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Coffee House

Weary Italian voters can teach UK politicians lessons

26 February 2013

9:32 AM

26 February 2013

9:32 AM

Italian voters are clearly cheesed off: with the Establishment, and with the country’s austerity programme. The explosion onto the scene of Beppe Grillo – which Freddy examined in his post from Rome on Sunday – shows quite how cheesed off they are, and it also has wider lessons for the eurozone and for UK politics, too.

The first is that voters clearly do not share eurozone leaders’ unswerving commitment to the euro project: Grillo made much of his party’s eurosceptic credentials and won 54 seats in the upper house, with Berlusconi’s centre-right on 116, while Mario Monti, the conduit for the EU’s austerity measures, won only 18. No alliance gained the 158 seats needed for a majority in the Senate. Though austerity is inevitable for Italy, its voters are wearied of it and of Europe. Mario Draghi said last summer that European leaders would do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect the euro and eurozone countries: Italian voters, at least, don’t feel quite so energised about that.

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There are lessons for UK politicians, too. Allister Heath argues in his City AM column today that Italian voters were showing their disgust with the Establishment in general, and as he points out, our Establishment in this country is hardly garnering more trust currently. The rise of the protest vote isn’t just confined to a party led by a comedian with a manslaughter conviction campaigning against corruption in Italy: in this country we have UKIP, which is managing to bleed support from all the major parties as voters grow grumpy with their promises and failures.

But there is another thing our politicians should mull over from today’s ‘Italian voters reject austerity’ headlines. While our own situation is quite clearly different, there is growing unease at the ‘rhetoric of austerity’, even when, as Fraser explained a month ago, the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality. George Osborne is cutting total spending by 3.2 per cent over four years, but if you spend a couple of hours in the House of Commons Chamber, you might be forgiven for thinking that he’s slashed it in half. Tory backbenchers such as Philip Davies are now talking about the need for ‘proper spending cuts’, as though they haven’t happened yet, when the prevailing narrative is that they have. It could be that at the next election the Conservatives are punished for talking about austerity rather than actually doing it, with their successors having to do the heavy lifting.

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