Crap! I’ve Been Out Of The Loop

A few days ago, Rome elected it’s first female mayor, Virginia Raggi, and it only just registered in my brain today. Turin also elected Chiara Appendino, and both of these women are in the Movimento 5 Stelle (The Five Star Movement). I’m about to get into a brief history on recent Italian politics now, so be warned. If you could care less, go ahead and jump to the short AJ+ video at the end.


I have always had mixed feelings about the M5S. It is a populist, grassroots movement which started back in 2009, and led by popular comedian Beppe Grillo. Their platform is one that any Bernie Sanders supporter could appreciate: they are anti-establishment, want to fight political corruption, have a strong environmental platform, and put a lot of emphasis on democracy. So far, so good.

My mixed feelings come from the fact that they are a very mixed bag, and in fact I did not vote for them in the 2013 elections. In 2013, a vote for Beppe Grillo was a protest vote. In essence, the main platform of the M5S for those elections was a promise that they would form no coalition with any other party.

Basically, as in other kinds of elections, you need a majority to rule. In the Parliamentary system you have multiple parties, and so often no one party gets over 50% of the vote. Whichever party has the most votes can thus form a coalition with other parties which might have similar values and, if their combined votes are over 50%, that coalition rules for the next however many years.

By promising to form no coalitions, the M5S essentially promised to break the system if they got enough votes. They would prohibit whichever party got the most votes (and it was surely going to be between the center-right and the center-left) from being able to govern. The heads of the parties would have had to resign in shame, there would have to be an influx of new faces, new politicians, and all of the old corrupt faces would be gone. There would need to be brand new elections. This would bring a severe blow to the stability of Italy and to the Italian economy, but Beppe Grillo proposed that it would be a short-term price to pay for the long-term benefit of sending all the corrupt politicians home with their tails between their legs. When corruption is ingrained there is virtually no difference between right and left, he said, so there is no point in voting for the slightly lesser of two evils any more. No one expected for him to get many votes, as this seemed a very risky political move for the average Italian voter, who usually talks a big game and then goes for the safer route.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The vote was virtually a three-way tie between center-left (who got a tiny bit more than the others), center-right and M5S. The center-left begged M5S to reconsider their position, they did not. Bersani, the head of the center-left party resigned, they still didn’t budge.

Then, the center-left formed a coalition with the center-right. The two parties that are kind of never supposed to form coalitions. In essence they proved Beppe Grillo’s point, there is very little difference between the two any more. Still, his attempt to break the system was thwarted.

I did not vote for him simply because he did not convince me of his political savvy. He spoke a lot about how to break things, but not much on how to fix them. There is no guarantee that, after you break something, what you replace it with is going to be better. Some of his suggestions for rooting out corruption were also naive and misguided, for example, he proposed getting rid of publicly financing elections and moving towards an American model – and all of you American voters out there know well what a freaking disaster that model is. At least the kinds of corruption going on in Italy at the moment are still technically illegal.

However they gained many seats in Parliament in the 2013 elections, and the M5S has seen a huge influx of young, passionate people. While they do lack experience, many see that as something in their favor, as they are not fully entrenched in the corrupt political system. They are still a mixed bag: some are over zealous, some overly focus on issues which are not of prime importance at the moment, but others are smart and are able to bring fresh, out of the box ideas. I do not know where Virginia Raggi and Chiara Appendino fall on this scale, but I’m very curious to see how it turns out.

tl;dr here’s an AJ+ video


  1. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Croatian papers are writing that Chiara Appendino has promised to start a youth employment program, and that she’ll get the money for it by cutting city employee’s pay by 30%.
    Populist indeed.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Which city employees exactly? As in the politicians, or the garbage truck drivers? There is a big difference, especially in how much they get paid

  2. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    To quote (and translate) : city government employees which to me suggests llower bureaucrats.

