Listening to Italy
COPING WITH EARTHQUAKES
The Italian press was as keen as any other country’s press to report the shocks that struck Europe during September. Italian reporting was, as usual, detailed and instructive and always included articles of comment and analysis from several different sources.
“Earthquake for Europe” was the headline of a polemic on the implications of the recent separatist poll in Catalunia. And of course both this and other pieces made reference to “the Scottish question”. One article dealt with European, including Italian, separatist groups, one even mentioning Mebyon Kernow.
Other major September earthquakes were: Tsipras’s poll victory, the scandal at Volkswagen and the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn.
La Repubblica published at least three articles about Corbyn by The Financial Times’s John Lloyd. One appeared on 14 August. Lloyd headlined this: “The Marxist Jeremy and the lack of a Social Democratic Leader”. Lloyd shares the inability of many in the Labour Party to cope with the rise in popular support for anybody other than the failed members of the former shadow cabinet. His article comprehensively undermined Corbyn with the usual well-aired arguments, rammed home by comments from Blair. It concluded by attributing Corbyn’s rise to the lack of a candid, popular and inspiring Social Democratic leader.
Lloyd’s piece included a nod of praise towards the Italian Premier: “Matteo Renzi will also be the Italian Tony Blair, but there isn’t a British Matteo Renzi”. Stefano Rodotà, the 82 year old politician and jurist, would surely say “just as well!” – not sharing Lloyd’s enthusiasm for the Italian Premier and his values. Rodotà worked on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, and writes on liberty and democracy. He concurs with the views of many Italians that the Premiership of Renzi is a lamentable quasi-dictatorship where fundamental rights are being progressively eroded. And on 26 September La Repubblica published Rodotà’s long piece of criticism explaining his views on Renzi’s current political machinations.
Nadia Urbinati, Italian journalist and author of Democracy Disfigured, Opinion, Truth and the People (Harvard 2014), also wouldn’t agree with Lloyd. Her strong and interesting La Repubblica piece (21 Sept) uses the election of Corbyn as the pivot to discuss “the fall of the centre left”, not only in the UK but in Europe and the USA. She accuses the Labour Party Social Democrats of a “strange and sad moral and intellectual fall”, and she refers to the Miliband administration as being interchangeable with the Tories. She believes that their inability to confront and deal with new ideas has resulted in the erection of a “cordon sanitaire”, between themselves and Corbyn. She is also unimpressed by Tony Blair’s anti-Corbyn outbursts which are an “ill-concealed egotism” – an inability to accept that anyone would depart from his Third Way.
Various papers picked out ways of describing Corbyn. An Il Fatto Quotidiano piece on 23 July said that he is “near to Podmos and Syriza” “isn’t Cool Britannia” and “can’t be accused of following the wishes of the European Troika”. This is a powerful way of distancing him politically from Renzi who is often disparaged for working happily as a puppet of the EU and Frau Merkel.
A comment on British society came in a piece by Pietro del Re, journalist and thriller writer, who had heard about Corbyn’s idea that there might be women-only carriages in trains. He wasn’t clear about whether it was UK men who are unable to keep their hands to themselves, or whether women were the problem. Apparently, del Re says: “there has been a strong increase in molestation and sexual aggression in the country”.
There was a really impressive amount of detail about the mechanics of the leadership election in the Italian press. We know the details. Rosalba Castelletti picked out some of the amusing parts: the headline for her piece in La Repubblica of 20 August was: “The joke of the Right – Vote Corbyn, make Labour lose”. She made fun of the Miliband administration’s £3 vote, claiming to have heard of someone who managed to register three times and therefore vote three times. Then: one Toby Jug, of the Eccentric Party, expelled from the Monster Raving Loony Party, apparently also voted. She didn’t say for whom. Then Miliband fled to Australia on holiday rather than face his critics.
Enrico Franceschini, La Repubblica’s London correspondent, wrote a detailed and constructive article which was published on 29 September. Headed “Comrade Economist”, it dealt with Corbyn’s ideas but also focused on his team of economic advisers. There are the well-known: Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and David Blanchflower. The less famous: Mariana Mazzucato from The University of Sussex, a world expert on state intervention in the economy, Professor Nesvetailova of City University, expert on tax havens, and political economist Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University. Franceschini concluded with a thought from Martin Wolf of the Financial Times that there would be some fresh thinking, even if Corbyn didn’t win the next election.
The negativism of John Lloyd, is in contrast not only with Wolf’s comment but those of many Italian journalists who are keen and able to see Corbyn as part of the wider picture of political development. Lloyd sees only division and turmoil, or wishes to see only that. His short comment of 15 September on the composition of the shadow cabinet was disingenuous and sour. He says that Corbyn has always stood for equal opportunities, well, he is “on the extreme left”. Lloyd asserted that he has compromised his values by choosing men for his senior cabinet posts. He did mention Corbyn saying that the women’s responsibilities are “most important”. But he then continues with the thought that the men control the (hypothetical) money, so Corbyn is again wrong. Missing is the very relevant admission that women such as Yvette Cooper did not want to be in the shadow cabinet.
Turmoil or change is accepted as part of Italian politics. Tremors often happen. A recent La Repubblica article dealt with the large numbers of parliamentarians who have switched parties and allegiances since the last election. The most dramatic change is from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party, on the right, which has lost 83 senators and deputies. Four new parties have formed. Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord might, one reads, consider a name change and formally organise to get support country-wide to form a new centre right party. Life goes on.