Introducing... Beppe Grillo

Italians (and the rest of us, for that matter) have no doubt often considered their politicians a bunch of clowns. Now they have elected a real clown, the comic satirist Beppe Grillo (pictured), as a major player in their future political life. The unkempt 64-year-old has been pretty much banned from Italian TV for his scathing critiques of Italy’s self-serving political class. His 2013 election campaign featured giant rallies in the piazzas of Italian cities where he excoriated the hypocrisy, thievery and incompetence which has led Italians down the road of economic stagnation and vicious austerity cuts.

Ferdinando Piezzi / Alamy

Grillo’s Five Star Movement won an astonishing 25.55 per cent of the vote in February, making this novice party Italy’s most popular. The Five Stars stand for public water, sustainable mobility, development, connectivity and environmentalism. All pretty vague, but the programme has a definite left-of-centre tilt, including anti-corruption, cuts in defence spending, a minimum wage for the unemployed funded by a wealth tax, and more direct democracy through online participation and referenda. The Party lacks any structure (existing mostly online) and Grillo himself cannot enter parliament because party statutes forbid convicted felons serving as representatives – Grillo was convicted of manslaughter in a tragic car accident in 1980.

A man of not insignificant ego, Grillo denies any desire to even be a politician. The party’s reforms (particularly reducing the substantial perks of those in power) are promises Italians have heard before. The jury remains out as to whether the anti-politics of Grillo’s Five Stars will be any more effective at delivering the goods.

mag cover This article is from the May 2013 issue of New Internationalist.
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