Italy – Setback for the right confirmed

Dave Kellaway provides analysis on the latest set of local Italian election results.


Second-round results in local elections confirmed the failure of the right-wing coalition to convert the lead registered for some time in national opinion polls. The so-called centre ‘left’ led by the social liberal Democratic Party (PD) now control eight of the biggest cities in the country. Predictions by some on the left that there will soon be a hard-right government with a big post-fascist component need to be tempered by the reality of these results. Indeed Italian capital may well be quite happy with a PD lead government, as it did with the governments of Prodi or Renzi.  Salvini’s and Meloni’s anti-EU populism and rabble-rousing does not necessarily suit its interests either.

Abstention remained the biggest winner even in the second round with over 50% not bothering to turn out.  Historically abstention has been lower in Italy than in Britain so many commentators have been wringing their hands about the disengagement of voters from the political system.

One probable reason for the low turnout was the existence of a national coalition government led by ‘independent’ former head of the European Bank, Draghi. Both right and left of centre parties make up the current government formed as the Conte PD/Five Star Movement (M5S) one fell apart eight months ago in the midst of discussions about the Covid recovery plan. If all the parties are on the same team the differences do not seem all that salient to voters when elections come around.

Giorgia Meloni’s post fascist, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), refused to join Draghi. She hopes to continue its steady erosion of Salvini’s hard-right Lega (League) electoral base by betting on the Draghi government failing. Meloni has centred her fire on the government’s supposedly weak line on controlling immigration and on its authoritarian policies on the Covid Pass. Meloni hopes the right-wing electorate will see her as keeping the true faith while Salvini collaborates with Draghi.

Italy has succeeded at the moment in reducing infections and deaths to levels significantly below British ones by obliging all workers to be vaccinated or have regular tests in order to enter their workplaces[see Guardian article here]. Unlike in Britain masks have to be worn in all public enclosed spaces. Salvini, while being in the government, has also indulged in the anti-vax movement through sceptical statements about these policies. The electoral results partly show most Italian people agree with these measures.  Polls since the results last Sunday give Draghi approval ratings of 65% on this issue.

The right-wing coalition does have greater formal unity than the centre-left, standing on a common slate everywhere. It has taken a hit but it is not down and out and still controls 15 out of the 20 Italian regional governments. This gives you a base, resources and electoral patronage in the same way leading the big towns does. However, apart from their misreading of the Covid situation the jockeying on the right for positions on the slates definitely affected their preparations for these elections. Salvini now accepts that the fight over who should lead the slates led to late decisions and less than brilliant candidates. Increased hassling over who gets what position on the slate is partly a consequence of Meloni’s rise against Salvini’s relative fall in the polls.

Meloni’s party nevertheless took a lesser hit than the Lega in these elections. The danger her party represents can be seen with the two councillors elected in Rome who in their post-vote celebrations made the fascist salute. The rise in her popularity encourages the full-on fascist groups like Fuerza Nuova (New Force) who led the assault on the biggest Italian trade union confederation’s HQ a week ago in Rome. Although like Le Pen in France Meloni vehemently says she has broken with all that fascist ‘nostalgia’ in practice there is an overlap with more openly fascist sympathisers, for example with the security at meetings. Like Salvini, she continuously issues dog-whistle racist statements against migrants and in defence of ‘family’ values against gay marriage and adoption rights.

The fraudulent old fox, Berlusconi, has put himself forward as the ‘federator’ or unifier of the right-wing coalition. The media yesterday showed pictures of a smiling Berlusconi acting as the godfather at his Rome palazzo for Giorgia and Matteo, with his little puppy in attendance. Although his Forza Italia (Go Italy) party is still the junior partner it did slightly better than his allies in the elections, with his man winning in the Calabria region. Reinvigorated from winning yet another corruption case this week he is keen to try and steer his two allies away from anti-EU and extreme national populist positions. Berlusconi – who championed Draghi’s early career – is much more in favour of the coalition than his partners. He is also putting himself about as a potential successor to Matterella as Italian president and is keen to get their backing.

Enrico Letta, the relatively recent leader of the PD was the big winner of these elections.  In recent elections, the PD only seemed to be able to win the ZTL zones (limited traffic pedestrian zones) and lose the more working-class areas to the populists. This time it extended its electoral base. Winning back the smaller towns in the north that have fallen to the Lega over the years while the destruction of the working class has still not been achieved. The pattern of bigger metropolitan areas with their younger, more educated demographics, being more on the progressive wing of politics is reflected here as in Britain.

Letta has pushed for an organic alliance with the M5S movement, founded by Beppe Grillo, the comedian only 12 years ago.  From the heady score of 33% at the last general election, this movement has imploded between the more traditional ‘movement’ current and those who want to be in government and become a party like the others. It was averaged well below 10%  on a national level in these elections. It has lost scores of MPs and senators to other currents over the last few years as well as some of its historic founders.  In these elections, when it stood alone such as in Rome or Turin, where it had been the leader, it failed badly. Where it stood on the PD slate such as in Naples, it maintained a reasonable score. In the second round in Rome and Turin, the M5S base largely voted for the PD victor. Conte, former Prime Minister and the new leader of the M5S, agrees with the alliance with the PD. Nevertheless, more defections from the M5S are possible. 

However, it does provide Letta with a possible road forward for a general election victory and his premiership. He is investing a lot in the success of the Draghi government, he wants the social-liberal left to be the inheritor of that success. Fundamental to his strategy is co-management with Italian capital of the Covid recovery plan, helped by EU money.

Such co-management though is essentially on the terms of the Italian bosses when it comes to keeping workplaces open or improving wages or public spending. Just the other day the PD fully supported repressive police intervention against the dockers in Trieste.  The PD may make sympathetic noises but it refuses to endorse the calls of the GKN or Whirlpool for a ‘risorgiamo’, a rising up of workers with tactics like a general strike to save jobs threatened by corporate restructuring.  Certainly, despite the overall difficult relationship of forces in Italy, there is some effervescence in campaigns and industrial struggles. The recent national day of action organised by the rank and file unions (COBAS) had a bigger turnout than expected. School students in Rome just occupied their school because of the lack of proper health security and were met by police action. The anti-fascist demonstration organised by all the trade union federations to protest the attack on the CGIL HQ drew over 100,000 onto the streets in Rome (the organisers claimed 200,000 turned up, there were 800 buses and a dozen special trains). Despite the hesitancy of the trade union leaderships to really organise a fightback over living conditions this represents a reflex of basic class organisation.

Alan Thornett Allan Todd Anti*Capitalist Resistance Ashley Smith Au Loong-yu Christian Zeller Dan La Botz Dave Kellaway Fourth International Fred Leplat Geoff Ryan Gilbert Achcar Ian Parker Ilya Budraitskis Joseph Healy Liz Lawrence Léon Crémieux Michael Roberts Mike Phipps Neil Faulkner Nina Fortune NPA – Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste Paul Martial Phil Hearse Philip Inglesant Posle Promise Li Rob Marsden Roland Rance Rowan Fortune Roy Wilkes Russian Socialist Movement Simon Hannah Simon Pearson Simon Pirani Susan Pashkoff Taras Bilous Terry Conway Tony Richardson Trans*Mission Twilight O’Hara Ukraine Solidarity Campaign Veronica Fagan William I Robinson Éric Toussaint

Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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