Italian conservatives are poised for a Renaissance

by Tommaso Venditti

The conservative movement has a long history in Italy, with many changes over time.

Nowadays, the most well-known conservative politicians are Matteo Salvini, Giorgia Meloni and Silvio Berlusconi, with their political parties, respectively “Lega”, “Fratelli D’Italia” and “Forza Italia”. Nevertheless, there are some clear differences among them in terms of principles and main ideas.

Firstly, Salvini has been revamping his party. “Lega” started as a movement in the north of Italy, whose core value was the contraposition of the traditionally wealthier northern regions to the poorer southern regions of Italy. Salvini became part of government last year, signing the so called “patto giallo-verde” with the anti-establishment party known as “The Five Star Movement”. By doing so, he had to make some changes, including changing the party’s name, because once in government the party represented more than just the north.

Furthermore, he had to come to a compromise with the other ruling party, but even though he softened his political stance, conflict was inevitable. These conflicts with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, especially over migration, eventually caused the government to fall, and has led to Italy being ruled by a coalition of left-wing parties, who formed an unstable coalition to deny Salvini an election whilst he had political momentum.

Salvini’s decision to create a coalition government with a left-wing anti-establishment party was badly received by Giorgia Meloni, who has maintained a consistent opposition to the “patto giallo-verde”. Through her determined and principled stance of refusing to compromise on her core values, Fratelli D’Italia has increased its polling to 11.6% of the national vote, according to “Panorama.it”.

Moreover, Meloni was recently invited to the renowned “National Prayer Breakfast” held in Washington. It is an event which involves important politicians from across the world, and she was the only Italian invited. She praised Trump and called him a “patriot who is worthy of representing a conservative party”. This is another clear indication of Meloni being the best representative of Italian conservatives.

Finally, Berlusconi spent many years in government during the last two decades (2001-2006; 2008-2011). At that time, he embodied Italian conservatives; however, he is now tacking towards more liberal positions. He recently said that this shift is because “Forza Italia” aims to gain votes from moderate voters and thus show conservative parties a different path to election.

The conservative movement in Italy is clearly heterogeneous, containing different ideas and perspectives. Popular accusations, of populism and fascism, from left-wing parties are nonsensical as they seek to tar clearly distinct parties with the same brush. 

Accusations of populism tend to be linked specifically with Salvini, who first came to prominence by using and adopting highly effective political slogans. However, these accusations are patently hypocritical. Left-wing parties, especially socialist groups, use populism as well. For example, during the January elections in the Emilia Romagna region, the socialist movement known as the “Sardines” held several demonstrations of more than 30,000 people. One key theme of their campaign and demonstrations was the constant repetition of right-wing parties (especially Salvini’s) being the “the enemy of the people”. This clearly populist message proved effective and led to the incumbent governor Bonaccini (“Democratic Party”) to be re-elected, overcoming the right parties’ candidate Borgonzoni by 8%.

Furthermore, left-wing parties frequently refer to conservatives as being fascist. It is an awful and completely inaccurate insult. Not only does it insult those accused, but more significantly, it also insults those who suffered under fascism. Fascism is explicitly prevented from rising again by the “Scelba” law, and Italy is still largely sensitive to the topic. However, left-wing politicians often ignore these sensibilities and are happy to throw around disgraceful accusations of fascism at any given moment.

Even though conservatives face several challenges, and although there is no conservative party in government, conservative parties must stand firm. Conservatives are in a strong position to form the next government when the current fragile coalition falls, as it is likely to lead to an election. National polling shows that support for conservatism and its parties is higher than for all other political groups. We may soon have a strong conservative government in Italy.

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