The Guardian’s take on Italian cities: leading a center-left renaissance? | Editorial
The surprisingly optimistic autumn for the European center-left continues. Election victories in Germany and Norway continued this week in the south, where town hall surveys in Italy delivered a series of convincing performances by the Democratic Party. Milan, Bologna and Naples all gave strong mandates to progressive candidates; Rome and Turin are expected to follow suit in the second rounds, which take place later this month. If all goes well, a big city siesta will be led by center-left mayors.
The results were greeted with understandable enthusiasm by Enrico Letta, a former Italian prime minister who returned to head the Democratic Party in March. They prove it noted, that “the right is beatable”, after a period during which the far-right Brotherhood of Italy party and the Nationalist League consistently dominated the polls. The particularly poor results of the League, led by Matteo Salvini, and the brutal expulsion of the mayor of the Five Star Movement of Rome, Virginia Raggi, has led some commentators to argue that the Italian populist movements are finally in decline. But suggestions for radical political change may be a bit premature.
As with the French local elections in June, the great history of the polls was arguably the lowest record turn out. The high level of abstention could perhaps be interpreted as a vote of confidence in the popular but unelected prime minister, Mario Draghi. A former head of the European Central Bank, Mr Draghi was appointed to his post amid political chaos last February, since leading a national unity government with minimal fuss. Mr Salvini’s bad night means he is unlikely to leave the coalition in an attempt to force an early election. This may be good for an efficient administration, leaving Mr. Draghi in theory free to rule until 2023. But the combination of voter apathy and a sustained technocratic government is not one that speaks of a democracy in poor health.
The results also reflect a broader European model, where center-left parties win in large urban areas but struggle to achieve similar traction in cities and countryside. As cities have become hubs for the knowledge economy and high-end services, they have rejuvenated with a more educated liberal population. From London to Lyon and Milan to Manchester, it gives a platform for progressive mayors to present center-left and green values. But winning national elections requires a wider geographic and demographic distribution of support. A recent report by the Fabian Society noted that Labor has amassed support in already secure urban constituencies, but failed to make sufficient progress in the towns and villages that make up the vast majority of its target seats. “The party must reconnect outside the big cities to towns and villages of all shapes and sizes,” its author concluded.
In Italy, it is support in places like these that has consistently won first and second place in national polls to the Brothers of Italy and of the League. In France, they constitute the strongholds of the National Rally of Marine Le Pen. To really change the times, Europe’s center-left parties must find a way to win outside their metropolitan comfort zones.