Sunday, March 3, 2013

Grillo's Zombies

"You are a Dead Man talking!" - said Beppe Grillo to Pierluigi Bersani who had asked for M5S support for a legislative platform that included some of Grillo's pet initiatives. Admittedly Bersani is a lugubrious, funereal figure, totally un-charismatic, indeed "de-tumescing", to use a term coined by a former Cambridge colleague to damn Tony Giddens, then a candidate to College high office . After all, Bersani now demands respect, after calling Grillo "a Web fascist", which is worse and unwarranted. The 5 Star Movement is marked for its non-fascist, non racialist, non right-on rightist stance. And Bersani has been utterly inconsistent: he criticised Mario Monti, but aided and abetted his disastrous recessionary policies for fourteen months. A Bersani-led Democratic Party was only stopped from forming a new government with him by Monti's electoral debacle.

The problem is that Beppe Grillo is treating his brand new, clean and youthful 54 Senators and 109 "Onorevoli deputati" (or rather "citizens", as he wants them to be called, rejecting traditional titles), precisely like Zombies. "We will not give a vote of confidence to any government, let alone a PD-PDL government: we will vote on a law by law basis, according to our programme". Which is plainly silly: the M5S 163 parlamentarians will not get an opportunity to vote law by law unless there is a government in power that commands a confidence vote in both houses. The 163 citizen are turned by Grillo into Dead Men Who Do NOT talk.
Frozen, hibernated, silenced, ready to be resurrected only to leave their respective Houses when Parliament is soon going to be dissolved. A rather inglorious end to such an extraordinary, auspicious, revolutionary success. And when new elections are called, the protest voters that concentrated on Beppe Grillo on 24-25 February, now frustrated by the complete waste of their votes, will turn back to traditional parties, most probably PDL that will also drain some of Monti's support - unless the magistrates send Berlusconi to jail.  

Grillo's suggestion, of forming a government on his own, with the confidence vote support of PD and PDL, is as much of a non-starter as Bersani's offer to Grillo of a PD government with M5S support on specific policies plucked from their programme. What is needed is effective power sharing, with a precise division of Ministries, not the unaccountable, unspecified support for policies presumed to be jointly desired (how many? to what extent? accompanied by what else?). Grillo seems to favour a PD-PDL "Governissimo" which would not last long and cause the PD to lose half of their electorate (as happened to the Left in Greece and in Spain). D'Alema would pay this high price, for it is the only government which would give him office. Napolitano and Veltroni would, out of concern for Italy's stability and place in Europe, but Bersani and his cronies are unlikely to bite. 

Nevertheless, there are three tenuous prospects for a way out of this unprecedented constitutional crisis.

First, last Friday Dario Fo - Grillo's stated candidate as Napolitano's successor, though unavailable - said that there is a possibility of a deal with the PD under the leadership of someone other than Bersani (Matteo Renzi? Fabrizio Barca? Dario Fo did not say). Earlier on the same day Massimo D'Alema had already said, on television, that if Grillo sets this condition it should be immediately accepted.
Second, the 163 parlamentarians treated like Zombies by Grillo are nothing of the kind. Leading personalities are emerging within their group, and they are a diverse and articulate lot. They do not have to revolt, they can simply ignore the attempts to make them do as they are told. Give them a taste of Roman parliamentary life, and they will prefer to stay on rather than to return to the provinces.

Finally, it might actually dawn on Beppe Grillo that rejecting the opportunity to change, at last, some of the fundamental ills of Italian political life might actually jeopardise his current command of the protest vote. He simply will not get a second chance.