Is it all over for Silvio? This question has been asked repeatedly over the past twenty years since the billionaire media magnate entered Italian politics. Today the answer has never looked more like a Yes.
On Wednesday the former prime minister was forced into a humiliating u-turn as plans to topple the government by withdrawing his party’s support backfired very badly.
Silvio Berlusconi’s actions prompted a confidence vote but Italian Premier Enrico Letta, from the Democratic Party that since the Spring has been in a ‘grand coalition’ with Berlusconi’s PDL party, won it. The Senate voted 235 to 70 in favour.
When it became clear that several of his senators would back the government, Berlusconi was forced to fall into line and declare his support too. As he left the Senate building after the vote, Italians outside greeted Il Cavaliere with catcalls, whistles and cries of “go away”.
The vote now increases the possibility that Silvio will be ejected from the Senate on the fairly reasonable grounds he is a convicted criminal. On Friday a Senate committee is due to vote on whether to strip him of his seat following his conviction for tax fraud.
Italy’s most high profile tax dodger will have to serve a one-year sentence, either community service or most likely house arrest because of his 77 years of age (you can imagine the suffering in the vast Villa San Martino, outside Milan, or the sumptuous Villa Certosa at Sardinia’s Porto Rotondo).
He has also been sentenced to seven years in jail for paying for sex with 17-year-old prostitute Karima El-Mahroug, known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, and for abuse of office.
Death reports – greatly exaggerated?
The three times PM has bounced back many times in his rollercoaster political career so any predictions of his definitive disappearance from politics should be treated with caution.
He’s disgustingly wealthy and still dominates private TV, and owns a few highly influential newspapers too. And there’s no obvious successor to his leadership of Right.
If Enrico Letta’s Democrats are serious about ensuring he doesn’t come back they will need to break up his huge media empire and ban such a obscene conflict of interest between political office and one of the richest men in the country. Most of this can be done with existing legislation that has never been implemented.
Until then, even if he doesn’t gain political office again, Berlusconi can direct things from outside parliament, like Rupert Murdoch has done with his News International empire for 30 odd years in Britain, and like former comedian Beppe Grillo, the new kid on Italy’s political block, is trying to do from his top rated blog.
As for a successor to lead his PDL party, the Sicilian Angelino Alfano, a former Christian Democrat who led the revolt over the Senate vote, is in the frame. But his performance as the PDL’s candidate for premier in the February elections was very weak, and it is still possible Il Cavaliere can keep the Berlusconi family in the driving seat through his daughter Marina, who heads the multi billion euro business empire. She has already been tipped to succeed him, although denies any such plans. Silvio issued the same denials, before he felt compelled to ‘enter the field’ in 1994 with his Forza Italia party.
Any blow for a man – now a convicted criminal – who has succeeded in holding the interests of 60 million people to ransom to suit his own over blown ego and the desire to protect his vast wealth, has to be welcomed.
But the government that has been saved is not a government of the people. It is simply a government that has changed from being dominated by the big money interests of one individual, to big money interests in general.
Italian and foreign capitalists once needed Berlusconi to keep left wing policies at bay when the established party of the Right, the Christian Democrats, melted down under the heat of corruption scandals in the early 1990s.
Berlusconi – past his sell by date
But his usefulness has long since passed its sell by date: now a ‘modernised’ left, shorn of Marxism and even social democratic goals, in bed with their former historic rivals, some of whom fused with former communists and some of whom, like Alfano, joined Berlusconi’s camp, today provides a reliable political consensus to defend the interests of the elite class.
As Paolo Ferrero, the communist leader puts it: ‘After the confidence vote in the Senate there are two pieces of news. The good news is that Berlusconi has been left humiliated by the affair and without any political credibility: Berlusconi is finished. The bad news is that the Letta government is left standing, a government that is pursuing disastrous policies, privatizing everything and tampering with [labour rights and the powers of a sovereign parliament enshrined in] the Constitution.’
And yet more self-defeating austerity. Indeed, an analysis by economist Gustavo Piga, finds the current government, despite being led by the ‘centre-left’ leader Letta, is even more austere than that its predecessor. PM Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and member of the Bilderberg Group, was booted out precisely because of his obsession with cutting an already low level of public spending and hiking taxes on middle and lower income groups.
According to Piga, Monti had planned to reduce public spending between 2013 to 2017 by 0.4% of GDP while Letta plans cuts worth 0.9% of GDP. And this from a man who stated on forming his grand coalition with Berlusconi’s crowd in April that the country was ‘dying’ from austerity, and who vowed to adopt growth policies.
Despite a couple of months of positive jobs news, unemployment, at 12 percent, remains close to an historic high. Meanwhile, the economy remains mired in the longest recession since World War II, thanks to the 3.1 million jobless, depressed wages (driven down by employer-friendly labour reforms), and EU-sponsored public spending cuts.
But not to worry – the Milan stock market rose on news the Government had survived, so boosting, in the speak of EU Commissioners and their banker friends, the prospects of political ‘stability’ needed to implement of more ‘reform’. All genuine democrats will celebrate the demise of Europe’s most prominent out-of-control oligarch – if this is really the case. But if it just paves the way for more destructive austerity and neo-liberal policies, the party will be short lived.