The party of the leader - personalisation of political leadership in Italy: What consequences for parties and party systems?

City Hall - North Hall
Time Slot: 
Wednesday 1st April 11:00 - 12:30
Panel Chair: 
  • Dr Arianna Giovannini (De Montfort University)
Panel Discussant: 
  • Professor James Newell (University of Salford)
Panel Members: 
  • Dr Michelangelo Vercesi (Leuphana University Lüneburg)
  • Awaiting details of this person
  • Dr Mariano Cavataio (University of Milano)
  • Mr Pellegrino Cammino (Centre for the study of political change, University of Siena)
  • Dr Antonella Seddone (Université Catholique de Lille)
  • Mr Fabio Bordignon (Università di Urbino Carlo Bo (Italy))

Italy is often regarded as an extreme example of the personalisation of politics, which has been apparent in all or most democratic systems and which has manifested itself in at least three ways. First, there has been a growing focus on, and significance for, election outcomes of individual candidates and their characteristics. Second, there has been a presidentialisation of party politics as processes of mediatisation, the deconstruction of traditional cleavages and therefore the alleged competitive advantages of charismatic leaders have allowed them to acquire greater autonomy from their party machines to become chiefly responsible for the substance of their campaigns and the policies they intend to implement. Third, there has been the emergence of “personal and/or personalised parties”, meaning organisations set up by individuals exclusively to further their personal political ambitions and run on a more or less patrimonial basis, of which Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is of course the classic example. Besides, most recently, the rise of (post-modern) leaders such as Matteo Renzi (Democratic Party) and Beppe Grillo (5-star Movement) suggests that the personalisation of political leadership is now becoming the norm – with huge impacts on the power structures within the Italian political system and its parties. While the causes of such personalisation have been extensively studied and are well known, rather less is known about its consequences for political parties or for party systems. Certainly, there have been several attempts to imitate the Berlusconi model in significant respects, but one can envisage at least two alternative scenarios: either personalisation leads to increased professionalization, centralisation and therefore cohesiveness of political parties; or else it renders them increasingly fragile as the growing independence of leaders from their parties leads their parties to feel more independent of their leaders and therefore more inclined to rebel. The panel will explore these themes, focusing on Italy and on Italy in comparative perspective.