Former caretaker Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, who with an open mind has served in administrations headed by both Silvio Berlusconi and Romano Prodi – supposedly ideologically worlds apart – has issued an ultimatum to current Prime Minister Romano Prodi. In an open letter to the premier, published in the Corriere della Sera, Dini outlines seven points which Prodi must sign up to in order to have the support of the new political grouping the liberaldemocratici.
Taking a leaf, perhaps, from Naomi Klein’s well received Shock Politics, Dini has decided to take advantage of the natural disaster that is Romano Prodi’s multi-party coalition with its miniscule senate majority in order to have some radical reforms passed that include a major reduction of the public sector. Fair enough, Klein’s book talks about profiting from major natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods. In Italy the disaster is man-made, thanks to an electoral law custom made to produce a government at the mercy of tiny political stakeholders.
Dini, for example, was elected as part of the Margarita party – the second largest party in the coalition until its recent merger with the DS party to form the Partito Democratico. Spotting an opening for serious economic reforms, Dini recently decided to set up his own new party and to declare that his allegiance to the electoral programme upon which he was elected is now null and void. Prodi has the option of either taking on board his new seven point programme, or facing a vote of no-confidence which he is likely to lose in the Senate.
Now there’s a certain amount of sense, perhaps, in Dini’s seven point programme. The Italian public sector is huge and run on a feudal basis rather than with the needs of the citizen in mind, and so could certainly do with pruning – though Dini as an economist probably has the dreaded ‘privatisation’ word in mind, despite the fact that the Thatcherite revolution has long-since proven itself to be far from the panacea it was cracked up to be.
The problem, though, is that it wasn’t what Dini was elected for. In the current Italian electoral system political parties recieve the vote, and decide the candidates who are elected. Dini, thus, was elected on a platform already agreed by all coalition partners, and one which had none of his seven ultimata included.
The points, though, are probably welcomed by both Prodi and Berlusconi – given that both veer towards ‘liberal’ politics*. The problem is that neither they, nor Dini, are prepared to put these radical policies to the electorate. Instead they are implemented in the midst of government crises – shock politics style.
We await, with slightly less than baited breath, Prodi’s full consideration of the points. Will his government fall in January? Will it make two hoots of a difference whether it does or doesn’t?
*liberal of course meaning free-market economics where it suits, but no free market when it comes to movement of labour – both Prodi and Berlusconi being agreed that immigration is a ‘problem’.