Friday, December 28, 2012

Grillo ergo sum

So in reply to Monti's Agenda, Beppe Grillo has decided he also ought to come up with a programme. Grillo's '16 points' is a pretty depressing read, confirming the total lack of any innovative thinking on the Italian political scene at the moment. Grillo's party basically represents the traditional 'antipolitica' - populist, pseudo-Poujadiste hatred of the political class - which has long been a powerful force in Italy, coexisting oddly with what has actually been a very stable party system for a most of the post-war period.

Italians have comparatively very low levels of trust in their political leaders, yet take a very long time to replace them. The last big political earthquake was in 1992-94, when the post-war political elite revolving around Giulio Andreotti and the slightly younger cohort of Bettino Craxi and Arnaldo Forlani was swept away by the Tangentopoli revelations of entrenched and often spectacular corruption. After the 1994 elections, a new elite based around Berlusconi's dominance of the right (alongside the former Fascist Gianfranco Fini and the Northern separatist Umberto Bossi), former Christian Democrats Romano Prodi and Pierferdinando Casini in the centre and the d'Alema generation of ex-communists on the left, took control and remained at the commands until now. A TV news programme in the UK in 1994 would have featured figures such as John Major, Michael Heseltine, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Italian telegiornali still revolve around Berlusconi, Fini, and Casini on the centre-right, and Bersani was already a minister in the first Prodi government elected in 1996.

The forthcoming elections look likely to change all this, with Bossi now off the scene (largely due to illness)) and Berlusconi fighting a last battle to remain relevant. But the novelties on the political scene - Grillo and Monti - seem themselves to be fighting the battles of the past. Monti, himself just short of 70, represents the generation of Eurocrats responsible for designing European Monetary Union, determined to apply the orthodox medicine of austerity to reassure the markets and senior European partners that Italy will keep its side of the eurodeal. Grillo, a comparatively youthful 64, proclaims a sweeping condemnation of the entire Italian political class, and offers a programme in which 10 of the 16 points are focused on reducing the financial costs of professional politicians and eliminating political parties from the decision-making process. On the economy, Grillo suggests a referendum on the euro, a guaranteed minimum income (in which currency?), a stop to big infrastructure projects and a vaguely defined programme to help small and medium-sized businesses. As an economic programme, this could have come straight out of the vague autogestionaire thinking of 1970s eurocommunism.

Faced with this choice, emigration looks the best bet for Italians who have not yet claimed their pensions. Torn between a dour and self-interested technocracy and an opportunistic and ignorant populism, the only viable choice is Bersani's stale recipe of timid liberalization and maintenance of a notoriously unjust and unbalanced welfare state. More than ever, Italy is suffering from its failure to develop a mainstream, social democratic, egalitarian and pro-market party on the left. The PD is trying to become this, but remains trapped by its conservative Catholic wing on the right and its traditional communist wing on the left, neither of whom seem to understand how markets need to be regulated in the modern age.