In Italy, the voter turnout for the European Parliament elections in June was one of the highest in Europe, at around 65 per cent. Why was it that a third more of the population than in Britain turned out to vote there? What’s their secret?
After all the political analysis and theorising, the answer may actually come down to a caravan, a sound-system, and an ageing reggae MC.
Of course it’s possible that Italian voters were provoked into voting by Silvio Berlusconi’s continuing personal dramas: his public marital arguments; his non-“spicy” relationship with 18-year-old Noemi Letizia; the pictures published in the Spanish newspaper El País of naked men and young women wandering around his Sardinian villa. And yet Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party secured victory with around 35 per cent of the vote — not an overwhelming success, but still over seven per cent more than the Conservative party secured in the UK.
So maybe it’s the bizarre campaigning tactics that I witnessed in Sicily just before the election that made all the difference. In general, the people of Catania brought a kind of old-school, cunning, participative enthusiasm to the elections that you wouldn’t see in Britain: young boys wandered around the streets pasting their candidate’s fly poster over other candidates’ faces, only for someone else to come and do the same again a bit later. But most surreal of all were the political rallies (if that’s what you could call them). I stumbled upon one in the university square without realising, thinking that it was some kind of street party, until I noticed the candidate’s face plastered on a caravan which had been converted into a bar. A few hundred people were dancing in the square to a fat Sicilian man who looked about 50 years old and was chatting over a beat that varied from ragga and reggae, to drum ‘n’ bass.
The British equivalent would be absurd — Mick Hucknall rapping away about the joys of Eric Pickles, perhaps — and yet in Sicily it seemed to work. And this wasn’t a fringe event for a nonentity: it was for Rita Borsellino, a respected politician and sister of the murdered anti-mafia judge Paolo Borsellino. She represented the Democratic Party, which came second overall with 28 per cent. How can politicians in Italy pull this off with dignity when ours can’t even have a photo-op at the seaside without embarrassing themselves?
The Italian attitude to campaigning gives us an insight into the British relationship with our own politicians, which since the expenses scandal is worse than ever. Why is it so hard to envisage getting into the party spirit with them without becoming suspicious or wanting to cringe? We seem to look upon them as a separate species, aliens who have lost touch with the modern world and who are there to be despised or laughed at. But we’re in serious danger of entrenching a situation in which it’s impossible to have anything like a natural relationship with the people governing our lives.
So maybe grabbing a beer from a caravan and having a dance ostensibly in the name of politics might do us some good, although that seems the last thing on anyone’s mind just now. At least we’d get some alcohol and entertainment — and after all, we’ve probably paid for it.