Giorgia Meloni’s spacious office, on the top floor of Palazzo Montecitorio – Italy’s House of Commons – has large French windows that adjoin its own huge rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the Eternal City. You could hold the party of the century up there if you were so minded.
Perhaps she will, if she wins. The polls suggest that Meloni, 45, is on the verge of becoming Italy’s new prime minister in next month’s snap election, which follows the collapse of Mario Draghi’s unelected national unity government. The Brothers of Italy, the party that Meloni co-founded just ten years ago, which got just 4 per cent at the last general election, leads the opinion polls as the senior partner in the coalition of the right, which includes Matteo Salvini’s radical-right Lega. The latter has fallen in popularity as fast as Meloni has risen. She may soon be the first ever woman leader of a still-macho country at the beating heart of Europe – as well as Italy’s first democratically elected (as opposed to bureaucratically appointed) prime minister in 14 years.
Might this not all be a cause for celebration across the Continent? No way. Most coverage of her in the international press argues that she is not conservative or ‘centre-right’, as she claims, but something more sinister.
When we meet, I get straight to the point. Why is she nearly always labelled ‘far-right’ by the international press – which is the modern way of saying (but not actually saying) fascist?
She tells me it’s a smear campaign by her political opponents, who are ‘really well embedded’ in the nerve centres of power: especially the post-communist Democratic party, which is polling just behind Brothers of Italy but without the necessary allies to form a winning coalition. ‘Let’s face it,’ she says. ‘The concerted attacks in rapid succession [against me] can only have a single director.