Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Gordon Brown could do with the Berlusconi touch

Poor Gordon Brown – he must look with no small amount of envy across Europe to Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi looks set to romp home in this weekend’s European Election vote with his Popolo della Liberta party expected to win somewhere around 40% of the vote (which combined with their righ-wing alliance partners the Lega Nord should bring the government’s share of the vote up to around 50% – against their opposition rivals 35%, with the rest of the vote taken up by smaller non-aligned parties).

Italy’s government appears to be, once again, a European anomaly. While the financial crisis continues to deepen here, as elsewhere,  paradoxically the government appears to grow in popularity.  And it’s not because the Italian government is noted for its results or transparency – two crosses which Gordon Brown is struggling to bear.

In fact, poll that mythical person the-man-in-the-street here in Italy about his parliament and, according to transparency international, the majority by a long shot will argue that it’s the pinnacle of corruption in Italian society, and that the government’s attempts to root out corruption are totally useless. One of the best-selling books in Italy last year was an examination of the political class and their expenses for the taxpayers – called The Cast, by Sergio Rizzo and Gianantonio Stella. Filled with scandalous figures the book’s title has become a political football that all the major parties kick around – but despite huge sales and publicity the book produced a net result of 0 resignations.

As the European election campaign draws to a close – without one mention of Europe and Italy’s place within the EU it seems – news breaks that Silvio Berlusconi himself is being investigated for abuse of office after newspaper photos suggested that he had used state jets to ferry starlets to his Sardinian villa for weekend parties.  Will it change the result – unlikely. Will Berlusconi resign? He told the nation – via public television last night that it didn’t even enter the waiting room of his brain, where idle thoughts congregate before becoming fully-formed statesman like ideas (like playing cuckoo with Angela Merkel at an international summit, in front of all the world’s tv crews).

There are various different explanations as to why this situation should exist. There are those that blame the weak opposition, which has repeatedly changed leaders while those of the right-wing remain the same (Berlusconi, Bossi, & to a much lesser extent Fini). There are those that suggest it’s down to a cold-war hangover, where Italy is still struggling to move on from a left-right system created and enforced by the US and Soviet Union.

All true, but above all else it’s because of one thing – the politicised nature of Italian tv, and its subsequent domination by Berlusconi. For the last month scandals have plagued Berlusconi in the newspapers – both in Italy and abroad. There are tales of dalliances with under-age starlet wannabes, suggestions that he did not tell the truth when discussing and dismissing these allegations; there’s the sentence handed out to David Mills which effectively accuses Berlusconi of corrupting justice; there are allegations surfacing about the much touted success in cleaning up Napoli and so on. Turn on the TV though and the first thing you’ll hear is Berlusconi’s response – though the allegations are rarely if ever broadcast. In effect you have a one-sided conversation where the most powerful re-assuringly tell the nation that everything is o.k.

And the problem here is that it’s a system that has long been blessed by all the major parties – who are in aggreement tha, whatever happens, politicians must be in a position to control all serious appointments within the media. In the UK were the BBC to bury emerging scandals about Labour expenses the private sector like ITV and Channel Four would have a field day. Here in Italy the public tv broadcasts pravda style announcements of serenity and support for the glorious leader, and it’s up to Berlusconi’s own Mediaset empire to cause a fuss.

And that’s why a government that has presided over a disatrous economic period for Italy, with a large parliamentary majority for seven of the last nine years, appears fresh, fun, and unbeatable.

Poor old Gordon Brown.