The Italian referendum was a clear rejection of a power-hungry political establishment. Much like Brexit, Italians said No to elites attempting to concentrate power and shrink the space for parliamentary discussion. However, unlike Brexit, the Italian revolt was driven by the younger generation.
As prime minister Matteo Renzi drafted his resignation, exit polls suggested that 69 to 81 per cent of Italians under the age of 34 had voted against his plans to ‘streamline’ the political system. Renzi, whose unelected leadership came about through a party coup, wanted to overhaul aspects of the constitution and reduce regional powers, effectively limiting wider political discourse. But his plans were overwhelmingly rejected by young Italians. The referendum made it clear that Italy’s youth are willing to upset the status quo.
Young people in the UK, on the other hand, want to prop it up. With 75 per cent of 18 to 25-year-old Brits voting Remain in the EU referendum, alongside 56 per cent of 25 to 49-year-olds, it seems our young, or young-ish, population is far more politically cautious than their Italian counterparts.
In the aftermath of 23 June, much of the anti-Brexit tirade has come from twentysomethings. From millennial surveys warning of Brexit-induced depression to protesters wearing jumpers saying ‘All I want for Christmas is EU’, some British youngsters seem keen not only to defend the technocratic elite but to emotionally invest in it, too, and even celebrate it. How about doing the more Italian thing of questioning your rulers rather than doing their bidding?
Youth unemployment remained stubbornly high throughout Renzi’s leadership; he failed to nurture prosperity for a generation once excited by him. His effective removal shows that, when democracy is done right, people can give politicians a chance but also take them down if they fail. That’s what makes democracy so great – it puts power in the hands of the public. Renzi’s failed economic promises and roughshod attempt to dilute democracy meant he didn’t deserve to be at the top, and Italians sent him packing.