'Acceptable face' of fascism may cost Berlusconi victory

Italy's only woman candidate for PM emerges as the revelation of the election campaign, as she attacks the media magnate's chauvinism head on

The sensation of Italy's election campaign has been a glamorous 46-year-old divorcee with long, shapely legs, a piercing gaze, a fine Italian temper and the guts to say to Silvio Berlusconi: "You're not having me."

There is no chance she will become Italy's next prime minister; if her small, extreme, new-minted party manages to win seats in both houses of parliament it will be remarkable. But commentators on both sides agree that Daniela Santanche, the only woman candidate for prime minister, has been the revelation of an election which finishes in polling today and tomorrow.

Ms Santanche is the figurehead of La Destra, meaning the right, campaigning on the old fascist trinity of God, Fatherland and Family. The party's symbol is the old neo-fascist tricolour flame. It was founded by a nucleus of post-fascist believers after the mainstream heirs of fascism, the National Alliance, amalgamated with Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia to form the People of Liberty party.

The hard-right content of La Destra's programme is familiar enough: the attacks on immigrants; the evocation of family values; the assault on privilege and banks' profits. But what was new and startling was Ms Santanche's decision to challenge Mr Berlusconi's male chauvinist appeal head on.

Mr Berlusconi, whose lead in opinion polls appears to have shrunk in the last phase of the campaign (polls are banned in the last two weeks before voting), has long revelled in his macho image, the sultan in his harem surrounded by curvaceous young lovelies, some of whom might end up among the ranks of his MPs, but not in government. Despite what has happened to the status of women elsewhere in Europe – the Spanish Prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's new government has a majority of women ministers – for Berlusconi, women belong in the bedroom or the kitchen.

His demeaning remarks about them are the stuff of legend. "The left has no taste in women," he mocked. "Ours are much more beautiful." "Ladies," he said at a recent campaign meeting, "I have a mission for you on election day: cook! Sweet and exquisite things, please. Bring them to the polling station to be examined. The boldest can try making a tart, the most skilful, profiteroles."

Far from being a trivial eccentricity, Mr Berlusconi's compulsion to dominate and belittle is at the heart of his political success. The reason his centre-right coalition has had much less trouble with splitters and dissenters than the centre-left is simple: with his billions he has for years bankrolled his main ally, the secessionist Northern League. This time around he has done the same for the National Alliance, putting several of its leaders on his payroll as the price for absorbing their party and erasing its identity. The National Alliance's leader, Gianfranco Fini, has bet his party's existence on his hopes of stepping into Mr Berlusconi's shoes.

Ms Santanche charges her ex-colleagues with prostituting themselves for Mr Berlusconi's favours. In a television encounter with the equally tempestuous Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Il Duce and one of the right-wingers who has gone along with Mr Berlusconi, Ms Santanche told women viewers: "Don't give your vote to Berlusconi, he sees us only horizontally, never vertically." She accused la Mussolini of being "Berlusconi's showgirl". "Your grandfather must be spinning in his grave," she spat.

For a man like Mr Berlusconi, as priapic as a character in an Aristophanes farce, Ms Santanche was too gorgeous to be ignored. "People will vote for la Santanche because she is a beautiful babe," he said, "without realising that by doing so they will give votes to someone who is certainly not a beautiful babe [his centre-left opponent], Walter Veltroni."

It's the fate of the lion in winter: all his billions, all his television channels, cannot rescue him from the mockery that rains down on the aged lecher, his powers visibly waning.

While his rival, Mr Veltroni, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, has soberly criss-crossed the country, denouncing the Mafia and calling for Italy to turn over a new leaf, Mr Berlusconi has addressed small, ageing crowds, many bussed in to fill the seats, saying "anything that comes into his head", as one commentator put it, and bemoaning his fate. The magic has deserted him. But it took the flashing eyes of a beautiful woman to spell out the extent of his humiliation.

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments