2019 06 – Farage and Italian Politics



The result of Italy’s Euro elections is an almost identical reversal of the March 2018 general election result, with Salvini’s Lega at 34.3% and Five Star M5S at 17.1%. The Centre left Partito Democratico Pd also increased their vote share to 22.7%. While M5S’s organisational structure, invented and owned by Gianroberto Casaleggio is highly effective it is evident that it must be paired with a similarly effective front person. Casaleggio used the oratorical skills of Beppe Grillo to power M5S into an impressive political force, and he was followed with enthusiasm for being just that person. The current ineffective leader Luigi Di Maio obviously inspires a diminishing number of voters. On 27 May he simply, limply, complained that many members had abstained.

Grillo watched Farage operating in Europe and believed that Farage could succeed by setting up a similar system in the UK. Darren Loucaides (who also writes for Wired and the New Internationalist) wrote about the development and realisation of this in the Guardian on 21 May 2019. For him, Arron Banks and Nigel Farage have developed into the Casaleggio and Grillo of the UK. With the difference that both men are highly accomplished political operators. He discusses the strategies used by Leave.UK and The Brexit Party to manipulate supporters, using them as some brands do – as “product”. Loucaides quoted Paolo Gerbaudo, author of The Digital Party: “What users/members/customers are given is basically a window-dressing of participation”.

Donations to M5S go to a private association in the same way that The Brexit Party‘s claimed 100,000 supporters’ £25 donations are deposited into a Paypal account which is impossible to scrutinise. Farage recently said to The Telegraph, “We’re running a company, not a political party … the chairman Richard Tice and I are not afraid to make decisions.” Loucaides concludes by saying that Farage’s language is “the language of the new brand of digital populism, in which the director of a private company portrays his firm as the vessel for a democratic mass movement.”

The day after the Euro elections Italy’s Il Fatto Quotidiano published an article by journalist & commentator Antonello Caporale where he responded to Salvini and The Lega‘s win with: “The Italians obsession for a strong man“. Although he writes, surely with sarcasm, that it is “a genetic defect” it could equally apply anywhere in the world and is particularly relevant to Farage, Johnson and Trump.

Caporale discusses the ultimate futility of blindly following a party based around the personality of one charismatic leader. When that person goes the party implodes leaving an “empty wrapper”. He mentions the way that the Pd collapsed as the charisma of Matteo Renzi dimmed. He can see the same thing happening when Salvini and Berlusconi go. In this country UKIP didn’t outlast Farage’s departure and it is inconceivable that the currently named Brexit party would outlast him.

But still people follow the apparently strong because they see them as being winners. And to summarise Caporale, they can’t resist backing these winners even though they are obviously hypocritical or offend simple accepted moral standards, or have no coherent political message. To vote without asking why, with no concern about the reasons behind things, with no consideration of the consequences is “pure recklessness” and “blessed ignorance”. And “our lives are in their hands”. Salvini attended the Euro election count with a crucifix in his hands. “Amen” Caporale says in ironic conclusion.