Italian election, March 2018
Italian election, March 2018

No matter how much and for how long our remoaner politicians tell us how crap our country is, no matter how much they assure you that the UK cannot survive unless it pays to suck the EU’s tits and kiss Herr Juncker’s butt, they’re nowhere near as bad as their Italian counterparts. Be grateful for that.

I love Italian people; I lived and worked there for 10 years and have some tremendous friends who I will always keep in touch with. But the Italian political system is possibly the most corrupt and least efficient in the whole of Europe.

Led on more than one occasion by Silvio Berlusconi, a man very few would call honest but many have called corrupt and a criminal, it should be no surprise to anybody that the average Italian citizen thinks Italian politicians are all corrupt. With good reason.

Berlusconi, often accused of corruption, often in partnership with the far right
Berlusconi, often accused of corruption, often in partnership with the far right

Even if the UK hasn’t paid it much attention yet, there is a general election in Italy on 4th March, and the outcome is highly unlikely to be good news for the EU.

Marginally in the lead in polls, and very much on the right, we have Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, running in partnership with the far-right Lega Nord and Fratelli d’italia parties. If his coalition win the election and his Forza Italia win more votes than the Lega Nord, Berlusconi would normally be expected to become the next Prime Minister. Unfortunately or him, he’s barred from taking up the office due to being a convicted criminal, so will need to become ‘kingmaker’ and nominate someone to take his place. Rumours are that he currently favours Antonio Tajani, the European Parliament’s current president. Berlusconi is largely pro-EU and in favour of staying in the Euro.

Berlusconi's alliance of the right, far right and further right.
Berlusconi’s alliance of the right, far right and further right.

If the Lega Nord win more votes than Forza Italia, its leader Matteo Salvini has made no secret of his desire to be Prime Minister. Unashamedly racist, anti-immigrant, anti almost everything foreign and very much anti-EU, the Lega Nord’s accession to power could be a nightmare come true for the EU. Salvini, who calls the Euro ‘the German currency’ has repeatedly stated his ambition of exiting the Euro and says “We want to remain in the EU only if we can renegotiate all the treaties which limit our full and legitimate sovereignty, in practical terms returning to the European Economic Union which preceded the Maastricht Treaty.”

Even assuming Berlusconi’s coalition manages to secure the 40% of votes needed for a majority, which seems unlikely, the chances of this marriage of convenience reaching a coherent decision are pretty slim.

Second in the latest polls but the largest single party, with around 30% support, is the Movimento 5 Stelle, or 5 Star Movement. The 5-star movement was originally headed by Beppe Grillo, a former comedian, but he too is legally barred from taking office due to having been found guilty of manslaughter over a traffic accident which caused the death of 3 passengers. Don’t worry, it’s all perfectly normal in Italy.

5-Stelle's Luigi Di Maio and Rome mayor Virginia Raggi
5-Stelle’s Luigi Di Maio and Rome mayor Virginia Raggi

A short time ago, realising that the party had a chance of winning the next election, Grillo handed control of his 5-Stelle party over to the new shiny generation, led by Luigi Di Maio, a photogenic 31-year old. With their new frontman, the 5-Stelle’s policies have been modified a little. Where once they stated outright that there would be an immediate referendum over leaving the EU, they are now back-pedalling a touch.

5-Stelle has been anti-establishment and anti-corruption since the party was founded, gaining mileage from telling Italians how the rest of the political establishment was rotten and corrupt. After the last election, despite attracting more votes than any other single party, they couldn’t agree to cooperate or work in coalition with the very people they had called corrupt, which guaranteed the old system continued unhindered. The party still insists it won’t work with anybody else, calling on Italians to give them a majority, and that’s unlikely to happen.

Finally, we have the incumbent left-leaning Partito Democratico (PD) trailing both of the above, and seemingly destined for another spell in opposition.

Millionaire Beppe Grillo portray himself as a man of the people
Millionaire Beppe Grillo portrays himself as a man of the people

In the meantime, neighbouring EU states listen nervously as 5-Stelle politicians talk about wanting conversations about ‘restructuring’ Italy’s massive €2,256 billion debts. By ‘restructure’ think ‘make vanish’ and you’ll understand why there’s a little unease in EU finance ministries. With impossible debts, Italy is single-handedly capable of destroying the Euro. More than one Italian politician has spoken about simply walking away from debts, knowing full well that the EU and other Euro members would be forced to cough up to save the common currency.

Although the financial aspects are undoubtedly more important, UK media outlets with their feet firmly in the ‘remoaner’ camp have either said nothing about the Italian election, or concentrated on the hard-to-ignore debate over immigration. In Italy, almost every conversation about the election starts or ends with the immigration debate. It’s not uncommon to hear people you’ve known for decades, people you’d never think of as racist, talking about how it’s time to start deporting immigrants, who many see as criminals and disease carriers.

A few weeks ago, an 18-year old Italian girl was found murdered and dismembered in Macerata, in the Marche region. A 29-year-old Nigerian male migrant was detained over the killing, and racist calls for revenge attacks were quickly posted on Facebook. A few days later, on 3rd February, Italian police arrested an Italian male, Luca Traini, for carrying out a series of drive-by shootings in the town. Traini drove around the town with a pistol, shooting at anybody with an african appearance, male or female. At least 6 people were shot during the attacks. Traini was a Lega Nord candidate in a local election last year.

Clashes between the far left and police in bologna
Clashes between the far left and police in bologna

Tensions between the left and right wings in Italy have been escalating, with violence breaking out regularly. This weekend it’s the turn of Bologna, where anti-fascists clashed with riot police. The rioters were trying to occuply a square in the city centre in order to prevent a rally of the right-wing party Forza Nuova later in the day. If you’re Italian you’ll know this is a sadly regular occurrence, not just a one-off in election season, the violence and polarity of views driven by extremists on both sides of the debate. But this year immigration has become too sensitive an issue to ignore, and it will affect the election outcome, for better or worse.

Ultimately, the Italian political system is the poison that ensures no political party can cure Europe’s sick old lady. Politicians seem incapable of forming a sentence that doesn’t include the words ‘italia’ or ‘italiani’ (Italy, or Italians) as a sort of chest-thumping display of patriotism, but the vast majority give the impression that they don’t give a shit about watching their own country go down the toilet, provided the pay is good.

I know Theresa May looks like a marionette with poorly adjusted strings, Michael Gove is so slippery he looks like concentrated fish slime, Jeremy Corbyn is little more than the traditional protest politician, free with promises but lacking genuine solutions and we only have Boris Johnson to cheer us all up with his speeches and hair, but you should all get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars that we live in the UK and have these wonderful people, and not monsters like Berlusconi and Salvini.

Robert Blackthorne

Bluetooth - otherwise known as Robert Blackthorne. I'm a photographer by trade and preference, but have written a couple of plays to boot. I've seen enough of the world to be able to put things into perspective and know how much our daily news is distorted by mainstream news outlets.

Unlike most of the contributors of Goodish Times, I'm a lifelong Conservative voter and voted 'leave' because I was never asked if I wanted to join the Socialist Republic of Brussels and Luxembourg. I hate censorship and bullying, no matter where it originates from.