Douglas Carswell

24 FEB 2013

Italy's Five Star Movement - a sign of things to come?

Italy goes to the polls, and the centre left Democratic Party is expected by many to win.

For me the Italian poll is intriguing because of the Five Star Movement - last recorded on 18 percent in the polls.

What is Five Star?  I'm not really sure.  It is part protest movement against the established parties, and part online campaign for more direct democracy.  Its manifesto seems not so much left or right wing, but radical.

Perhaps the best way to think of Five Star is to imagine what might happen if Guido Fawkes started to run candidates.  

Five Star selected parliamentary candidates through open primaries, something some of us have been calling for in this country.  It is fiercely against unaccountable elites, making it Eurosceptic and localist.

Will it do well?  I have no idea.  But however it fares, it is, I sense, a straw in the wind.  

Political parties are in the business of retail.  They exist to get the rest of us to buy into their politics and politicians.  

But the internet is transforming retail.  Established retailers, with declining market share and costly overheads, are going under (think HMV).  Nimble upstarts that offer niche choices to everyone are springing up (think Spotify).

Might the same happen in politics?  Thanks to the internet, the barriers to entry are falling.  The digital revolution makes it possible to aggregate opinion and create a political brand without having a large corporate party structure. 

Established political parties will either have to become the political equivalent of spotify - keen on self-selection, easy to dip in and out of, able to cater to niche, distinctive and particular tastes - or they will go the way of HMV. 

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