* Florence mayor Renzi wants to kick out centre-left old
* Young, effective TV performer appeals to many on
* Critics say he is image politician, more style than
By Gavin Jones
ROME, Nov 22Matteo Renzi, the fresh faced mayor
of Florence who wants to shake up Italy's ossified political
establishment, is slick, dynamic, and above all young.
Renzi, 37, says that only by picking him as their leader can
centre-left voters finally "scrap" a discredited party hierarchy
that has failed for two decades to counter the political
dominance of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
In two months of hectic campaigning during which he has
toured Italy's cities in a camper van, Renzi has shamelessly
played the youth card against his main rival, the 61 year-old
leader of the Democratic party Pier Luigi Bersani.
Most polls suggest that Renzi faces an uphill struggle
against Bersani to win Sunday's primary ballot to become
centre-left leader but if he succeeds, he would have little
difficulty in winning the national election, due in the spring.
This is because Renzi, with his middle-of-the-road,
market-friendly views, appeals to centre-right supporters almost
as much as centre-left ones. Unlike the former communist
Bersani, he would be expected to win over millions of
disaffected former Berlusconi voters.
While official campaigning for the primaries only began in
September, Renzi effectively launched his bid for the
centre-left leadership a year ago at a snazzy U.S.-style
convention in Florence which he called the Big Bang.
Since then he has been a constant thorn in the side of the
leadership of the Democratic party (PD), by far the largest
group on the centre-left, sniping at the old guard represented
by Bersani and other party chiefs.
He has become a household name thanks to prolific rallies
and television appearances, usually with white shirt sleeves
turned up and jacketless, giving him a studied image of youth
Known as the "rottamatore" ("scrapper"), due to his desire
to get rid of the old PD bosses, Renzi's confrontational stance
has made him many enemies in the party.
Tensions have been raised by his claim that the complicated
voting procedure for the primaries was deliberately created by
the party to limit the turn-out to hard-core PD voters. His
staff even warned this week of the risk of vote rigging at the
ballot, which is all internally organised by the PD.
His eloquent, quick-fire TV style makes a striking contrast
to the dour Bersani, but many PD politicians accuse him of being
all style and no substance, an ambitious pragmatist who would be
just as comfortable heading up the centre-right.
Renzi boasts that thanks to his efficient administration as
mayor since 2009 Florence has been one of the few cities in
Italy that has reduced local taxes, an example he would transfer
to the national level.
A former boy scout who began his career with a now defunct
Catholic centrist party, Renzi says he would continue the reform
path of technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti, cutting spending
and selling state assets to reduce the massive public debt.
He says he would govern with just 10 ministers and cut
Italy's bloated political apparatus by reducing the number of
lower house deputies and replacing the Senate with a smaller
chamber representing the regions, with limited legislative