The fascist era was “a very complicated, complex period”, said Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, at a press conference in Rome for the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party.

“You can’t define it in terms of right or wrong, good or bad,” he said.

While the anti-Jewish laws of 1938 had been “a mistake, a shame”, the fascist period had left its mark on the country in other ways with, for example, its road network, he added. Many older people he met while campaigning expressed nostalgia for that period, he said.

In Italy it is still a crime to defend fascism, but asked about that law he said that the courts often ruled on the side of freedom of expression. The current ban on the fascist salute should be extended to the raised clenched-fist of the communists, he added.

Although Mussolini is only 10th on the party’s electoral list, he features prominently on its posters. And there were plenty of journalists on hand to hear what the Italian dictator’s great-grandson had to say.

The 50-year-old former Italian naval officer was born in Argentina, where his father, Vittorio Mussolini, the second son of the dictator Benito Mussolini, fled in 1945 at the end of World War II. He now works for an arms firm, a subsidiary of the Leonardo group, formerly Finmeccanica.