The two scenes were at opposite ends of the spectrum: on the one hand, Draghi’s icy oath of office at the Quirinale, on the other, Giuseppe Conte’s dramatically warm farewell at the Palazzo Chigi. After the military honors, he made his way to the front door, while a growing round of applause started from the windows: the employees saluted the premier by chance, the stranger who in May 2018 swooped in to lead the government, calling himself “the people’s lawyer.”
He reached for the hand of his partner, Olivia (elegant and very blonde), who, a bit Melania Trump-style, at first kept it on her handbag. Then she finally took his hand, and he gave an answer to the applause by looking up towards the windows, and headed for the exit, where a dark Alfa Romeo awaited him.
It looked a bit like the end of Dead Poets Society—and perhaps this effect, recalling the scene with Professor Keating, unjustly fired but still loved by his students who stood on their desks saying “O, captain, my captain,” was the last success organized by spokesman Rocco Casalino, photographed in tears on the doorstep of the Palazzo Chigi: the spin doctor who has built up Conte’s image, a mix of professorial authority and man on the street, seasoned with reassuringly lawyerly language.
“From today, I am going back to wearing the garb of a simple citizen,” Conte explained on Facebook in a long farewell post. “A garb which I have tried to never take off, in fact, in order not to lose contact with a reality that consists of small and great suffering.” He said he was “grateful” for “the strong and sincere support and affection that I have felt in these two and a half years. But also for the criticism I have received: it has helped me to improve, making my judgments more considered and my actions more effective.”
The word “considered” described the essence of this premiership, cautious to the point of immobility at times, and yet which managed to make history: the first to have had two opposite majorities in two years, from the Lega to the Democratic Party; the only one to have managed the most serious health crisis since the post-war period and to have enacted a total lockdown for two months. In doing so, whether we like it or not, he has created a strong relationship with a large part of Italian public opinion.
He does not intend to waste this heritage or vanish into thin air. Instead, he intends to proceed along the “path outlined, on a human scale, aimed at strengthening equity, solidarity, full environmental sustainability.” “I have no regrets, a chapter has been closed but my commitment continues,” he said for the record. “The closing of a chapter does not prevent us from fully filling up the pages of the history we want to write.” It is difficult for that to happen within the M5S; more likely is the establishment of a “Conte party” (with pieces from the left, disillusioned Grillo followers, former leaders), within an alliance with the PD, M5S and LeU.
Goffredo Bettini, his main supporter in the PD, spoke of him with affection on social media, “a gentleman” (while snubbing Draghi). “The road he has outlined must be pursued further,” said Nicola Fratoianni of Sinistra Italiana, echoing him. In the end, the prime minister of the first sovereignist government has been adopted by the left.