Rome

Renzi set to swing wrecking ball

PD leader-in-waiting promises 'radical revolution'

Renzi set to swing wrecking ball

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, September 2 - Matteo Renzi returned to the squabbling world of Italian politics this weekend to show he was still intent on one thing: swinging a wrecking ball through it all, including his own party. The Florence mayor, who sprang to prominence as wanting to 'rottamare' (scrap, junk, demolish) politics-as-usual, was acclaimed by throngs of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) at its annual national festival in Genoa Sunday night, and sold out the traditional Bologna Festa dell'Unita' Tuesday night. The loudest cheers Sunday came when he promised a "radical revolution" not only of the PD, whose factional rifts and half-hearted regeneration were blamed for its failure to win February's general election, but Italy's political and economic system as a whole. "We have to put our ideas, our left-wing ideas, into practice," said the mayor, who is widely seen as a shoo-in for PD leader when a congress votes late this year. "We have to send to the wrecking yard not only a discredited type of politics but also whole sections of the economy," said the 38-year-old, who has often been likened to the energetic young Tony Blair who forged New Labour into the steamroller that crushed Britain's long-dominant Conservative Party. "We must not be afraid of seeking votes in the centre-right electorate," he stressed, in a message that has been increasingly accepted even on the PD left after the two-month post-election debacle that led to an unnatural emergency reform coalition with its traditional foes, Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. "We can't afford to be too sniffy," he said. Renzi warned that the PD should not let the PdL "get away with claiming credit for the only electoral promise that Berlusconi has ever kept," the abolition of a hated property tax called IMU. Instead, he said, the PD should take a firm hold of the government agenda for however long it lasts - threatened as it is by a looming vote on ejecting Berlusconi from the Senate because of a tax-fraud conviction, a "wound to democracy" the three-time premier says will spell the end for the left-right alliance. Before the next elections, whether they come before the PD congress or after, Renzi said, "we have to carry forward serious proposals on cutting red tape to get the economy working again, achieving acceptable levels of social justice and, crucially, changing the electoral law". The 'Pig Sty' electoral law, an ugly hybrid created by a previous Berlusconi government specifically to stymie his opponents, is widely blamed for the inconclusive February vote. Renzi promised to "cut a swathe through" the PD-PdL haggling over a replacement for it. "I want to get things done, as I have in Florence, do them quickly and efficiently, and sweep out the old order," he said, instead of having to be content with the "minor, gradual tinkering" PD Premier Enrico Letta has had to settle for because of his uneasy relations with the PdL. "Forget about that screwdriver Letta is using, a much bigger, sharper and heftier instrument is needed. "But I'll use it to unite it the party too, forcing all the factions to pull together," said the mayor. Renzi is an odds-on favourite to claim the PD leadership at the party conference, although some think Letta might give him a run for his money if he can present significant achievements a centre-left party can be proud of. But for now the headline reform most PD voters are thinking of is replacing IMU with a service tax, a move that could hit the worse-off as hard or perhaps even harder than the best-off, according to left-wing economists. Letta may have wrecked his chances with his perceived capitulation to Berlusconi on IMU, pundits say, and voters are keener than ever to see what Renzi's wrecking ball can do.

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