She’s a woman. She’s a mother. She’s a Christian. She’s Italian. That’s what Giorgia Meloni preached last year during her campaign to become Italy’s premier, before she assumed office in October of the same year. She wanted us to know she wasn’t messing about. She ticked off the four key requirements of hardcore traditionalist Italian womanhood. It worked.
A quarter of all Italian women who voted in last year’s election voted for her, according to the national research institute Demopolis. A further 68% voted for her party, Fratelli d’Italia, because they believed in Meloni’s leadership.
I can see why she won. She had a presence about her that the other candidates lacked. She knew how to work a crowd, she wasn’t afraid of being gutsy and, importantly, she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her working-class childhood struck a chord with many of the voters. She was relatable. Formidable, too. Only 32% of women in Italy have leadership positions, according to the World Economic Forum. I even found myself starting to like her as a person throughout her campaign, though I will always disagree with her politics.
But what about her politics? “She hasn’t really done much at all, has she? I expected a bit more,” my elderly neighbour said. It’s a common view.
Other reactions range from “meh”, to, “it’s been a hard year”, to a simple eye roll. Data has not yet been released on what percentage of her voters regret their choice, but most agree that not much has been achieved. Taxes have not been cut, the cost of living is increasing, and the economy is not booming.
Meloni’s audience, formerly besotted, are now indifferent. And what of her four keywords: woman, mother, Italian and Christian? Well – she publicly defended her now ex-partner, Andrea Giambruno, for his comment that drunk women were “asking for it”. She said that his comment had been misinterpreted. At the time, Italy had been horrified by news of two gang rapes that had taken place in August.
“If you go dancing you have every right to get drunk,” he said during a live broadcast on Italy’s Rete 4. “But if you avoid getting drunk and losing consciousness, maybe you would also avoid getting into specific problems because that’s when you find the wolf.”
Violence against women in Italy is a huge issue. Jumping to her partner’s defence did not suggest she was attuned to the cause of women’s rights.
The government’s draft plan for the 2024 budget, which has begun its passage through parliament, includes proposals to increase VAT on baby formula, nappies and baby food. Back in July, her government also wanted to make surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy, illegal for Italians to have abroad, too. So much for supporting motherhood.
She has been questioned many times on why she did not marry her partner before giving birth to their daughter, Ginevra. While I personally think this is wildly unfair to ask of her, or of anyone, Meloni makes a lot of her christianity, and Italy is still a very Catholic country. She’s made a big deal out of her religion. But it now has the distinct feel of political contrivance about it.
Lastly, Meloni leads a party in which three quarters of the membership do not have trust in the EU. Since her election, it has become clear she recognises that an isolated Italy will fail to function, a view that traditionally goes against the grain of far-right parties, and certainly her own.
She comes across well enough when talking to other EU leaders. It seems that the all-out Italian pride that characterised her campaign has moderated somewhat when confronted with the realities of international diplomacy.
Her “four pillars”, then, do not seem to have stood up to the reality of office, and her voters’ hopes are suffering accordingly. Italy has a history of premiers not completing their tenure. Will Meloni be any different?