SELDOM HAS the morale of Italians fallen as low as in 2012 when the Costa Concordia, a cruise ship, was wrecked near the Tuscan coast and abandoned by its Italian captain. Thirty-two passengers and crew died. The giant capsized hulk seemed to symbolise the failure of a country that months earlier had almost sunk the euro. But one man preserved Italy’s self-respect. Recordings surfaced of a coast-guard officer, Gregorio De Falco, furiously rebuking the skipper. His (unheeded) order to Captain Francesco Schettino to “Get on board, for fuck’s sake” became a national catchphrase.
Captain De Falco has since entered politics. In March he was elected a senator for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which has pledged to clean up Italian politics. Yet barely eight months on, this national hero is facing expulsion from the movement’s group in the upper house, having twice put his conscience ahead of his party. On November 7th Mr De Falco was among five M5S senators who refused to vote for a decree on security and immigration backed by the government, a coalition between M5Sand the hard-right Northern League.
The decree passed, but a week later the mutinous captain supported in committee an opposition amendment to another government decree. This time, his vote was decisive: it inflicted the coalition’s first parliamentary defeat since it took office in June.
Mr De Falco’s objection was that the decree includes a planning amnesty for the island of Ischia, off Naples. It applies to buildings constructed or modified illicitly and damaged in an earthquake in 2017, and could permit rebuilding in areas where houses would mar the landscape or where their inhabitants would be at risk from natural hazards. Mr De Falco argues it clashes with core party principles such as respect for legality and the environment. It will nevertheless be popular in the south, where unauthorised construction is widespread and the M5Sgets much of its support.
Mr De Falco’s misgivings about the government’s hardline immigration policy, driven by the League’s leader and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, are widely shared in the M5S. Many of its lawmakers lean leftward, and 18 backed a batch of amendments to the immigration and security decree—the latest of several signs of strain in a coalition that is starting to look unseaworthy.