Britain has recently overtaken Italy for the prize of having the most shambolic political system in an advanced capitalist country. But there are now attempts at parallel solutions to both countries’ governmental crises.
Last week a new government took office in Rome—a coalition of the vocally anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the quintessentially establishment centre-left Democratic Party (PD). This follows the collapse of the previous coalition between the Five Star and the far right Lega led by Matteo Salvini.
Leaders of both the Five Star and the PD have denounced Salvini as a “barbarian”. That he is, above all for his brutal racist campaigning against migrants. But the anti-migrant policies of the preceding PD government paved the way for him.
And there is little coherence between the PD—strongly neoliberal and pro-European Union (EU)—and the historically Eurosceptic Five Star, which came into office denouncing Brussels-imposed austerity.
It will be hard to hold together the Five Star’s commitment to more generous social policies and the PD’s “fiscal responsibility” and kowtowing to the EU.
What binds them together is primarily fear of Salvini. The Lega tops the opinion polls at over 30 percent. Salvini broke up the coalition with the Five Star to force an election where they would lose many seats and the Lega would become the dominant party. The new government is primarily a means of postponing this crunch.
Funnily enough something similar is beginning to emerge here in Britain. The method in the hopelessness of Boris Johnson’s government lies in the drive to crash out of the EU without a deal on 31 October tied to a general election close to that date that could give him a parliamentary majority.
The thinking behind this strategy apparently comes from Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings, organiser of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. He believes that Remain or Leave is becoming the key dividing line in popular opinion.
Making the Tories unequivocally the anti-EU party is therefore the key to electoral success. Purging pro-European grandees such as Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames helps in this rebranding.
It would turn the Tories into something beginning to resemble a far right party like the Lega.
Increasingly Labour has got together with the pro-Remain opposition parties—the Lib Dems, Scottish nationalists, Plaid Cymru—and rebel Tory MPs to block this strategy.
First, they passed legislation forcing Johnson to seek yet another postponement of Brexit if he can’t make a deal with the EU by 31 October. Secondly, they are refusing to vote for a snap general election to resolve the parliamentary crisis until after Johnson has got this extension.
Since Jeremy Corbyn has been consistently demanding an election, this is a U-turn. It is also a very dangerous move.
The trouble with blocking mainstream neoliberals against the right is that it can actually strengthen the right.
The new government in Rome leaves Salvini free to denounce the collapse of the Five Star into the arms of the old gang who have misruled Italy for decades. Similarly, if Labour allies with parties such as the Lib Dems—which has pledged to block Corbyn becoming prime minister—to stop an election, it will be playing into Johnson’s hands.
“The internal polling shows that if the Tories campaign on just Brexit, it’s quite tough,” a Conservative apparatchik told the Financial Times newspaper. “But if we campaign on the political class refusing to enact what people voted for, it’s much more a winning message.”
According to a ComRes poll, 50 percent agree and 18 percent disagree that if the Brexit impasse continues there should be a snap election. It’s true that there are also polls showing that Labour would do better if the election took place after 31 October with Britain still in the EU.
But polls don’t tell the full story. In the course of the 2017 election Corbyn changed the conversation from opposing or supporting Brexit to challenging austerity and inequality. Labour’s chances of winning this time depend on him being able to do that again.