Apart from the climate wars, the only other subject I know of whose fate is so profoundly entwined with the internet is Italian politics.
The future direction of the world’s climate and energy policy depends largely on how long it takes for Andrew Montford, Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre, Donna Laframboise, Jo Nova and others to be accepted as legitimate interlocutors by the political and media establishment. It might be weeks, it might be decades.
No such question mark hangs over Italian politics. In last year’s election, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement came third, just a few points behind the Democratic Party (ex-socialists) and Silvio Berlusconi’s People for Liberty party, returning 165 members to the two houses of parliament. But the Five Star Movement isn’t a party, but simply a protest movement organised around the comedian Beppe Grillo (“Joe Grasshopper”) his eminence grise, internet wizz kid Gianroberto Casaleggio – and a blog.
Yesterday Beppe Grillo started to behave like a proper party leader when he organised an online referendum to decide whether to expel four senators from his party for daring to criticise their beloved leader for his behaviour in a face to face meeting with the new prime minister Matteo Renzi. He won the vote, and the four dissidents will no doubt have their names and photos wiped from the Five Star blog with an efficiency that Stalin would have envied. (What a lot of bloodshed could have been avoided if the Bolsheviks had only had Photoshop!)
Grillo has style, and a great stock of funny oneliners. (Think Mussolini played by Billy Connolly). But the new prime minister Matteo Renzi has style too. Three months ago he was just mayor of Florence. Then he got himself elected secretary of the Democratic Party in a popular vote. Then he made a pact with Silvio Berlusconi to replace the existing electoral system which has been declared unconstitutional by the constitutional court, and abolish the senate. Then he instituted a motion of no confidence in the current government, led by a member of his own party. Then he was asked to form a new government by the 85 year old President, ex-communist, ex-partisan Giorgio Napolitano. (Napolitano and Her Majesty Elizabeth II are probably the last two heads of state to have served in the second world war). The day before yesterday Renzi ad libbed, his hands in his pockets, before the Senate for 69 minutes, explaining why the senators should vote for their own disappearance, which they did. Yesterday he repeated the performance before the lower chamber. Renzi has class. Grillo burbled before him on stream before the whole of Italy like Falstaff before Henry V. Then he took his vengeance on those of his followers who dared to point out what an arsehole he’d made of himself.
This is politics, as understood by Plutarch, as interpreted by Shakespeare. You won’t get a hint of it in the British media, who’d rather cut their throats than let you hear Renzi and Grillo fighting it out. (What would it cost them to subtitle a few minutes of real political debate? Their jobs – that’s what).
This is politics as drama, as a life or death struggle between real human beings staking their futures on the outcome. If Italy has think tanks and media consultants and spin doctors they are not in evidence. Renzi and Grillo and Berlusconi are flesh and blood characters. They will fight to the death and the Italian people will deliver the thumbs up or down. Maybe the majority are too busy worrying about their everyday problems to follow the finer points of the struggle, like the majority of people everywhere. But struggle there is.
How very different from the life of our own dear democracy.
I’m off to Florence tomorrow to get an eyeful of trecento frescoes. Keep up the good work everyone.