Five Star Movement

Five Star Movement (M5S). The Five Star Movement is one of Italy’s newest parties (though members deny that it is a party, insisting that it is a ‘movement’), and also one of its most notable. Its result in the 2013 election received international attention.

The M5S is the brainchild of Beppe Grillo, a famous comedian well known for his satire on Italian politicians. In the internet age Grillo became one of Italy’s most popular bloggers.

Grillo started the M5S in 2010.

The party, is, at its core, a populist anti-corruption movement. The movement is extremely critical of Italy’s politicians and views the entire political elite as corrupt. According to Grillo, the system is rotten to its core, career politicians are ‘parasites’ who live at the expense of taxpayers and bring nothing but misery to Italy. Grillo is a foulmouthed and populist leader, whose prior tirades have included a declaration that Italy’s politicians are worse than the mafia or a tongue-in-cheek call on terrorists to blow up the Italian parliament.

M5S believes that representative democracy is dead. It wants to destroy the entire political system, and build a new one in its place built upon direct democracy and participation through the internet. The party is an advocate of ‘zero-cost’ politics, based upon the abolition of public subsidies for parties (which M5S, itself, refuses to take) and massive slashes in politicians pay. The party wants to see the

The party itself is run through e-democracy. The party’s critics, however, allege that in reality Grillo controls the party via his blog. He is sometimes accused of demagoguery.

Besides its anti-corruption and democratic reform stances the party embraces rather left-libertarian views.

Its ‘five stars’ are public water, sustainable transport, economic development, internet connectivity and environmentalism.

The party supports free internet, pacifism, same-sex marriage, large-scale energy projects and teleworking. Economically it is anti-austerity. It also has anti-tax views. It also supports ‘degrowth’, an ecologist, and anti-capitalist economic policy that views overconsumption as at the heart of environmental problems and social inequality. Degrowth instead suggests well-being is better maximised through sharing work, consuming less, and devoting more time to family, culture and community. The party supports a 20 hour working week, monthly stipends for the unemployment and debt renegotiation.

The party is Eurosceptic. It, in particular, desires to leave the Euro and return to the ‘good old days’ of the lira, when Italy could have devalued its currency by a good 40-50% to deal with its problems.

M5S’s growth has been incredibly. The party’s first outing, in the 2010 regional elections, saw it win only 2-6% of the vote.  In the May 2012 elections the party shocked observers by winning up to 14% in some major cities and towns.  The party surged in polls. The October 2012 election (in which Grillo swam across the strait from the mainland) was another success for the party as it won 15% of the vote – enough to become the most popular party in a highly fragmented field.

In the 2013 election the party achieved a stunning victory, winning 25.6% of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies. This made it the most popular single party in Italy, and leaving it as the third force in a ‘hung’ parliament between a centre-left coalition led by the PD and a centre-right one led by Berlusconi.

This was the greatest single breakthrough for a genuinely new Italian party in Italian history, surpassing even Forza Italia’s 1994 breakthrough. In many ways M5S’s breakthrough is even more impressive considering that Berlusconi’s victory was that of a wealthy billionaire entering the political system. Berlusconi had allied himself with existing politicians and parties.

M5S, by contrast, had no experienced politicians affiliated to it. It had no ‘star candidate’ (it did not even have Grillo, unable to run due to a criminal conviction in the 1980s). It was funded principally through internet crowdfunding.

Berlusconi owned the country’s largest private television network. Grillo, on the other hand, rejected TV outright, viewing it as corrupt. His party members are banned from appearing on TV. Instead he appealed directly to the populace with a mixture of traditional campaigning techniques (big speeches to crowds in plazas in small towns across Italy) and through pioneering use of social media. No other Italian politician, and perhaps no other politician at all, has demonstrated the intrinsic understanding of social media and the internet that Grillo has.

The party’s supporters in that election differed widely from the usual supporters of populist parties. The party’s supporters tend to be more educated than average. They also actually appear to be underrepresented amongst the youth, with supporters largely middle-aged. They tend to have low trust in public institutions (including non-governmental ones like the Catholic Church). Unlike most populist parties most are actually supporters of immigration. The party’s appeal seems to predominantly lie with well-educated but unemployed or low income men. The party’s initial support originated on the left, particularly the far-left, but it increasingly draws support from the right too, and in 2013 around 44% of its support had voted for Berlusconi in the prior election (against 34% for the centre-left). Interestingly, however, the M5S’s voters were more likely to vote for the anti-corruption Italy of Values and the populist Lega Nord than Italians at large.

After the election the centre-left attempted to appeal to the M5S, or individual M5S MPs, to support its government, but Grillo, perceiving the major parties as one and the same (and probably realising that to do so would devastate his movement), refused, forcing the major parties to create the current left-right unity government.

The party has subsequently had to deal with some internal strife, with some MPs wishing to work with mainstream politicians or criticising Grillo’s leadership, who dissidents accuse of acting like an autocrat. The party has fallen back slightly in polls to around 21-24%.

The M5S is, unsurprisingly, not a member of any European political party. It is unlikely to choose to join one, both because of its general Euroscepticism and refusal to cooperate with existing political elites, but also because of its own ideological uniqueness. It is probably closest to a Pirate party in terms of ideology, and amongst European parliament groups it is probably closest to the European Green Party, but it still differs widely from the pro-European EGP.


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