Don’t worry about Italy; referendum result will not trigger populist surge

'Italy’s vote is also different because the consequences of the vote are likely to be much more limited.’ [Image: Tony Gentile/Reuters.]

‘Italy’s vote is also different because the consequences of the vote are likely to be much more limited.’ [Image: Tony Gentile/Reuters.]

It was a little confusing at first; as the referendum took place yesterday (December 4), we seemed to be getting conflicting reports that a ‘no’ to Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reforms might trigger an upset like Brexit or Trump.

But cooler heads seem to have prevailed – something of a surprise, considering we’re discussing Italy.

It seems the constitutional changes on the table were questionable, and the debate did not focus on the themes we have come to recognise, such as globalisation and immigration (I’m waiting for us all to drop pretence and start calling it what it is – racism).

It seems Italy is set to turn to proportional representation, meaning right-wing populism will not be able to get a firm foothold.

Turning back to the UK, it suggests that we would do well to reconsider proportional representation here.

The ‘First Past The Post’ system has served us up a succession of right-wing governments that have eroded the rights of the UK’s citizens.

Parties that claim to be left-wing have been calling for a change to PR for many years, suggesting that an alliance of the Left is the only way to defeat the Conservatives.

Personally, I disagree with that claim; the Conservatives have been beaten many times – when the electorate’s superficial selfishness, to which the Tories appeal, has been overcome by arguments that Tory policies will not help anybody but themselves.

But would such a coalition prevent Labour from drifting to the political right, as it did under Blair and Brown? New Labour was almost as Conservative as the Conservatives, and most grassroots members of the party are determined to prevent that from reoccurring.

It’s certainly something to discuss over Christmas!

First Britain voted for Brexit. Then America voted for Trump. And now Italians have overwhelmingly voted to reject constitutional reform, leading Matteo Renzi to state he will resign as prime minister later today.

It’s tempting to draw parallels between the three votes. But Italy’s referendum does not mark a political earthquake. Its causes are different, and its effects on domestic and international politics are likely to be contained.

Italy’s no vote does not fit quite so neatly into the narrative of a populist revolt against globalisation and elites. Themes such as globalisation and immigration did not feature as strongly in the debate.

Instead, after Renzi stated that he would resign if the constitutional reforms were rejected, the debate was focused on his own record as prime minister. And while of course populists voted no, many of the other no voters did so against the substance of the reforms, arguing that they were anti-democratic and would have altered constitutional checks and balances.

Italy’s vote is also different because the consequences of the vote are likely to be much more limited.

The vote is unlikely to lead to political instability or the rise of the populist Five Star Movement, as many commentators fear. Renzi’s resignation is unlikely to lead to early elections.

Instead, president Sergio Mattarella will first explore options for a new government. He could give the mandate to form a government to a respected political figure such as economics minister Pier Carlo Padoan, who has just cancelled a planned trip to Brussels.

A takeover by the populist Five Star Movement is unlikely either now or in the next election. The movement may run out of steam, as it increasingly becomes embroiled in political mishaps arising from its administration of Rome and Turin.

Crucially, planned electoral reforms are likely to lead to a form of proportional representation that will make it difficult for any single party to form a government. The continuation of coalition governments will exclude the Five Star Movement, which refuses to take part in them.

Source: Italy’s referendum result is not another Brexit or Trump | Luigi Scazzieri | Opinion | The Guardian

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  1. Gary Aronsson December 5, 2016 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    You speak of dropping the pretence that restricting immigration is anything other than racism , well how about dropping the pretence that people like you give a stuff about reducing the hardship and poverty of the British Working Class when all you really want is cheap labour to support you in a lifestyle you would love to become accustomed to.

    People like you always like to assume the “moral high ground” but only because it allows you to more easily look down on others and s**t rolls down hill . You can dump all your garbage on people who earn less than you secure in the knowledge that from your more elevated economic position you can enjoy a constant supply of cheap labour. And when the proles vote the wrong way you simply ignore the vote and pretend that they didn’t understand the bloody question , so you tell us what the result should have been and then carry on as before. And to cloak your hatred of democracy you call it POPULISM as if doing things that are POPULAR with the vast majority of people is some kind of assault on freedom rather than the purest demonstration of it !

    • Mike Sivier December 5, 2016 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      Call me presumptuous if you like, folks, but I think I’ve hit a nerve here!
      I don’t think Gary would try to apply his argument that I look down on people who earn less than me, if he knew how much I earn. Bless.
      Populism isn’t about doing things that are popular – it’s about trying to appeal to as many people as possible through lowest-common-denominator tactics. So the right-wing populism we’re experiencing at the moment is focused on attacking people from foreign countries who work in our own; it has nothing to do with ending cheap labour – in fact populist right-wing parties would stamp on the workers even harder than the Tories.

      • Barry Davies December 5, 2016 at 8:12 pm - Reply

        That sounds exactly like the eu lowest common denominator one size fits all legislation so are you saying that unpopular eu is populist?

        • Mike Sivier December 6, 2016 at 12:29 am - Reply

          It really doesn’t sound like the EU at all – or even seem like it, since the written word doesn’t actually make a sound.

    • pipsterish December 5, 2016 at 7:08 pm - Reply

      The reason for cheap labour is little to do with immigrants, and all to do with the failures of successive governments to implement a policy of full employment by investing in British industry, in new technologies, in real jobs. Instead we’ve seen government spend billions on slave labour schemes providing free workers to supermarkets.

      The British working class is underemployed. I humbly suggest that isn’t an accident. The last thing conservative government wants is full employment, because that would give the working class something to bargain with, driving up wages, leading to better conditions for all workers, British or not.

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