Demsoc member Jon Worth has written a very readable analysis of Beppe Grillo’s success in the Italian elections (Grillo or Eastleigh? Give me Grillo any day).

Jon is right that the Italian electoral system has just shown it permits dissenting voices more than the 2.5-party system in the UK, though there is a counter-argument (made by Chris Terry on the ERS blog) that the system promotes radical dissent over moderate dissent, by sweeping small parties out of parliament or into mainstream coalitions.

However, I’m not sure that Grillo is a positive sign for democratic reformers. I would say it was equally likely he is one of Gramsci’s morbid symptoms. My biggest disagreement with Jon is when he says:

“the M5S culture is genuinely participative in the way no traditional party in Europe has yet become.”

I have seen no evidence that the M5S culture is internally participative. I can see that the M5S manifesto contains some democratising reforms (abrogative referendums, debates on what we would call e-petitions if past a certain threshold), and hurrah for that, but the reality is not as radical as the rhetoric. The proposals are certainly not transformative on the community or citizen level, they are rather a set of constitution-level reforms which a mainstream party could equally well produce.

English: Beppe Grillo, Italian comedian, activ...

Beppe Grillo, Italian comedian, activist and blogger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am sure, too, that there is a general desire for reformed participative democracy among the M5S members and voters, but that has not been translated into a movement that is in fact participative or democratic in itself. The very useful Demos pamphlet that Jon links to suggests rather that the movement is an absolutist Grillocrazia.

I don’t think that’s good enough. If you are promoting democratic reform, you have to do so in a democratic way. If you want openness and transparency, you have to be open and transparent yourself, and in every channel (not, as Grillo has proposed, banning candidates from speaking to the media).

We will now see what M5S do in Parliament, and this will be the real test. To say the least, moving from insurgency to the floor of the chamber is going to be a challenge. It’s even more of a challenge when the movement leader (who can deselect MPs on a whim) will be outside the chamber, blogging away.

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Written by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

This article has 1 comments

  1. Jon Worth

    All fair points. But the question is surely: without such a role for Grillo, where would M5S be? Back on 5% or something. This is because we do not yet have genuinely deeply participative movements that actually get anywhere – leadership, albeit a different sort of leadership, is as vital as ever. Also, conversely, while your critique of M5S internally is a valid one, how much better is the mainstream left, or Berlusconi on this point? For while these parties might formally have better systems for participation, do they work in practice?