Beppe Grillo: The demagogic comedian who could be Italy’s kingmaker

A look at the Beppe Grillo phenomenon, with the comedian & founder of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement set to play kingmaker in the Italian elections.

Shamik Das will be reporting from Italy for Left Foot Forward as next week’s parliamentary elections approach. Today he looks at the Beppe Grillo phenomenon, with the comedian and founder of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement set to play the role of kingmaker

Silvio Berlusconi finally has a rival for the role of Roman jester, a larger-than-life fellow counterweight to the more serious Pier Luigi Bersani and Mario Monti, complete with controversial past and reality-lite policies… Step forward Beppe Grillo, the man who could hold Italy’s future in his hands.

Grillo’s FSM is riding high in the polls, at up to 17.5% (six points higher than the Monti coalition) in the latest SWG survey of voter intentions, which puts them on course for 10% of the seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. In the event of a Monti-Bersani alliance, Grillo could hold the key to the stability and duration of such a coalition.

Grillo made his political career almost entirely online, using social media to raise funds, grow his movement and wreak havoc on the establishment, including, in 2007, a mass “Vaffanculo-Day Celebration”. His blog remains one of the most powerful, most read in the world, devastatingly simplistic, with features including a list of convicted Italian parliamentarians, enabling him to stake his claim to the anti-corruption mantle.

But what lies behind the anti-politics, outsider activist schtick, and will his support hold?

Bersani’s Partito Democratico dismiss Grillo as “trendy, sexy, lightweight”, a poseur whipping up crowds into a frenzy by telling them what they want to hear, promising the undeliverable, raising false hope; naked, crass populism without a credible solution in sight.

A PD spokesman told Left Foot Forward:

“His non-traditional, populist movement varies from extreme right to extreme left. Their support is not deeply rooted, it’s non-ideological and very light. If you listen to a Grillo supporter for 10 minutes, then talk to them for five, 50 per cent of them will change their mind.

It’s considered an easy vote, voting Grillo is the easiest way to say ‘f*** off’ to everyone… The movement was born on the web, and is now holding rallies, but the web is still the best place to meet them all and engage; it’s not as useful meeting them at his rallies.”


“There are a huge number of ‘anti’ voters, against everything. The next big thing is Grillo, I wouldn’t be surprised if Grillo takes votes off Berlusconi. Voting Grillo has become, in the final few weeks, a trendy attitude – if everyone does the same, you just follow.

“They’re libertarian, anarchist, anti-establishment… To them, the system is bankrupt, everything; it’s a revolutionary message.”

As Global Post notes, that “revolutionary message” has the die hards purring at his feet, however fanciful some of his ideas may seem:

Come snow blizzards, rain or shine, disgruntled voters sick of the fraud scandals tainting Italian politics or squeezed by high taxes and a recession, mass to hear Grillo’s radical plan for “creating a new Italy from scrap.”

M5S proposals are driven by idealism, from free Internet for everyone and electronic tablets for all school children, to launching a green economy, tax cuts, reducing the working week to 20 hours and revolutionising health care.

The young candidates jostling for parliament seats say the aim is to swap the PIL (Gross Domestic Product) with the BIL – “Gross Domestic Happiness”.

We’ll find out next week whether a 20-hour week or “Gross Domestic Happiness” are more than just slogans, whether the FSM’s “pop-u-list-a” policies make it beyond the election campaign, and whether Grillo really will be the Kingmaker in the pack.

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10 Responses to “Beppe Grillo: The demagogic comedian who could be Italy’s kingmaker”

  1. me

    Plus, the writer of this piece is clearly biased: he is a PD supporter, has followed the PD around.
    And why does Google list this completely unknown blog as the third “news” source after journals as the FT. The entire staff of this blog is comprised of British people with very clear ties with he Institutionalized British Labour Party and with no knowledge whatsoever of Italy. Just because the news are in English, it does not mean that the opinions and prejudices of English mother-tongues have any value as news !!!! Who paid for this unknown blog to appear as a “source” on Grillo on Google?????

  2. Mass from Singapore

    Italian politics are old and entrenched..we barely had a short lived moment of a possibly fresh, young and more direct approach to Italian politics through Mr. Renzi of the Democratic Party but he had to bow down to the ‘old guard’ Bersani. Once again we Italians are presented with the same old political faces with the same old ideas and promises which point in one direction: get back into the saddle in parliament and get paid by the Italian tax payers to talk and talk and talk. Unfortunately when it comes to accountability they continue to talk and talk and…oh yeah I nearly forgot..point fingers at each other while the Italian tax payer pays and pays and pays.

    Italy must change and Italians must change. In my view they are obliged to get out of the leftist and rightist mentalities which are old and essentially useless. As such we need to do away with the old and that means do away with politicians who are still running for prime minister when they are nearly 80 years old. Politicians who are convicted criminals. Politicians who have been around since forever and have essentially never distinguished themselves in anything let alone working in a result-oriented manner. Hustlers whom the Italian media are more than happy to give media coverage to in order to sell magazines, newspapers and increase audience shares.

    If the M5S can do something about ridding the cancer which has developed over the decades then be it. That is only the first step. The second will have to come from the Italian people themselves. To change their mindsets and questioning their true values.

  3. Dave_Mowers

    Just like in America when Obama won the first time the media, beltway insiders, Republican Party and leading Democrats all missed the point Americans made; we had been lied to enough and enough was enough. It was not about elected the first African-American President, it was not about the Iraq War lies, it was about the blatant corruption and the economy being looted by Wall Street and then Wall Street and the rich get free money from a bail out and SECRET LOAN PROGRAMS BY THE FEDERAL RESERVE. We didn’t elected Obama because we were upset, we elected him because we are on the verge of flipping out and rioting.

    Arrest Wall Street bankers, give them life sentences, file charges of Treason against U.S. defense contractors that get caught stealing and HANG THEM PUBLICLY, give life sentences to any person who uses their federal office or elected office to pick a winner or loser or game the system for a corporate interest and give every American EQUAL ACCESS TO CHEAP MONEY AND CREDIT CREATED BY THE F-KING BANK WE OWN; the Federal Reserve.

  4. Luciano Sabba

    Grillo and his 5SM are the most impressive / extraordinary events intended to rid of the rotten political system Italy is in with years of corruption, money scandals, etc,.

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