Matteo Renzi lost his constitutional reform referendum – and his job – for a simple reason: too many Italians from across the political spectrum opposed the Florentine and what he represented. What he stood for is easy to see from the names of those who gave him their wholehearted support: Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Mario Draghi, François Hollande, the Financial Times, and, of course, outgoing American President Barack Obama, who made him guest of honour at his last White House state dinner in October and described him as ‘bold’, ‘progressive’ and ‘promising’.
God – perhaps – knows who will be the new Prime Minister of Italy. There have been more than 60 Italian governments since the fall of fascism in 1945. As the editor of Libero, the Milan daily I write for replied when I texted him to ask his opinion late last night: ‘Gesù di Nazareth’.
Beppe Grillo – the comedian and demagogue, who has been convicted of manslaughter – and who preaches direct democracy and whose slogan is ‘Vaffa!’ (‘Fuck Off!’) to most things, including the euro, is the name now on everyone’s lips. Like Benito Mussolini before him, this sci-fi fascist who also reminds me of a scientologist version of Billy Connolly, insists that his party – the Five Star Movement – is a movement and not a party, because parties are corrupt and impotent. And just like the Duce, Beppe used to be a left-wing firebrand who founded an alternative revolutionary movement which was also able to attract right-wing support. In the European Parliament, for example, his ‘movement’ is allied to Ukip.
In Italy, meanwhile, Five Star has more or less the same level of support in the polls as Renzi’s ex-communist Partito Democratico – 30 per cent. When its candidate, the extremely sexy Virginia Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer, defeated Renzi’s candidate to win the June mayoral elections in Rome, Grillo who lives near Genoa live-streamed a video to the faithful of himself ‘walking on the water’. In fact, he was pictured wading in the shallows near his Tuscan holiday villa but his message was simple: ‘If we can win Rome, we can walk on water’. Thankfully, the only thing Beppe has in common with Jesus is his beard.
Italy – and the Eurozone – is sure as hell in dire need of divine intervention right now. As a prisoner of the single currency, Italy has been mired in more or less permanent recession for a decade, with youth unemployment not much shy of 40 per cent, the third highest public debt in the world as a percentage of GDP (135 per cent), and its banking system stuffed with £350bn worth of bad loans and thus on the verge of collapse. But the next Prime Minister will probably not even, as Renzi did, believe in God and will anyway only be a caretaker: either someone from Renzi’s party, or else some kind of banker – whose mission will be to fend off the sharks circling Italy’s banks – until early elections are held in 2017.
Nor is Grillo likely to become Prime Minister after those elections either – unless he can pull off what Hitler did in 1933. For, just as in France with Marine Le Pen and the Front National where the La Droite and La Gauche have been so far able to combine to keep them out of power – so too in Italy with Grillo. Grillo has, it would seem, ruled himself out anyway: no one can stand for election on the M5S ticket – he has pronounced – who is under investigation for a crime, let alone someone convicted of a crime, like him. But who knows what he will pronounce now that his movement, which is so much identified with him, is so close to power.
Later still last night, Fabrizio – the owner of the bar I frequent in Lido di Dante on the Adriatic, near Ravenna in the ‘Red Romagna’ as it is known, put it simply: ‘Italy does not need un comico to govern it. We need una persona seria who knows how to manage the country’. But even Il Duce himself once said: ‘Governing the Italians is not difficile – it is inutile.’
The Communist far left and the Fascist far right voted against Renzi. So did the ex-Communist old guard within his own party. So, too, did Italy’s third most popular party – media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – and its fourth most popular (and rising) party – the Lega Nord – defined by the Guardian and the rest of the horrified Western liberal élite as ‘xenophobic’, not because, like the French Front National, it believes in the big state – for how could they possibly oppose that? – but because it wants to stop illegal immigration. So far this year, 171,000 migrants have been ferried into Italy across the Mediterranean from Libya by the navies of most of Europe – which beats by a whisker the previous record in 2014.
Let’s not forget Italy’s Catholics. Carla, my Italian wife and ardent Catholic, voted ‘no’. As did many, if not most, Catholics. Renzi may be a practising Catholic but he is a bit of a ‘cattocomunista’, as they are called, and his government had proposed the whole nine yards on gay marriage and adoption, surrogate pregnancy and much other stuff that Catholics just cannot stomach.
Italy has not had an elected Prime Minister since 2011 when the last one – Berlusconi – the first populist to get power in the West – was forced to resign as the impossible strain of a currency union without political union forced the spread between German and Italian government bonds into melt-down. And now Renzi, who – just like Grillo – was not even an MP or Senator and who was another populist, has gone. Last night, he concluded his tearful resignation speech to the nation by saying too quickly and quietly: ‘Viva l’Italia!’ God save Italy, I thought.