent press reports, more than 100,000 small firms shut up shop in Italy in 2012, while the number of graduates leaving the country reached a million.
Elsewhere in Europe, the unemployment figures were atrocious: 27 % in Greece, 26.2 % in Spain and 17.6 % in Portugal.
By way of comparison, in January 2013, the unemployment rate in the USA was 7.9 %. In Japan, in December 2012, the latest date for which figures are available, it was 4.2 %.
Writing from Rome on 27 February, Tony Barber told FT readers that “since Italy’s entry into the euro in 1999, the central economic problem has been lack of growth”.
So the euro has been completely useless – and yet the Eurocrats, manipulating their puppets in the national governments, are still prepared to crucify the man in the street in order not to lose face and abandon it.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.