I have something vaguely in common with Roberto Casaleggio and Beppe Grillo. Very vaguely. Italy's Five Star Movement came about through the internet, Grillo's blog, one that swiftly attracted an enormous following, becoming a virtual manifesto for what the Italian electorate were presented with at the weekend. Casaleggio and Grillo have kicked at the political establishment in Italy, at cronyism and the political system. Grillo, banished from mainstream media because he ruffled far too many feathers, especially Berlusconi's, has used alternative means, the internet, to make himself and Casaleggio heard and to rise from nowhere in becoming a political force.
In my student days there was no internet. There were no computers. There were, however, IBM typewriters and duplicators. There was also a group of individuals who created an alternative means of communication with the student body. Ostensibly, this was the magazine for one of the colleges at Lancaster. It swiftly ceased to be just for the college. It became a campus-wide phenomenon. It attacked everyone and everything, especially the student political establishment. The magazine wasn't against political ideologies per se but was against the stupidity of much of the politics.
For six months, the magazine was churned out at least once a week, sometimes more often. In our office, the walls of which became plastered with our own graffiti, there might at any time have been ten or more people: writers, cartoonists and the occasional member of the student establishment who would come on a secret mission to dish some dirt. The magazine rocked that establishment because it appealed to the broad student population that had little interest in student politics as such. It was crude, rude, scurrilous and irreverent. It was also subversive, an alternative form of agitprop turned on the agitpropists themselves.
The magazine folded after six months. The police were threatening to bring an action for obscenity. There was a further threat of libel, though the offending piece was not libellous (I should know because I wrote it). Neither threat came to pass. If the magazine was shut down, all would be forgotten. But it didn't end. The annual union elections were looming. We formed our own party. And we very nearly won.
Casaleggio and Grillo's Five Star Movement has very nearly won. In some respects, it has won. Even if it transpires that the party doesn't come into a coalition, it has won an astonishing victory in terms of turning the political establishment on its head. It has appealed to an electorate battered by austerity and also by the political system.
In Spain, Rajoy and Rubalcaba must be looking at what the Five Star Movement has achieved with horror. While Rubalcaba has achieved the remarkable feat of being less trusted than even Rajoy, both party leaders are viewed with what amounts to contempt. Circumstances aren't the same as in Italy in that there is the King thing as well as the separatist thing, but the political system is in a similar state of disrepute. Could a Five Star Movement rise from nowhere in Spain as well? In a way, it already has, but the "indignados" have not become a political entity as such. There is no obviously populist voice like Grillo.
The Five Star Movement, though, is a curiosity of non-alignment. Those who have been elected are free to make their own decisions. It is a coalition of non-ideology or several ideologies rolled into one. At university we were a mish-mash of left, right, centre and couldn't give a damn. We didn't stand for anything, because to stand for anything would have run counter to the whole purpose of the party.
And this is perhaps the Five Star Movement's weakness. While it professes to be an alternative and to advocate direct democracy and the dismantling of the established political system, how can it now become a part of that system? When we were faced at university with the sudden and horrifying prospect of actually winning, we came to the conclusion that we would promptly resign, were any of us to gain a position.
Ultimately, therefore, perhaps politics always revert to the norm and to the established. There could be a Spanish Five Star Movement but there is equally as likely to be a populist movement predicated on conventional ideologies, either right or left (and I'd suggest that the former, and well to the right as well, would be the more likely of the two). Casaleggio and Grillo have broken the mould, and maybe Spain will follow suit. But if they join in, will they have really broken it or will they just be new pieces in the old mould?
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Index for February 2013
Alcúdia's Mile - 2 February 2013
Balearics Gold Medals and Ramon Llull prizes - 27 February 2013
BBC programmes parody - 10 February 2013
Búger and rude place names - 15 February 2013
Climate change and tourism - 13 February 2013
Coca-Cola and Turespaña marketing assocation - 5 February 2013
Dinosaur theme park - 16 February 2013
Estación náutica Alcúdia - 12 February 2013
Ferdinand VII and football club ownership - 7 February 2013
Five Star Movement - 28 February 2013
Imperfect information - 11 February 2013
Judge José Castro - 25 February 2013
Labour reform - 17 February 2013
Language and Spanish personality - 26 February 2013
Orizonia collapse - 21 February 2013
Partido Popular secret accounts - 1 February 2013, 4 February 2013
President Bauzá's business affairs - 24 February 2013
Russian tourism - 22 February 2013
Santa Margalida and Western Sahara - 20 February 2013
Spain and Rugby World Cup - 8 February 2013
Spain's economy - 14 February 2013
Tour guides and Columbus - 3 February 2013
Tourist product survey - 6 February 2013
Town hall reform - 18 February 2013
Travel writing and Mallorca - 9 February 2013
Urdangarin case - 19 February 2013
Walking and private land - 23 February 2013