Coffee House

Why I love Beppe Grillo

28 February 2013

12:54 PM

28 February 2013

12:54 PM

‘Crazy Italians!’ you might think.  Offered the choice between Bunga Bunga Berlusconi, an ex-Communist and a Brussels stooge, one in four of them went and voted for a stand up comedian.

Ever since Beppe Grillo’s shock success in the Italian elections, serious pundits in the mainstream media have been inviting us to disapprove. We are supposed to roll our eyes at the idea that Italians seem unwilling to accept austerity.  We are meant to tut tut at the failure of their democracy to produce a stable administration willing to take instruction from the Eurosystem.

This only goes to show, imply the poobahs and the pundits, that Italian democracy is in crisis. Nonsense.  What happened in Italy shows that politics is – thanks to the internet – being reborn.

Politics in the West, I speculate in my book on iDemocracy published last year, is going to be ‘shaped by groups of like-minded people, mobilising online’.  The internet will allow new entrants to emerge rapidly and win a large share of the political market.  Four months later, Italian blogger Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement came from nowhere to win over a quarter of the popular vote.

Merely attributing Grillo’s success to austerity and anti-politics tells us little.  There has been a strong anti-politician sentiment in Italy for years.  Those of us who have lived there know that strikes against government cut backs have been a regular feature of life in Italy for as long as anyone can remember.

[Alt-Text]


No, the real game changer is the internet.  It means that ordinary folk can do something about it all.

Before we had blogs and twitter, it was the job of established political parties to aggregate opinion and votes.  The internet means that opinion and votes can now be aggregated online.  In fact, the Five Star Movement seems to have done a better job doing so than the big corporate parties, for example allowing every Italian to help select its candidates by voting online.

In Italy, like in this country, politicians once had to communicate with the voters entirely thorough the media.  That tended to favour the two (and a half) party system, acting as a barrier to new entrants.

Not any more.  The digital revolution means that ‘what politicians say will no longer be assessed through pundits … but gauged by the crowds online’.  Thanks to the internet, it is now possible to create a political brand, without massive amounts of money.

Sure enough, Beppe Grillo – whose party refuses to accept state funding for political parties – tends not to give mainstream media interviews, yet talks directly to an audience of millions on his blog.

‘But Beppe Grillo is mad!’ I hear you say.  ‘He wants … um … a referendum on the euro.  An end to bank bailouts.  More local decision making. Less government.’

Is that really so daft?  It sounds a lot more sane than those who insist that ordinary Italians must pay the price to rescue greedy bankers from their own euro follies.  The citizen consumer class in Italy seems to agree.

Beppe Grillo might not be around in Italian politics in a few years. But the internet, and the profound changes that it is starting to bring to the way that we organise politics and society, has only just got started.

Douglas Carswell’s book on The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy was published by Biteback in October 2012.

More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.




Show comments
  • Wilhelm

    Testing 123

  • https://mikestallard.virtualgallery.com/ Mike Stallard

    Congratulations on your excellent and thoughtful book. I much enjoyed it and I hope that the second edition proves to be an equal success.

    • Daniel Maris

      Hi Mike – you still in publishing then!

  • Daniel Maris

    CAUTION: Book advertisement.

  • Joe

    Beppe Grillo has brought an end to media propaganda and twisted truth. This starts with saying that he is only a spokesman for millions of people who had no chance to voice their opinion. Europe including England deserves a better management who is devoted to people rather than political and financial interest. Each Country in Europe has brilliant minds, people with such a high IQ..why do we have to let them go away to work elsewhere? They should be paid and treated with full respect as they are our future.

  • Joe

    I’ve lived in the UK for 20 years and my family is half Italian and half English. I have been back in Italy for the past 13 years to help change the system which is also supported and aggravated by the thousands of ex-pats both English and Americans who have created a financial safe heaven living illegally here…something which is not allowed to other people in the UK or even worse in the US. Each of us has a moral responsability and in the world there are simply honest and dishonest people.

