The No vote in the Italian referendum had nothing to do with populism and everything to do with Matteo Renzi

James Newell writes: Like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the outcome of the Italian referendum has been a great surprise, but for the opposite reason: polls suggested that the result would be very close and instead there has been a decisive and unequivocal result: on a very high 68 per cent turnout, Italians have turned their backs on the proposed constitutional reforms by 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

Let us be clear: this has been no “anti-establishment, populist revolt”. The division between Yes and No cross-cut the usual political and social divisions. The No side mobilised people on the left and the right; populists and anti-populists; members of the liberal elite and those in less exalted circumstances. Renzi was no establishment figure, to the contrary: he sought to sell his proposed reforms as part of a campaign to sweep away vested interests. His appeals – to reduce the powers of the Senate, to reduce the costs of politics, to cut the number of parliamentarians – were all couched in classic populist terms.

The sheer size of the No vote discredits simplistic interpretations of the outcome as yet another expression of populist fervour. Rather, the vote was the expression of a range of different types of No: a No to the specific constitutional reforms being proposed; a No to the political elites in general; a No to the current economic and social malaise; above all a No to the Renzi government. For Renzi some months ago had staked his entire future on the outcome by framing the vote as a plebiscite on him and his executive. [Continue reading…]

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