Europe

Beppe Grillo: Italy's rabble-rouser shaking up politics

  • 28 February 2013
  • From the section Europe

The BBC's Chris Morris travels to Beppe Grillo's home in Genoa to meet the man who has triggered a quake in Italian politics, and hopes to change the country's political landscape forever.

"When the markets crash because I don't form a coalition, they will say it's Beppe Grillo's fault. In fact, they're saying it already. But it's fake, it's just an excuse."

The man at the centre of Italy's political storm seems remarkably calm.

We're sitting in a room lined with bookshelves in his villa overlooking the sea on the outskirts of Genoa.

There is a grand piano, and a model of the human brain sitting on his desk.

Mr Grillo looks tired, and he is worried about a bloodshot eye. But he says he now has a "happy responsibility".

The stand-up comedian and prolific blogger who barnstormed across Italy in a camper van ("77 rallies and 12,000 kilometres") persuaded one in four Italian voters to back his insurgent Five Star Movement.

His appeal is not so much anti-austerity as anti-establishment, and some of his views are quite striking.

"We want to destroy everything," he says. "But not rebuild with the same old rubble. We have new ideas."

Constructive anger

His opponents argue that he is a populist, who poses a danger to Italian democracy.

His huge public rallies during the election campaign were full of sometimes foul-mouthed rants against the system.

But, he says, the only people who feel threatened by the Five Star Movement are politicians who have failed, not citizens who are demanding better government.

"My anger is constructive," Mr Grillo argues. "They should thank me for giving people hope."

His critics say he has made a name for himself by opposing everything, and he has no realistic policy programme.

But when asked to name his top three priorities, he does not miss a beat: anti-corruption laws, a social safety net for people who are "slipping through the cracks", and incentives for growth - including tax breaks - to help small businesses.

Sometimes his answers seem a little evasive, and he can slip into philosophical generalities. But there is no doubt that he sees himself as a man on a mission "which has only just begun".

He predicts there will be another election within a year "at most", and the Five Star Movement will win.

Questions remain about how much control he really has over the members of his movement - "more than 160 ordinary citizens" - who have won seats in parliament as a result of his relentless campaign.

He admits that he hardly knows most of them, and some he has never met.

Mr Grillo himself will not sit in parliament because a conviction for manslaughter, after a car crash in 1980, meant he could not be a candidate under his own movement's rules.

But Beppe Grillo remains the face and the focus of this political insurgency. He has shaken the system in Italy, and sent ripples of concern across Europe.

Can he still find humour in politics, even though he thinks the establishment is broken beyond repair?

Of course it's funny, Mr Grillo says, sweeping hair away from his eyes, even when it makes you angry.

"You need to laugh. But it's like living in The Truman Show. It's the theatre of the absurd."