    • profoundly_disturbed

      You can trust a dishonest man to be dishonest, but you can’t trust an honest man to be honest.

      Cap’n Jack Sparrow

  • HookesLaw

    ‘There has been a strong anti-politician sentiment in Italy for years.’ – you get paid for writing this?

    The Italian public have been spending like drunks in a brewery and refusing to elect sane politicians for years and troughing in a sea of self serving corruption likewise. Tax evasion has been rife in Italy for generations.

    Shock horror the bills come home to roost and they don’t like it.
    Enter Mr Carswell to use this as an excuse for posturing with his own blarney.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

      “and refusing to elect sane politicians for years”…………….EXAMPLES ?………..EVIDENCE ?

    • Noa

      And if you believe we elect sane politicians to Westminster you’d best think again…

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21442047

  • http://twitter.com/LoganDon don logan

    What ever happened to the notion of ‘subsidiarity’ it was all people went on about around the time of the Maastricht Treaty.

    • HookesLaw

      There is no subsidiarity when you have a common currency. This is of course the disaster that Europe faces. Italy Greece Portugal and Spain need to devalue. it won’t make life particularly easier but its a merchanism.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

        Of course there is Subsidiarity otherwise Spain would not have issued lots of NEW Bonds to its Banks so they could “sell” them to the ECB for extra liquidity at the expense of the Bundesbank

  • In2minds

    Beppe Grillo wants –

    “More local decision making. Less government” –

    And some of us can remember when there was talk of ‘localism’. So Justine
    Greening made a promise to her constituents about Heathrow expansion
    and….got removed from office.

    Local Authorities make decisions about local planning issues and Eric
    Pickles is only too happy to barge in and overturn the decision.

    It’s not too difficult to see why Grillo is popular!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

    The role of the Court Jester was always to Speak Truth Unto Power….it is the role of Till Eulenspiegel. Our Culture has lost the ability to Criticise and Satire in the UK is usually boring Anti-Tory by Labour-Luvvies like Rory Bremner and as a result it is lame and predictable rather than a Challenge to the Establishment

    • Magnolia

      Lame, definition, unable to walk properly because of illness or defect of the leg or foot.
      I would also add brain injury effects to that.
      A person who cannot walk properly because of Spina Bifida could be described as lame.
      Rory Bremner is primarily an impressionist and has therefore had thirteen long years of New Labour government ministers and politicians to work on. I’m not sure if he is a lefty in the way that so many of the BBC Radio4 comedians are, but I am almost certain that he is not lame.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

        All a matter of definition Magnolia dear……http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=lame………….”Lame

        1. Adjective describing someone who is Not
        Funny.

        • Magnolia

          Q.E.D.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

            RAA

            • Magnolia

              I’ve no idea what your acronym means.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    And meanwhile some guy in the magazine has this the other way round, Comparing Grillo to Mussolini. And apparently not noticing that Monti was imposed by a foreign power, like a latter-day Joseph Bonaparte in Spain.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

      or Maximilian in Mexico…….or did we say Grotewohl in East Germany or perhaps Bierut in Poland

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …or William of Orange?

    • HookesLaw

      Monti was imposed by a foreign power?
      There was me thinking Italy had just had an election and was a free country.

      Italy through its president invited Monti to form a govt and through its parliament it accepted it – a government that its creditors (briefly) believed in.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

        Monit was NOT elected. He was deposed in a coup by his enemy, the Hardline Communist Napolitano as President of Italy who had received a telephone call from Angela Merkel asking him to remove Berlusconi and install Monti. Leonid Brezhnev used to do the same asnd as a good Communist Napolitano knew what the Brezhnev Doctrine was as did Merkel from her time in the GDR

        • Andy

          Her Majesty could, of course, do that and it would be entirely within the constitution. We elect members of Parliament, not a government. I’m not so sure that is the situation in Italy. But what you say about Napolitano’s actions is entirely true. Ditto for what happened in Greece, much as I loath the Papandrou’s.

