Matteo Salvini and Boris Johnson have at least one thing in common: they both misjudged their ability to force elections. But there is an extra lesson in Salvini’s sudden fall: a tactical retreat from government can backfire.

Salvini, the leader of Italy’s populist party, the League, walked out of his coalition with the Five Star Movement at the wrong time. Two months earlier, he might have been able to trigger elections. But by deciding to abandon ship in August, he gave the Five Star Movement, his coalition partner, the perfect excuse to team up with the centre-left Democratic party, since the electoral timetable would have made it impossible for Italy to pass the 2020 budget. Failing to pass a budget would have triggered an otherwise obligatory and damaging increase in VAT.

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