Conte had sworn on Monday that he didn’t have a “Plan B,” not even “on a shelf,” but now such a prospect could in fact become reality. Those who spoke with him after Grillo’s incendiary video described him as calm, despite the comedian’s scornful words; he felt that no matter what, the ambiguity had to be resolved—and soon.
By now, it’s a given: his time as the expected heir to the leadership of the party, which lasted from February, is over for good. The bridges are burned between Conte and the M5S. “Beppe has made his choice: to be ‘lord and master’ of his creation,” was the thinking of those in Conte’s inner circle.
On Monday, Conte had called on Grillo to choose between being “lord and master” or a “generous parent” to the Movement. “This is the proof that the current statute needed a radical qualitative improvement in terms of internal democracy,” was Conte’s terse comment delivered to his followers. This is why he had worked for four months on a “serious and credible political project”—which now remains in limbo.
The point is what will become of that project. Those who know him assure us that the former Prime Minister is unlikely to leave politics and return to full-time teaching. It is also unlikely that he will limit himself—as he said—to supporting the candidates in the local elections in Naples and Calabria that he chose together with Enrico Letta. It’s more likely that his “project” will change its scope and become the seed of a new party—with the certainty that several dozen M5S deputies and senators will join him.
It would be a party destined to clash with the old M5S led by Grillo, fighting over the same pool of voters. And it would certainly a partner of the PD in the coalition that Letta is trying to build. For the moment, however, the dust must settle. There will be no immediate announcements.
The PD is on “maximum” alert. The tensions in the M5S in the past few days, which Letta had downplayed as “natural in the construction of a new leadership,” have left behind a field of rubble. It is no mystery that Letta thought that Conte would win in the end. After all, in all these months, their collaboration became more and more extensive, and common decisions were taken as if Conte were already the head of the Movement.
Now the house of cards has collapsed. For the Democrats, it will be very difficult to move among the field of debris, on any and every issue: from local alliances to the election of the new President and the general elections.
For the PD, the only consolation is that “none of the opposing factions has ever questioned the prospect of an alliance with us. Nor the support for the Draghi government.” The PD leadership is banking on the fact that relations are good with Di Maio, Vito Crimi, Minister Patuanelli. And there are no scores to be settled with Grillo himself. There is dialogue even with Di Battista, albeit on very distant positions.
According to Letta, the most serious danger concerns the election of President Mattarella’s successor. “If the M5S splits into pieces, it will be easier for the center-right to choose the new president with Renzi’s backing,” goes the thinking of the PD. “For him, the vote to elect the President is the last bargaining chip so he can count for something. And he is already negotiating with Salvini.”
“The Five Stars should avoid an implosion, this would only be a gift to the right-wingers,” was the last-ditch appeal by the PD leader. “On the election of the new president, we must be united and have clear ideas. I hope that the M5S resumes dialogue and that this leads to a stronger position.”
Such words are merely ceremonial at this point, since the explosion has taken place already—to the point that some are already thinking about the possibility of cohabitation, within the same alliance coalition, between Grillo’s M5S and a new party led by Conte. Similar thoughts are circulating among the third leg of the alliance—the left. “Grillo’s choice is his to make, but I think it will produce fractures,” said Arturo Scotto, the number two of Article 1. “I believe and hope that Conte will continue to work to strengthen progressives in Italy. If we become divided, we help the right.”
Given the excellent relationship that exists between Conte, Roberto Speranza and Bersani, it also cannot be excluded that the party that split off from Renzi’s PD in 2017 might be a partner in Conte’s new adventure.
Among Renzi’s party, on the other hand, the mood was one of great celebration: “Everything’s really great, and all according to what we predicted,” tweeted “the Wrecker” himself. Ettore Rosato piled on: “According to Grillo, ‘Conte has no political vision, no managerial skills, no innovation abilities.’ This time, Beppe is right. We had understood that; in fact, we pulled the plug on the government before he could do too much damage.”