Berlusconi is the only person who could have sorted out Italy’s problems
Where the monstrous regiment of judges, journalists and the other toxic derivatives of Italian communism failed, the Germans and the French, armed this time only with the euro, have triumphed.
Silvio Berlusconi, or ‘Silvio il Magnifico’ as I am still not ashamed to call him, the 75-year-old media tycoon who has dominated politics in Italy since 1994, has lost his majority and has promised to resign as Prime Minister, and not to stand again.
First the Germans and their French ‘caniche toy’ did for the Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, riding roughshod over the Greek people. Now it is the turn of ‘il Cavaliere’ (the Knight) and the Italians who elected him in 2008 for the third time with the largest ever majority of votes of any postwar Italian Prime Minister.
Neither Angela Merkel nor Nicolas Sarkozy nor anyone else in ‘Europe’ seems to know or care that Berlusconi, (whose idol is Margaret Thatcher) represents Italy’s best hope of cutting its astronomical sovereign debt — €1.9 trillion, the third highest in the world, and five times larger than the Greek debt. And they do not seem to know or care that Berlusconi, a self-made billionaire, represents Italy’s best hope of hacking back the jungle of laws that paralyse Italy’s labour market.
Neither the debt nor the bureaucracy is Berlusconi’s fault because — heh — they have been part of the scenery in Italy since at least 1968. Indeed, the reason that the majority of Italians have voted for him so often is precisely because of his election campaign pledges to sort them out.
The truth (though Carla Powell says otherwise in this issue) is that there is no valid alternative to Berlusconi. Do Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy honestly think that the Italian opposition, heirs to Europe’s largest communist party outside the Soviet bloc, would cut public debt by doing something, say, about the most expensive public pension scheme in the world (14.2 per cent of GDP)? Would they make it possible, say, to sack incompetent or excess employees? (It’s currently against the law, in any company with more than 15 staff.)
Non scherziamo (let’s not joke)! To the Italian left, such moves would be tantamount to ripping out the drip that keeps it alive. There is much talk of a ‘technical’ government with Mario Monti, an economics professor and former European commissioner, as premier. Such governments, as Italians know only too well from the past, merely tread water.
It is a pity that the markets did not look more kindly on Berlusconi’s famous letter to the G20 meeting in Cannes in which he pledged yet again to tackle Italy’s debt and labour laws. Armed with the blessing of world leaders, he could perhaps have finally muzzled opponents not just outside but within his own coalition (his ally, the Northern League, for example, is partial to public debt solutions) and thus forced through enough reforms to dampen the raging fire.
Of course, a bad workman does tend to blame his tools, and Berlusconi has always done this. But in his case the tools, the Italians, have a lot to answer for. As the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini put it: ‘Governing the Italians is not impossible, it is merely useless.’ Berlusconi has pulled uphill with the strength of ten men, as they said of Peter the Great, but millions have pulled downhill.
I have lived in Italy for 13 years and consider myself an honorary Italian. I seethe with anger every time I read the views of foreign journalists, especially British ones, on ‘Il Magnifico’. They just don’t get Italy and so they don’t get him. The explanation for their blind spot, I have concluded, is twofold.
First, they are guilty of racial stereotyping. So your average Italian is a dodgy bottom-pincher with the gift of the gab. Berlusconi fits the bill brilliantly. He used to be a cruise-ship crooner before becoming a property developer and then, after breaking the state-owned television monopoly, a media mogul. Where did the money come from? Good question. And yes, he does even today, despite recovery from prostate cancer, love a spot of bunga bunga. There is talk not just of ‘la pillola blu’ (Viagra) but ‘la pompa’ (the pump), ‘la puntura’ (injection) and even ‘la piccola gru’ (the little crane).
Second, foreign journalists are the dupes of possibly the most dishonest yet most efficient propaganda machine in the civilised world. You might assume, and foreign journalists do, that Berlusconi, who owns three of the seven national television channels in Italy, plus its biggest publishers, Mondadori, and a couple of important newspapers, exercises an iron grip on the Italian media. You could not be more mistaken. Berlusconi’s opponents, who also include many other tycoons, control the media. You only have to switch on the tv or read a newspaper to understand this. Ninety per cent of political talk shows, even on Berlusconi’s own channels, are patently left-wing, as are the vast majority of Italy’s newspapers.
As for the judges, they are not like British judges. They, like every organisation in Italy, including the Round Table and the Rotary Club, are highly politicised, and the left-wing ones among them have hounded Berlusconi ever since he became a politician. Not once has he been convicted definitively. And these judges also intercept the telephone calls of hundreds of people, including him, in the hope of nailing them. (In one part of the bunga bunga investigation in which Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage girl, the judges intercepted 100,000 calls.) These judges then regularly leak the transcripts to their newspaper contacts.
One of the things that foreign journalists have a real problem with is trying to understand why Italians, regardless of all the judicial investigations and the hate-filled media, keep on voting for Berlusconi. They must be brainwashed, they conclude. No, they are not. They just know Italy.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 12, 2011