Analysis. The ability to reactivate the interest of the disillusioned, and to speak to young people who have never engaged with politics, remains the strongest ace up the sleeve of the newly-appointed secretary.

While the Udine victory might not be a model, there are signs of life on the left

One thing is certain after the Udine vote: if only cities with over 50,000 inhabitants voted, the center-left would be running the country, even in the Deep North, from Varese to Verona to Friuli. But that’s not how it works.

It’s not that there’s no reason for the enthusiasm coming from Schlein and the PD bigwigs after the success of newly elected mayor De Toni: after Lega governor Fedriga won hands down just two weeks ago, a PD victory was not expected, not least because the city was being governed by the Lega and Salvini had gone to Udine four times to support his candidate, Fontanini. But just as the drubbing at the regional level was not Schlein’s responsibility, neither can this success be seen as a sign of a turnaround.

If anything, it’s a confirmation of the ability of the center-left, from Trieste on down, to retain strong territorial roots, to be able to choose good candidates and to know how to build broad and pluralistic alliances in municipalities. This has been the case ever since the introduction of direct elections for mayors in 1993; and it also happened late last spring, when Letta’s PD conquered Verona and deluded itself – once again – that it had the wind in its sails at the national level as well.

It’s the same this time: to think that the Udine model could be exported would be an illusion. The PD was allied with the left and Greens and the former Third Pole, and the M5S also joined in the runoff. This kind of “wide field” alliance clearly cannot work at the national level. What matters much more, if anything, is the ability to get the attention of the civic world, outside political parties, with people who are culturally center-left but have taken refuge in disengagement and abstentionism.

From this point of view, it can indeed be said that there has been a “Schlein effect”: in Udine as well, her rally before the regionals was a great success, with hundreds of people who couldn’t make it into the packed theater. This ability to reactivate the interest of the disillusioned, and to speak to young people who have never engaged with politics, remains the strongest ace up the sleeve of the newly-appointed secretary. It’s an ability to generate attention that, as already seen in the primaries, works all across Italy, especially when she talks about jobs and the environment. Of course, an alliance with the green-left and M5S will have to happen sooner or later, and maybe even with a more moderate force that is cleansed of the dross of Renzism.

But those PD leaders who were shouting “United we’re winning!” on Sunday night are wrong – as if it were enough to bring together everyone who is against Meloni and Salvini to become competitive. This strategy might work in the cities, where the advantage enjoyed by fascist Leghism is smaller. But it doesn’t work at the national level. Or rather: it’s not enough. Because it’s just as clear that, up against this right wing, the PD, left and MSs can no longer afford any division, from the local to the national elections.

The good news is that, ten months after its success in Verona and in the midst of a catastrophic year, the center-left is showing signs of life in rather unfriendly territory. It is also an important warning sign for the right wing, which is overflowing with hybris and lust for power: nothing can be taken for granted, support can go up and down and it’s never secured once and for all. Especially at the municipal level, where people and their credibility still matter a lot.

It would be a serious error, then, to take Carlo Rosselli’s 1936 motto, “Today in Spain, tomorrow in Italy,” and try to transplant it into the provincial setting: “The left starts again from Udine.” But still, these days, a sign of life is nothing to sneer at.

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