  • Makroon

    So, Mr Carswell, evidently excited over the “pressure groups” and “new parties”, voted for PR did he ?
    This is such a childish (and revealing) blog-post.
    Most of Europe (and especially Italy), deeply envies the stability and measure of our FPP representative democracy, but Carswell wants to switch to some version of internet voting/demagogue rich/student politics ?

    As Churchill appreciated, what we have is a system formed through crisis and evolution, to be robust and generally producing good government. Reform within the parties is constant, and occasionally there is even a realignment.
    It is all about effectiveness and predictability.
    Since Carswell still takes the Conservative whip, is he being a hypocrite, or just standing as a Conservative as the only way to become a parliamentarian ?
    When can we expect a defection to UKIP ?

    • Rhoda Klapp

      It is not working any more. Not that Carswell has the answer, but at least he is asking the question.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

      Churchill died in 1965 oblivious to the mess we live in – in fact he was oblivious from 1950 onwards. If the FPP System is so wonderful why is it not used in Northern Ireland ?

      • HookesLaw

        Its not used in Northern Ireland because it is not a proper government its a devolved assembly like Wales and Scotland. The point being that the major national govt does not want the assemblies to have any power.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

          So it makes them “more representative” through their electoral system. I see Douglas Carswell’s point

        • Noa

          Which does not justify double, or is it triple?, the government, for the same result.

    • DouglasCarswell

      Surprised you think our political system is working so well. Not to many folk I meet think that outside of SW1

      • Makroon

        The only recent test was the AV referendum.
        Apparently the Scots are turning away from independence.

        You make a mistake by overestimating the importance of a few shrill voices, and a couple of “colourful” demagogues, at a time of acute economic stress.
        Of course there will be protest voting.
        UK Uncut, Occupy etc. have given a voice to ‘disaffected youth’ on internet forums, and UKIP has done the same for their grandparents.

        Reminds me of the SDP which arose and disappeared in a similar time of economic stress, amidst much chatter about “tectonic plates shifting” etc.

        I live far away from SW1, it is laughable that you, a bubble denizen, think you know the mood of the silent majority – isn’t that supposed to be your point: that bubble denizens are out of touch ?
        All except you then ?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

          SDP has profoundly affected Labour and Conservatives and LibDems…..you really have no idea do you ?

      • Noa

        Mr Carswell

        If you can prevail upon Eric Pickles and my local authority to keep the library open, I’ll certainly read your book.

    • CharlietheChump

      Do take a little time to understand before you jump in with both feet, Carswell is a committed Parliamentarian That is he supports the power of Parliament to question and hold the ever more powerful Executive to account.
      His approach is to break down the Party System where the whip is and patronage (by the award of ministerial office) is everything and replace that with a system where MP’s are picked through open constituency wide choice with all voters, irrespective of their particular political favour, having the opportunity to participate.
      Once elected the MP can then keep in touch with all constituents not just through constituency meetings and surgeries but also email and online data collection through polls and surveys.
      Carswell does not believe on safe seats, and is looking to return Parliament to a system which checks the power of government which has been lost progressively over the years.

      • Makroon

        All of that, but he “loves” Beppe Grillo.
        Cameron was/is also a strong advocate of all of these.
        I think in power, he discovered that undisciplined systems don’t work, especially at a time of crisis (he may be discovering that half-baked greenery also doesn’t work).
        We are already plagued by a host of shadowy, well-funded lobbies and pressure groups. “Breaking down the party system” would be a recipe for taking power away from the disengaged majority and handing it to the activists.
        And don’t expect the Labour party, big on “discipline”, to buy into this pipe-dream.