    But, I found this account in Italian, which I only partly understand since I’ve neglected my Italian in the last ten years or so:

    vuole tagliare del 30% le spese della politica e creare con le imprese un fondo per la lotta alla povertà

    I think I’m reading this correctly as cutting government expenses?
    I’m still doubtfull, since “cutting govefrnment spending almost universally breaks onthe backs of their employees but kudos to her if that’s not the plan.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      “la politica” usually means things like politician spending, which is out of control in Italy. It usually means cutting travel expenses, living expenses, pensions and stipends of politicians themselves – don’t feel too bad for them, they are exorbitant

      • Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

        Thanks for the explanation. No, I won’t feel bad for those.
        I only felt bad about the possibility of lowly office workers getting the short end. My own parents bother worked in jobs like that, and it’s far from a higly payed, overly privileged paradise. There is job security, but that shouldn’t be a bad thing. And they are the people politicians regularly set their sights on, to use them as scape goats for all the cuts that government needs to make in its spending.
        (sorry for the rant, it got personal)

  3. brucegee1962 says

    He spoke a lot about how to break things, but not much on how to fix them. There is no guarantee that, after you break something, what you replace it with is going to be better.

    QFT. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve understood why no politician or passionate partisan who talks about a “revolution” should be trusted. Revolutions may start off looking like the singing students in Les Miz, but they don’t stay that way. Those types of revolutions either get crushed (eg. China, Iran) or taken over by the bullies (eg. Egypt & Libya) or both (eg. Syria). The Bernie Sanders supporters here in the US who talk about revolution don’t realize that Donald Trump is the true face of revolution — and it’s not pretty.

    • anat says

      ‘But here’s some advice, boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.’ — Terry Pratchett, Night Watch.

  4. applehead says

    The first time I heard of them was from a Phoenix TV documentary on the rise of populist movements in the run-up to the last EU elections. Sure, they did look less awful than the Orban rally attended by Hungarian neo-Nazis, but I can’t say they seem like a viable alternative to me.

    Grillo’s big slogan is “Send them all home,” referring to the allegedly crooked politicians. One female parliamentarian they interviewed raised the important question “And then what?” Normally we show more apprehension towards political movements that seek to dismantle parliamentary democracy, so why not here?

    The Five Stars want to get rid of Italy’s parliament, its representative democracy altogether, to replace it with pure direct democracy, presumably digitally mediated. Dunno about you, but whenever I hear about the cool new buzzword “direct/liquid/digital democracy” I see in my mind’s eye a world where the stranglehold of plutocratic lobbyists over democracy is replaced by a stranglehold through the opinion-makers of marketing agencies in the employ of the very Silicon Valley techbro billionaires who advocate “digital democracy” the loudest.

    Generally speaking, most of the time anybody who wants to topple a power establishment only wants so in order to form the new establishment.

    Brillo and co. could just as well be left-leaning autocrats like Chavez who figure they don’t need to stage a bloody coup if they can easily win elections in this climate.

  5. Ivo says

    I find Grillo and his movement quite scary. A mixed bag indeed… which contains a large fraction of conspiracy theorists (scie chimiche, etc), wacko economics (gold standard, etc), hate mongers (starting with Grillo himself), and left-authoritarian thinking. And all of this is not just at the fringes of the movement, but rather quite central and quite close to Grillo. Some of his screaming public-square rants are chilling, almost nazi-like. I don’t believe the top levels of the movement really care for democracy at all.

    For instance, they systematically show little respect for the normal ways and institutions of democracy, and claim that “democratic legitimacy” actually derives from the internet polls made on Grillo’s own webpage… whose results they glibly ignore when convenient. Or the fact that they refused to form a governing coalition, which allows them to effectively remain an opposition party, feeding off the public’s resentment, without them ever having to actually do the work of improving things; ditto for Grillo, founder and pope of the movement, refusing to take on any official positions, which enables him to keep pulling the strings from outside of the system. Or their vicious attacks on any journalists who dare criticise them. Etc, etc.

    Really, while there are undeniably some young, idealist and well-meaning people within their ranks, I find the movement as a whole to be little better than Kaczynski’s PIS in Poland (at least the M5S is not trying to impose Catholic morals on everybody else).

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