Renzi: "Against populists the left wins from the centre"

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dona italiaviva

A letter published by the Italian newspaper "la Repubblica", 24th November, 2020.

Dear Editor,

your editorial on Sunday on the new progressive path of Biden-Starmer touches on an important matter for me and for Italia Viva. However, above all, it touches on the key issue of the future of Europe. The reflections of the Secretary of the PD Nicola Zingaretti and of the former editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, that La Repubblica published yesterday enrich this debate. I would like to add three brief considerations of my own.

Firstly, the US elections show that there is still a difference between left and right. I would say more: there is an abyss between Trump's right and Biden's left but there is also a strong difference between left and left. If Sanders or Warren had run, Trump would today be preparing for his second term, not playing golf. Biden won because he won from the centre. Biden won because he won as a reformist. Biden won because without winning Arizona or Pennsylvania, the radical left would continue to do what it has always done best all over the world: opposition. You rightly quote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: with AOC you win a congressional district in New York, with Biden you win the White House.

Secondly, the UK saw the tragic defeat of Ed Miliband and then of Jeremy Corbyn. With Blair the radical left grumbled and moaned but Labour won. With Miliband junior and Corbyn the radical left rejoiced but the Conservative party ended up in government. Starmer understands this well and now speaks of family and security, not of nationalization and subsidies. He aims for an alliance with Biden, in an updated version of the historic relationship between Clinton and Blair, as a path to government. The next elections in the U.K will be in 2024: there is plenty of time to consolidate this partnership. Certain analogies could return, let's not forget that Blair took over the leadership of his country four and a half years after Clinton, not right away. In the meantime I remember for years how my leadership of the PD (during which we achieved the best electoral result ever since 1958, almost 41% before the 'friendly fire' from the internal opposition) was undermined by those who insisted on the fact that we should abandon the doctrines of Obama and the Blair to copy instead the ones of Sanders and Corbyn. I'm glad I never followed the advice of these visionary prophets.

Thirdly, if indeed the strategy is of a major call to arms against international populism (and Blinken's appointment as Secretary of State would reinforce this hypothesis) another participant is missing. That would be the European Progressives. A Europe that is not only against the Hungarian, Polish and Le Pen-style populists (i.e against the friends of Salvini and Meloni) but also a Europe that is different from Angela Merkel’s EPP, who will soon leave the German chancellery after 16 years. Who is the main leader of this progressive Biden-Starmer alliance in Europe today? In my opinion, the strongest leadership in liberal and socialist families is necessarily that of Emmanuel Macron. Here comes the question of where Italy stands in the political debate between now and the next two years, when there will be elections both in Germany and France and where the decisive challenge of the Recovery Fund will be played out. Where the great environmental issue raised by Obama with the Paris conference (it was such an honor for us to sign those accords) are re-launched by us all as a central issue as Biden reigns back Trump's short-sighted choice to abandon the fight against climate change.

We gave birth to a government that split the populist front, sending Salvini to the opposition and moving the Conte administration to pro-European positions that are diametrically opposed to those of the previous “yellow-green” government. The most obvious symbol of this is Di Maio, who met the anti-government “Gilets Jaunes” in France in 2019, but then in 2020 negotiates the entry of his Five Star Movement into Macron's party in Europe. Our move was a tactical masterpiece that permitted Italy to govern the pandemic with an administration on the side of science and common sense that does not follow the raving absurdities of populists. But it is not enough. Precisely for the reasons you write, there is a need for a different and deeper look at the world.

If, as Barber says, the risk is that of a final challenge between liberal democracy and populism, Italy must be in the fight, without fear of getting our hands dirty. It will be up to Conte, Zingaretti and the other leaders to decide whether to be protagonists of the new page of history that the victory of President Biden opens for Italy and for Europe, or whether to spend the time that separates us from the election of President Mattarella's successor in a tired daily quarrel without vision.