Better the devil you don’t know - Italy endorses maverick populists

Even though Italians are no strangers to political instability the weekend endorsement of the maverick populist Five Star Movement, led by 31-year-old Luigi De Maio, seems a desperate step into the unknown.

The party has no experience of government and has insisted that it will not support establishment parties. The result may turn the adage — “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know” — on its head as a strongly-tipped alternative was a coalition of the right and the far right with the discredited Silvio Berlusconi, debarred from office over tax fraud, as the chief puppet master. Back to the future in a most unattractive way as it were.

The Five Star victory is seen by observers as the “nightmare” option because of the party’s inexperience but the take-home lesson is the continuing decimation of Europe’s moderate, left-of-centre parties. The Democratic Party (PD) humiliation was such that its leader, former prime minister Matteo Renzi, has already indicated his intention to resign.

This is a well-established trend and it is unlikely to pass Ireland by. The growing dissatisfaction driving it will have an impact on Irish elections. The wealth gap, the near impossibility of buying or even getting a home, changing work conditions and multinationals driving a horse and four through tax legislation all contribute to this new normal.

However, the failure of established parties to protect hard-won social and material advances is the primary issue.

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