Why not Le Pen, Nigel?

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, June 3, 2014
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With 17 seats, Italian comedian-turned-party leader, Beppe Grillo and his party, the Five-Star Movement, will join the newly elected European Parliament alongside other Eurosceptic parties from left and right.

Is he a suitable potential ally with whom Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage can form a joint parliamentary group?

Mr Farage and Mr Grillo insist that this is an alliance of convenience — a way to boost power by uniting forces without having to behave like a unified party on every issue. Both sides are thus busy trying to de-emphasise ideological kinship.

Numbers matter — for one, they give access to more funds and committee chairmanships.

The problem, at least for Mr Farage, is that he dismissed a similar arrangement with Marine Le Pen’s Front National. If he is policy-conscious over Ms Le Pen, he should find Mr Grillo just as troublesome.

Mr Grillo is not a fascist in the traditional, pan-European, racist, xenophobic, jackboot-goose-stepping sense. But he has personally taken, over the years, a number of public stances — and his movement has sided with policies — that should give everyone reason to pause.

He has drawn intense criticism for questioning whether Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ever denied the Holocaust. Not only has Mr Grillo not retracted his friendly pass on Iran’s state-sponsored Holocaust denial; he dismissed the whole thing as a “bad translation” — an Iran propaganda adage.

Such a cavalier attitude is consistent with the underlying theme of his party and his personal world-view — which is infused by an excessive inclination to believe in conspiracy theories.

Thus, Mr Grillo has in the past insinuated that the United States government may have had a role in the September 11 attacks and speculated wildly on the reasons why. His party’s frequent verbal assaults on the banking system has echoes of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The party rhetoric is of constant verbal aggression. His ideal of democracy is best reflected in the notion of plebiscites by internet voting. His dislike of the ruling political class borders on incitement — including a threat to “march on Rome”.

Mr Farage finds it distasteful to sit in the same group as Ms Le Pen, yet none of the above appears of any consequence to him.

Could it be that, deep down, he too believes that hidden puppeteers run the world show?

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington DC

    Last updated: 8:01pm, June 3 2014