Start spreading the news: We haven’t seen the last of Matteo Renzi

Like Frank Sinatra during his extended swansong, Matteo Renzi is saying farewell with no intention of going anywhere.

Start spreading the news: We haven't seen the last of Matteo Renzi
Matteo Renzi arrives at the Quirinale Presidential Palace on December 7th. Photo: AFP

The outgoing Italian Prime Minister bowed out Wednesday, three days after his constitutional reform proposals were booed off by voters.

And just like 'Ol' Blue Eyes', the ambitious 41-year-old exits the stage with his sights on a comeback.

What is uncertain is whether his party or the electorate want an encore from a performer who fluffed his lines when he gambled on the referendum.

Regrets? He admitted he'd had a few when he first said he was going to quit, in the wee small hours of the morning, on Monday.

But by Wednesday afternoon, when he went to President Sergio Mattarella to tender his resignation, he was signalling they were really too few to mention.

He was leaving Italy as a country with “fewer taxes and more rights,” he said in a farewell speech that sounded like an election campaign launch.

Can Renzi return as king of the hill? That will depend on behind-the-scenes discussions within his divided Democratic Party (PD).

In the short-term at least, Italy's youngest ever premier will remain top of the party heap.

But some PD barons are frustrated at being excluded from Renzi's ratpack and with the young leader always wanting to do things his way.

With an election possibly only a little over two months away, Renzi's sure-footedness and popularity are both under scrutiny.

In Sinatra terms, the pledge to quit if he lost the referendum looks like a case of 'Fools rush in where wise men never go …'

Hubris then nemesis 

To Renzi's critics, it was a sign of the hubris that had come to define hi premiership.

Nemesis, when it came, was brutal. Italians massively rejected Renzi's reform plan.

Most worryingly for PD strategists, the poll breakdown also pointed to young voters being most likely to reject Renzi's vision and PD support being eroded in its heartlands.

Renzi seemed to succumb to over-confidence after a prodigious rise.

He was just 39 when he took office in February 2014, using his control of the PD apparatus to orchestrate the ditching of his predecessor, Enrico Letta, days after reassuring him he was safe.

With that coup, Renzi had gone from being mayor of Florence to running the country in just three months. He enjoyed an extended honeymoon after settling into Palazzo Chigi, the premier's official residence in Rome.

Italians seemed to welcome the youthful premier as a breath of fresh air that would blow away the memories of Silvio Berlusconi's unproductive, often embarrassing, years in office.

Drawing inspiration from Barack Obama's “Yes We Can” campaign, Renzi promised far-reaching change and earned himself a reputation as a workaholic.

Burning midnight oil 

His schoolteacher wife Agnese and three children stayed at the family home in Tuscany while Renzi burned the midnight oil in Rome, doing deals to get his reforms through parliament or toiling on the detail of policy initiatives.

But as a sluggish economic recovery failed to gain any real momentum, discontent began to mount and Renzi began to be viewed as part of the problem, not the solution.

It was a turnaround the former Catholic boy scout was not prepared for and even a ringing endorsement from Obama could not lift his flagging fortunes.

Grumbling in his own party culminated in former Prime Minister Massimo d'Alema calling Renzi a Twitter-obsessed “oaf” while the left kept sniping away at what they saw as a dangerously pro-business agenda.

Renzi delivered significant labour market reform, a modest recovery and  oversaw Italy granting legal recognition to gay relationships for the first time.

But the recovery was not strong enough to pay any real dividends politically, the labour reforms have yet to turn into significant jobs growth and critics noted that Renzi had mostly side-stepped the battle over legislation on same-sex civil unions, which was diluted in the end.

Renzi has been a full-time activist or politician since he finished legal studies in his native Florence. But for a brief spell in the family advertising business in his early 20s, it is all he has done and all the signs
Wednesday were that is what he wants to continue doing.

By Angus MacKinnon


Salvini to hold Rome rally to boost Italian right

Italy's strongman Matteo Salvini is to hold a key rally in Rome Saturday aimed at re-launching the Italian right and making a power-grab for the capital.

Salvini to hold Rome rally to boost Italian right
League leader Matteo Salvini at the party's annual rally in Pontida in September 15. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Some eight special trains and 400 coaches are ferrying in supporters from across the country for the “Italian Pride” demonstration, with the crowds also set for a speech from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Salvini, head of the far-right League party, pulled support from the previous populist government over the summer in a bid to spark elections he was convinced he could win to govern the eurozone's third-largest economy alone.
That plan failed when his former coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, sealed a deal with the centre-left Democratic Party to form a new government. But after suffering a blip, the League's popularity has risen again in opposition.
Recent polls put the anti-immigration party at between 30 to 33 percent of voter intentions, well ahead of the Five Star (M5S) and Democratic Party (PD), which have dropped slightly to between 18 and 20 percent each.
With the current left-leaning government seeking to change the electoral law to prevent Salvini triumphing alone at the next elections, the 46-year old hopes to unite parties on the right and centre-right under his leadership.
Forza Italia head Berlusconi, 83, whose party has been in a lengthy slump, appears open to just such an alliance, along with the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy.
Salvini in August had refuted the idea of a tie-up with Forza Italia, saying the League “needs nothing and no-one”. Nevertheless, Salvini has a reputation for changing his mind so often on so many issues that he should come with a warning that his statements were “irreversibly reversible”, editorialist Mattia Feltri wrote this week in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Neo-fascist party CasaPound is also expected at Saturday's rally, while a small counter-protest will be held in a nearby square.
City needs love
Political analysts say Salvini has set his sights on taking Rome and hope the right-wing alliance could carry him to victory in key upcoming regional elections, potentially setting him up for a win on a national level.
He “is doing what he fundamentally does best: opposition on the ground. Among the people,” said the Open news website.
The next general election is not due until 2023, but the current governing coalition of former foes is shaky and may not last.
Salvini has waged war on Rome's mayor, M5S member Virginia Raggi, calling for her resignation, and will circulate a popular petition Saturday demanding she step down now, two years before her term is due to end.
The League head took part in a sit-in against Raggi earlier this month. He then did Facebook live videos from places he says symbolise the city's decline, from an abandoned stadium to a residential area besieged by illegal dump sites.
“We need a mayor capable of loving this city and cleaning it up,” he said to Raggi, telling her to go back to being a mum.
'Hands off Rome'
Raggi, 41, has come under intense fire for the city's ongoing garbage crisis and beleaguered transport services, which have existed for decades. She has blamed the problems on organised crime and corruption in previous administrations.
“Hands off Rome,” she tersely replied to Salvini on Twitter.
The League leader has found an unlikely ally in his battle against Raggi in former prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Beyond that, the two Matteos profess to have little in common. As Salvini rallies Saturday, Renzi will be drumming up support for his new centrist Italia Viva party at a Florence convention.