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Italian elections 2022

I read somewhere this week, “two bad winters and we get Hitler”. Someone was trying to predict the damage the energy crisis will do to western democracies.

An election in Sweden, of all places, saw the Sweden Democrats on the verge of Government after being ostracised for years because of their neo-Nazi roots.

Then we had the Italian elections last weekend and a clear victory for the far right Brothers of Italy. The Brothers also have their roots in the fascist movement and video emerged last weekend of one of their Councillors doing a stiff-armed salute at a funeral.

My own concern is that all of this is going to get worse before it gets better. History demonstrates that what could happen is not novel.

As far back as Plato’s Republic, warnings about demagogues using elections and wild promises have been heard. Professor Angie Hobbs from the University of Sheffield put it like this.

“The demogogue gains power by democratic means, claiming to be a champion of ‘the people’ and making wild promises; in particular he offers intoxicating quantities of the neat spirit of independence. Anyone who opposes the demagogue is labelled an ‘enemy of the people’ and exiled and killed”.

The US inserted provisions in its constitution in 1787 to try to prevent the election of populist demagogues. The Electoral College was designed to ensure that the people didn’t make the mistake of electing someone "not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications" as Alexander Hamilton put in the Federalist Papers - that didn’t stand the test of time.

The energy and cost of living crisis is coming after a prolonged period of quantitative easing - essentially printing money. As a history teacher, I told my students that printing money caused enormous inflation in Germany bringing the Weimar Republic to its knees.

So we have massive debt to which countries are now adding further mountains of debt. Where does this end up? Ireland’s national debt is €250 billion or €55,000 per person.

On top of that, inflation is a huge problem and some Economists see it as a way that democracies die. Central banks primary mandate is to keep inflation under control - and for a very good reason.

Now they are running interest rates up to try to control demand and bring prices back down. Inflation destroys the savings of the middle classes and imperils their future. Pension pots and cash deposits go to nothing.

So now Georgia Meloni is due to become the first far-right Prime Minister of Italy since Mussolini, who took power almost exactly 100 years ago on October 29th 2022.

Curiously, Ms Meloni and I both became our respective country’s Minister for Youth within 24 hours of each other; May 7th 2008 in my case and May 8th 2008 in hers.

But there the similarities end. As a teenager, she joined the neo-fascist Youth Front. She was groomed by Silvio Berlusconi (in the political sense) and it was he who appointed her Minister for Youth. She is against marriage equality, multiculturalism and the EU.

Despite saying a lot of scary things in opposition, she has tried to reassure people that she is more like a UK Conservative or a US Republican than a fascist - this won’t come as much comfort for anyone familiar with Boris Johnson or Donald Trump; effectively, she is saying I’m not really a fascist - I’m more like Donald Trump, who is a fascist.

Her Government’s attitude to Putin will be watched carefully. We have a climate crisis, an energy crisis and a Ukraine crisis - sadly, we also have a democracy crisis.

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