Over a coffee after State of the Net in Trieste, Luca Conti (@pandemia on Twitter) posed me a question. “What do you [meaning non-Italians] think of Beppe Grillo?” It’s also a question that my good friend Antonella Napolitano will be trying to answer at Personal Democracy Forum France later this month.
So here’s a way to look at Grillo. If you’re outside Grillo you see in Grillo what you want to see in Grillo. You frame him your way.
He’s a eurosceptic! This is the Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell line, and also one that some British journalists have followed. Look at this man who has gained 30% of the vote in Italy, and he wants to break up the Euro! He’s one of us!
He’s a lefty! He wants to end austerity. So he is daring to say what the others do not say. He’s the darling of the alternative left.
He’s wants to keep Italy Italian! He does not want to give Italian citizenship to the children of immigrants, and so he’s one of the defenders of the nation. The British media has drawn parallels between him and Nigel Farage, and indeed there would be a parallel with Timo Soini too.
He’s building a networked, bottom-up movement against the mainstream! The M5S is like the German Pirate Party. Only it has a leader, and they ended up getting a lot more votes than the Pirates did. But M5S does have good online networking among its members.
He’s doing old style politics on the street, in the way traditional parties don’t do any more! Grillo and M5S packed town squares for face-to-face meetings during the election campaign, so is his movement actually a return back to the traditions of politics?
I think by now you get the idea, and this is before I even throw in a healthy dose of the the specific Grillo and Italian factors. Grillo himself is a one-off, a maverick with no neat parallel in other countries. Italian politics has had more than its fair share of problems and scandals over the years, and those too shape the Grillo and M5S context.