Italy has been taken on a ride that was both monstrous and farcical

The Berlusconi era began with high hopes but ended in scandal, sleaze and stagnation

For days the airwaves have been buzzing with rumours of Silvio Berlusconi's imminent resignation. It is typical of this extraordinary politician, a combination of fox and limpet, that he should confirm the rumours while at the same time confounding them. He will indeed go, but only if... and that "if" contains a universe of possibilities for delay, imbroglio, well-lubricated persuasion of wavering colleagues, flat-out contradiction that he ever said anything of the sort. "They will have to carry him out," is the conclusion of many Italians. They may yet be proved right.

But let us be rash and take him at his word and declare the Berlusconi era if not over then at least closer to its end than ever before. What sort of a ride has it been? Bumpy. Farcical. Monstrous. Pointless. Above all, a terrible waste of 17 years, which is the length of time his person and his fortune have dominated Italian politics.

He first came to power in 1994 after the meltdown of the existing major parties in a vast bribery scandal. With so many crooked politicians in jail, a wind of reform was blowing through the country. Then in the space of three months Berlusconi, already vastly famous and rich thanks to his television empire, conjured Forza Italia into existence then drove it to triumph in a general election. And all talk of reform dropped off the agenda.

Although Berlusconi located himself on the centre-right and constantly flagellated Italian "communists", real and imagined, reform never really interested him. Margaret Thatcher? "Non e una bella gnocca," he once opined – "not a great piece of pussy". Overhauling the Italian state never turned him on: it would involve alienating people. As a former cruise-ship crooner, and provider to the nation of titillating American-style variety shows, all he was really interested in was making people feel happy, and getting rich in the process. As premier it was no different.

His first term lasted a bare seven months after the Northern League abandoned his coalition, but he had broken the mould of Italian politics and it would never be the same again. The centre-left fluffed an excellent opportunity to stop him in his tracks with a conflict of interest law, because it was already fatally in awe of his money, his charisma and the following which his television channels ensured. And in 2001 he came roaring back into power. Berlusconi has long claimed to be the victim of a conspiracy by "toghe rosse"(red togas), to thwart the popular mandate by putting him in jail. But if it is true that they were looking for dirt, there was plenty of it to be dug up. The cases against him and his closest cronies have exposed appalling scandals.

There is no point pretending he won't be missed. When Romano Prodi narrowly beat him in the general election of 2006, journalists' hearts sank: what could you do with this suet-like economics professor, this "nice cyclist" as Berlusconi called him? While Berlusconi – from his sultry, stacked wives and endless fragrant girlfriends to his facelifts and hair implants, from his endless flow of dirty jokes to his mangling of Italian– was copy made flesh.

The most remarkable thing about Berlusconi is his success, year after year, in persuading a huge chunk of the Italian electorate that he was their best possible leader – despite his utter failure either to reform or to promote economic growth. His ownership of mass media explains part of it, but not all. He may be a small politician, but he will leave a massive hole.

 

 

Suggested Topics
Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

£30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

Web developer (C#.NET, ASP.NET, MVC3/4, HTML5, CSS3, JAVASCRIPT

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

ETL Developer (SQL, C#, VBA, Finance, Risk, Hybrid, RDBMS, Jas

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: ETL Deve...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment