When the far right took power in Ladispoli, a beach town near Rome, in 2017, ending 20 years of leftwing administration, among its priorities was naming a square after Giorgio Almirante, a minister in Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship and founder of the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI).
Protests from anti-fascist groups failed to thwart the plan, and in 2019 the nameplate was unveiled during a ceremony that included a blessing from the priest of the church on the same square. Almirante was described by mayor Alessandro Grando, who won a second term in June, as “the father of Italian rightwing socialism and point of reference for many Italians”.
Now many voters in Ladispoli and across Italy are looking towards Giorgia Meloni, founder of Brothers of Italy, a descendant of MSI, as their point of reference as the country gears up for snap elections on 25 September.
“Italians want a radical, epochal change, and we need it to come through a democratic process,” said Carlo Morelli, a former leftwing voter whose allegiance now lies with Brothers of Italy. “I think Meloni is the right person to bring about that change.”
Meloni, 45, could be about to fulfil her aspiration of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister. Her political party has gone from barely scraping 4% of the vote in the 2018 general elections to being the most popular in Italy, edging further up in surveys published on Friday after the collapse of Mario Draghi’s government.
Brothers of Italy leads an alliance that includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which is tipped to win with a clear majority.
The astonishing downfall of Draghi’s government took many by surprise, in part because Italy has never had an election campaign during summer. Italians flock to the beaches, and politics is the last thing on their minds. But as elections loom, it is difficult to think about anything else.
Morelli was among the beachgoers enjoying the sunset on Ladispoli’s stretch of coastline this weekend. “The left have made lots of mistakes and had no connection with people,” he claimed. The rightwing parties, meanwhile, “have concrete and comprehensive ideas”. Of Meloni, he said: “She’s very charismatic, sincere and doesn’t create illusions.”
Also on the beach, Maddalena Melappioni said she was not intending to vote. “They promise so much but never deliver,” she said. Still, she admires Meloni. “She has guts, and her words are good, but maintaining them is a different thing.”
Meloni, born in Garbatella, a working-class area of Rome, was president of the youth wing of the National Alliance, a party that emerged from MSI. She served as youth minister in Berlusconi’s 2008-11 government before founding Brothers of Italy.
President of the European conservatives and reformists party since September 2020, she has endeavoured to remould Brothers of Italy as a conservative champion of patriotism.
“This has helped to take the party forward,” said Francesco Giubilei, author of the book Giorgia Meloni: The Revolution of the Conservatives. “It also helped that Brothers of Italy was the only party that stayed out of Draghi’s government.”
Meloni has hardline views on mass immigraton, has described abortion as a “defeat” and opposes same-sex marriage and parenting. In June, she travelled to Marbella to deliver a controversial speech at a rally held by her Spanish far-right counterpart, Vox. “Yes to the natural family! No to LGBT lobbies!” she yelled.
Giulio Faillaci, sitting on Ladispoli beach with a group of friends, flinches as he recalls the contents of the speech, a clip of which was widely shared online. “It was awful, and now we’re in a terrible situation,” he said. A staunch leftwinger, he plans to vote for the centre-left Democratic party, which is slightly behind Brothers of Italy in the polls but has not yet formed an alliance. “It’s disgusting. We face so many problems and they got rid of Draghi, who is one of the most credible people in Europe.”
A lively political debate with his friends ensues. “Nobody votes for a common goal any more – they are only thinking of their own interests,” said Francesco Rossi. Barbara Clarioni, a former voter for the populist Five Star Movement, the party that set the wheels in motion for the fall of the Draghi government, said: “There is no real investment in the crucial things such as research, education and health.” She is uncertain if she’ll vote and if she does, who for. “In some ways, I prefer the ignorant to the educated ones who tell lies.”