Italy is widely acknowledged to be a political shitheap. Against spectacular competition, its politicians are the most corrupt on the Continent. In 2009 the Economist’s Democracy Index downgraded the erstwhile superpower from “full” to “flawed” democracy. Let’s be frank: Berlusconi is only the next in a long line of tyrants. There was Mussolini of course. But what about Giulio Andreotti? Five times prime minister, he was in the pocket of the mafia, and had neither the nation nor his party at his heart. Once told that power wears men out, he replied that power only wears out those who don’t have it. This was certainly true for Toto Riina, aka “The Beast”. This “boss of all the bosses” ran Sicily as a sort of military dictatorship as late as the 1980s. The government had to send in the army to dispatch him and his mafia cronies.
At least Berlusconi pretends to care about democracy. That was what December 14th’s vote of no confidence was all about. One of the incalculable reasons why Italian politics is so hectic is that the prime minister has to have the support of both houses of Parliament. A bit mad: imagine if our Prime Minister had to have the support of the Lords as well as the Commons. But remarkably, Berlusconi’s force of personality has kept a semblance of order. He won the vote in the Senate easily. It was the Chamber of Deputies- the more powerful and more democratic house- that proved the problem. There the vote was fabulously tight. 314 votes to 311. Two opposition members switched side at the last minute. That is most suspicious. I suspect they’d been bribed.
Berlusconi is in this position because he is a total bastard. Expunge from your mind all comparison with Britain. It couldn’t happen here. The man is a billionaire. He also controls most of the Italian television and newspaper networks. And he’s prime minister. But by far his most spectacular achievements are sexual. Berlusconi is 74 years old. But he is able to attend the birthday parties of 18 year old girls, appoint models to his cabinet and parliament, have sex with prostitutes in hotel bedrooms, and generally behave like BoJo on speed. Not since Augustus II of Saxony- who is believed to have fathered up to 382 illegitimate children- has Europe seen so voracious and shameless a womaniser.
This is part of the reason for the vote against him. But Berlusconi’s inept and brazen attempts to secure his own power have also played a part. Despite being more right-wing than almost any European leader, this was not good enough for his main coalition partners, the Lega Nord. Some of these people are neo-fascists. Most of them are just fascists. Anyway, when Berlusconi reneged on devolution pledges they were happy to break ranks. But Berlusconi is hoping to move away from a system of alliances and votes. He wants to amend the constitution to establish an American style executive presidency, with himself in the role. Given his current unpopularity that may not be possible. But as today’s vote shows, we haven’t seen anything near the last of this most wanton of premiers.