Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League party, was left red-faced after a secret recording revealed him swearing and implying his far-right challenger, Giorgia Meloni, was a “pain in the ass”.
The recording, taken during a closed-door meeting with politicians from his party and published by Il Foglio newspaper, further exposes the friction in what was once a tight-knit coalition between the League, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
The alliance competes together in local elections but Salvini and Meloni have been jostling for power within it since the Brothers of Italy, the only party to stay out of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition, overtook the League in polling.
“It’s obvious that we have a centre right in government and one in opposition,” Salvini said in the recording, which was made by a journalist who had infiltrated the meeting.
Bruised by defeats by the alliance in recent mayoral elections, Salvini said: “When you lose disgracefully, lagging by 30 points in some big cities, there is little to celebrate. The centre right’s split in two or three pieces certainly doesn’t help.”
The alliance lost mayoral races in Rome, Turin, Bologna and Milan.
Salvini downplayed the recording, saying he and Meloni had laughed and joked about it in a WhatsApp exchange. The pair were photographed hugging in a show of unity earlier this month.
Meloni’s decision to stay out of Draghi’s government has helped her gain momentum in polls, at the expense of the League. Salvini’s strategy of keeping one foot in the government and one foot out is also deterring voters.