Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Scourge of Beppe

by TOM GILL

Things are not going at all well for Italy’s centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani.

Once clear favourite to replace Mario Monti as prime minister, he’s now fighting for his political survival, after parliamentary elections in February denied his alliance enough votes to govern alone and the upstart Five Star Movement led by comedian-blogger Beppe Grillo rejected offers of a deal. This week Bersani chose to back a candidate, Franco Marini, for President that split his party and failed to garner enough votes to project him into the job as head of state, leaving egg all over his face.

This isn’t simply a case of an leader’s individual ineptitude, but a story of the centre-left’s enduring vice of looking right both for its political ideas and its allies, when it should be looking left.

In the same way that Bersani spent far too much time attacking Grillo during the election, when he should have been focusing fire on Silvio Berlusconi and former European Commissioner Monti, the leader of the Democrats on Thursday urged his party to chose Marini, an 80-year old former senate speaker and christian democrat, simply because the billionaire media magnate backed him too.

The party base, as well as the powerful Democrat Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, instead favour Stefano Rodotà. From the once communist wing of the Democrats like the incumbent Giorgio Napolitano, Rodotà also had support from Democrat ally Nichi Vendola, the left-wing Governor of Puglia. And crucially, Rodotà is backed by Grillo.

The professor in law is by no means a radical, but he has been a strong and early critic of European inspired austerity measures that have been devastating the economy, such as the lethal budgetary straightjacket of the Fiscal Compact brought in by Italy, among other EU countries. Rodotà has also got the advantage of having maintained a certain distance from national politics, sitting in the European Parliament.

Furthermore, he’s championed the democratizing potential of the Internet, a profile, together with his squeaky clean record among a political class mired in corruption, that has gained him respect with comedian-blogger Grillo and his followers who’ve made widened access to the web and the fight against sleaze their leitmotifs.

In the first vote among national and regional lawmakers Thursday, Marini fell far short of the required two-thirds majority, thanks to a Democrat rebellion, while Rodota gained a respectable 240 of the 1,007 electors in the first vote. Subsequent votes, expected to run into the weekend, require a simple majority and Grillo, as well as Vendola have pledged to continue to back Rodota. With Marini dropped, Friday will see the Democrats are expected to select a new official candidate.

So why has Bersani risked splitting the party, and his own leadership position under threat from the young Renzi, over the election of a largely symbolic post?

One answer is that securing a new government is now dependent on securing a new President, who not only has powers to dissolve parliament and call elections, but also, in times of political upheaval such as these, has a role in banging heads together to force the creation of a government.

Another is that he’d given up trying to do business with Grillo after efforts to come to a deal to form a government with the four year old Five Star Movement failed, with Grillo declaring Bersani a ‘dead man walking’.

Or it may simply be that, despite strenuous public rejections of a ‘grand coalition’ favoured by Il Cavaliere, Bersani can’t help but repeat the mistakes of the past, and cosy up to one of Italy’s richest, and most sleaze-ridden citizens.

Since November 2011 Berlusconi and Bersani have effectively governed together, providing parliamentary support to former European Commissioner Monti, whose punishing austerity measures and deregulatory reforms have made him highly unpopular, and caused the groundswell of support for the Five Star Movement.

Doing deals with a man with perennial legal problems – he was convicted for tax fraud in October last year – and with such a glaring conflict of interest – between his huge business and particularly media interests, comprising control of private TV – has been the undoing of the centre-left since the early 1990s, when Berlusconi ‘entered the field’.

Massimo D’Alema, one of Bersani’s predecessors, and still a force in the party such that he’s been name as a possible candidate for President, (pretty much literally!) handed Berlusconi a get out of jail card on several occasions since the latter’s entry into politics in 1994.

Instead of engineering a revival of the media magnate, whose party is now reportedly ahead of the Democrats in the polls, Bersani should be trying harder to woo Grillo, who, despite his contradictions and megaphone political style, has a programme that is much closer to the traditions of the Democrats.

The Five Star Movement is strong on the environment, opposed to privatizing public services, committed to universal access to state education and heath, opposed to European inspired austerity and committed to a ‘citizen’s wage’ to tackle widespread poverty, as well as a clamp down on the kind of corporate cronyism and excess that helped lead to the 2008 financial crisis. There’s plenty important policies missing from Grillo’s programme, including the attitude to Monti and Berlusconi’s deregulatory labour reforms and taxation in a country with 280 billion euros a year in tax dodging, but the Democrats are equally flawed on that front.

Furthermore, Grillo’s scourge against the Italian political establishment, often dismissed as Pirate style ‘a-politics’, in fact revives the moralizing crusade that was once championed by historic communist leader Enrico Berlinguer, but has all but been forgotten by left leaders since. Unsurprisingly, although Grillo stole votes from across the political spectrum, there’s more left-wingers supporting him that right-wingers.

Grillo, not in parliament himself, but directing things from his hugely popular blog, is not be an easy man to do business with. But his backing for a Democrat as head of state is a sign that his ‘no prisoners’, highly partisan approach may be softening. The alternative to a fresh bid at working with the Five Star Movement is getting into bed with the nemesis of Italian democracy to sooth the dreaded ‘markets’. That cannot be in the interests of the Italian people. Here’s hoping the Democrats’ love-in with Berlusconi is brought to a swift end.

Tom Gill blogs at www.revolting-europe.com

Tom Gill edits Revolting Europe.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Andrew Sullivan
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Richard W. Behan
Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]