In Italy, famed for its ancient monuments, old is generally synonymous with good, and youthfulness is associated with immaturity and a lack of experience. As a result of this belief, which appears to dominate the Living Museum, many of Italy’s politicians are, to put it mildly, getting on a bit. Right at the top of Italy’s political tree, there is that, admittedly sprightly, septuagenarian, Silvio Berlusconi. To be fair to Berlusconi, there are a few youngish members of his cabinet. These young guns are education reformer Gelmini, legal system tinkerer Alfano, and that hottest of hot Italian female politicians, ex-pin up model, Mara Carafagna, who seems to be responsible for something like equal opportunities, although we have not heard too much from her recently.
However, despite these mild exceptions to the old Italian rule, unless you are a belladona, or a pop star, youth is not an advantage in Italy. Even in the case of Italy’s pop stars, the majority seem to be 30 somethings or older, and 16 year old Brittany Spears equivalents are something of a rarity in the aged and pleasant lands which are Italy. Time magazine seems to think that a certain Matteo Renzi may be able buck Italy’s ageing trends and present the country’s generally dull and staid political class with something fresh. So who is Matteo Renzi?
For an Italian politician Matteo Renzi really is very young at a mere 34. It is not unusual to hear of Italians still at university at this tender young age, so Renzi is something of an exception. He is also a more believable Obama equivalent that the now resigned leader of Italy’s centre left Partito Democratico, Walter Veltroni, attempted to make himself appear. Even more incredibly, for Italy, at 29, Renzi managed to have himself elected as the president of Italy’s province of Florence. No mean feat for such a whippersnapper, especially in a country in which grey hairs seem to equate to political prowess, even if some 70 plus year old Italian politicians do their best to hide those old grey hairs! The young Mr. Renzi has also found time to marry and father three children, a rarity in aging Italy Many Italians wait until their mid-thirties before even thinking about procreating, and even then they only manage to add only one more face to Italy’s population.
Playing on his youthful speed, Renzi has been running rings around his predominantly septuagenarian competition and obtained nearly sixty percent of the votes when he ran for the presidency of the province of Florence. He has some pretty radical ideas for an Italian politician too. For one thing, he is not scared of the word ‘efficiency’ and has been trying to streamline services within the boundaries of his realm. Renzi must be doing something right though, he’s currently the Italian centre-left’s official candidate for the role of Florence’s mayor. Again, he’s beaten Italy’s wrinklies. He is a practicing Catholic, so maybe he has the almighty one on his side, although Renzi does state that he in no way wants to become a Vatican slave.
Like Obama, Renzi has been leveraging the power of Facebook to get his message across. This means he’ll be engaging with many of Italy’s 18 to 35 year olds, which will help him gain a foothold in the hearts and minds of Italy’s oft-disillusioned younger generation, who are becoming a little sick of being told what to do by a bunch of granddads who seem to understand little about the modern world. Still, Facebook domination will not prove to be enough in the event that Matteo Renzi does manage to become the leader of Italy’s weak and wobbly centre left. At election time, Renzi would have to face Mr Media Mighty, Berlusconi who is famous for convincing just about anyone in Italy who watches dreadful Italian TV to vote for him. Renzi would find it difficult to compete against Italy’s Right in terms of media manipulation. In order for him to bounce his way to the very top, he is going to need a very clever communications strategy, and, if he were a little wicked, he could start now by gently pulling the, wobbly, legs of Italy’s pensioner politicians.
Whatever he does, he’s going to need to be more than a mere exception to Italy’s old rules. Matteo Renzi is going to need to be a cross between a genius and a magician. But if he does manage to enchant enough of Italy’s politics-weary population, he may well be the person who can rejuvenate Italy. I, for one, will be watching Renzi’s progress. If he manages to win Florence on the 12th and 13th of June this year, then this will bode well for Italy. Best of luck to him.