        • CharlietheChump

          Who gives a toss what labour “thinks”

        • Noa

          Cameron said what he thought people wanted to hear, in order to get hold of the levers.
          And having done so, he still does, in an attempt to keep them.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

          The Conservative Party is owned by The City. The Labour Party is owned by the Hedgies. The LIbDems are owned by whatever Offshore Funds can find an Onshore Shell Company to make the donations

        • the viceroy’s gin

          No, Dave isn’t a “strong advocate” of all of these. He’s a creature of the bubble. The very last thing the bubble denizens want is the unwashed sending up people of their choosing. He wants to whack dissenters like Michael Corleone, like that woman who went on Oz reality television recently.

        • CharlietheChump

          Who gives a toss what labour “thinks”

        • CharlietheChump

          Who gives a toss what labour “thinks”

        • CharlietheChump

          Who gives a toss what labour “thinks”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Julian-Price/653286113 David Julian Price

    We’re seeing the politics of anti-politics taking off all over the EU. And why not, as there’s a feeling amongst real people that mainstream, pro-EU politics is a closed super-elite that exists only to justify itself – a sort of 21st century Soviet Union.

    Anyone who presents themselves as being ‘from the real world’, however unreal that may be, now has a great edge over conventional left/right political hack politicians. Nigel Farage epitomises this in the UK, as Grillo does in Italy. Frankly it doesn’t matter how odd, eccentric (or even bonkers) they are, people just don’t want a Miliband/Clegg/Cameron figure with manicured nails and an iPad full of soundbites.

    • Austin Barry

      Anyone who’s read PPE at Oxford or Cambridge should be immediately hoisted on a gallows to avoid any future ambition to be a politician.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

        That’s is unreasonable. You cannot read PPE at Cambridge they only have Economics Tripos and not all Oxford PPE students want to be Politicos…….you will probably find more Politicians studied English

      • Andy

        Better idea if you make it so no one can stand for Parliament until they are 40 and no one can stand for Parliament unless they have worked in the private sector for at least 10 years, and nor can any public sector employee stand for election for 10 years. That will weed quite a lot of em out.

        • MrVeryAngry

          And no pay.

        • Altesegel

          It would be wise to similarly restrict the franchise

          • Andy

            You mean ban all Public Sector employees from being allowed to vote ? Good idea. There is a clear conflict of interest after all.

      • Noa

        “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

        Austin Barry being the exception, of course.

      • alan

        It has always been my contention that a PPE qualification should be an automatic disqualifier from any sort of public office.

    • dalai guevara

      Signore Vaffa is most emphatically not comparable to Farange in the UK. I wish you lot would stop making up this nonsense – Grillo and his supporters are not criticising the EU, they are criticising the influence of bankers on corrupt politicians, and corrupt Italian politicians per se.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Which comedian do you recommend for the UK?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Julian-Price/653286113 David Julian Price

      Ed Miliband, even though his joke isn’t funny anymore.

    • the baracus

      I don’t know about PM, but I would suggest Jimmy Carr as Chancellor.
      He certainly knows his way around the tax system.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The problem in the UK is that most of them are lefties and/or self-proclaimed members of the Labour party. No thanks.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

        Yes. They are useless satirists simply being appendages of the party system. Germany at least has Ulrich Priol and Matthias Deutschmann

    • dmitri the impostor

      Ken Dodd

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

      One with an Accounting qualification like Beppo and who has been isolated from TV like Beppo for highlighting political corruption. Find it hard to think of anyone in the UK that has been so forthright on attacking Corruption

    • CharlietheChump

      Al Murray

      • Daniel Maris

        Yes, he’s a sly one isn’t he?

    • Noa

      You could try this one…

      http://biertijd.com/mediaplayer/?itemid=23312

      Turn up the volume, as the sound is a little muted.

      H/T Frank P at the ‘Other Place’, sadly late of this parish.

    • http://profiles.google.com/alanmdouglas Alan Douglas

      It would be Out of the Stephen Frying Pan and into the Fire. Only thing he is good at is making sneering remarks.

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here