Matteo Salvini is taking his perennial campaign to Italy’s beaches as the far-right leader seeks to whip up more support before widely-anticipated new elections.
The Italian parliament officially begins its summer break at the end of the week, but Salvini, deputy prime minister and interior minister, is finishing on Wednesday to begin what the Italian media are calling his “beach tour”.
“Beach tour? They’re public meetings that the citizens of the territories have asked for,” he insisted during an interview with Radio 24. “Alas, I’m not going to be playing beach volleyball.”
Sabaudia, a beach town close to Rome, is the first stop on a two-week trip that will also take in the central regions of Abruzzo and Molise, before heading south to Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Campania.
The northern Liguria region is also on the agenda, where on 14 August the minister will attend a service to mark the first anniversary of Genoa’s Morandi bridge collapse, which killed 43 people.
But for the next week or so his goal will be wooing voters in the southern strongholds of this coalition partner, the Five Star Movement (M5S). The unlikely duo came to power in June 2018 and the government has been on shaky ground for much of the time since, with constant speculation that Salvini will orchestrate a collapse amid his flourishing popularity. Backing for his League party is currently at 39%, according to the most recent polls, while support for M5S has more than halved to 15% over the last year.
“He’s doing a rally on the beach? I thought he was coming to have a dip in the sea,” said Gianluca Marrese, the leftwing deputy mayor of Policoro in Basilicata.
“You rarely see this kind of thing happening on the beach, but as an administration and a town, of course we’ll be welcoming. Besides, it will only last an hour or so.”
Salvini got into the beach mood last week at his favourite haunt, Papeete resort in Milano Marittima, where the bare-chested minister posed for selfies, drank cocktails, ogled dancers and did a spot of DJing. Salvini also made time for a press conference, during which he insulted a journalist who had filmed the minister’s son riding on the back of a police jet-ski, insinuating that he must be a paedophile.
Salvini will be feeling gung-ho as he sets off for the trip after his security bill, which could lead to captains of migrant rescue ships being fined up to €1m (£920,000) if they defy his port blockade, won a vote in parliament on Monday.
The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said the law could endanger the lives of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
He also scored a victory in parliament on Wednesday after a motion presented by M5S to stop a high-speed rail project linking Italy and France was rejected. M5S has built most of its popularity on vehemently opposing the long-stalled TAV but was outvoted by the League and opposition parties. The outcome will further stoke tensions within the coalition.
Salvini cancelled a morning rally in Sabaudia to attend parliament, but will be in the town for another planned at 9pm. He repeatedly threatens a return to the polls if M5S continues to resist his key policies.
“Salvini always has new elections in mind,” said Mauro Calise, a politics professor at the University of Naples Federico II. “I’m not sure he would take a risk just yet, but he never does anything without a pretext – he’s going south as he knows M5S is having trouble with its electorate. And the beach idea is fantastic, it’s not so much about visiting places but creating stages. It goes perfectly well with his [man of the people] political style.”
Salvini’s tour has been criticised by members of the opposition.
“Salvini is choosing the beaches and not places of work or hardship because during the summer nobody wants to see images of suffering, which unfortunately has been on the rise since this government began,” said Salvatore Margiotta, an MP with the centre-left Democratic party.
“In short, he relies on his brilliant propaganda machine … projecting himself as the ordinary man, enemy of the elite, all the while using a stage filled with colour and music … unfortunately, Italians will end up paying.”