Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League with which he has an electoral pact, flayed Mr Berlusconi at the weekend as 'the synthesis of the old ruling parties'. He and his Forza Italia movement are 'a creation of the (discredited and defunct) Christian Democrats,' he declared in Turin. 'Don't trust them]'
And Mr Bossi, who had shared out constituencies in northern Italy with Mr Berlusconi so as not to split the right-wing vote, issued secret orders (which were promptly leaked) forbidding his people to lift a finger in support of the tycoon's candidates.
Mr Bossi is angry and desperately worried. Mr Berlusconi's popularity seems to be growing unstoppably - at the expense of the League. The anti-establishment, federalist League, which first blasted through the political defences of the old ruling class, now sees the tycoon, who grew rich and powerful on that system, about to march through the breach and snatch away the prize.
Mr Berlusconi's own poll experts rubbed more salt in Mr Bossi's wound on Sunday by declaring Forza Italia now had over 37 per cent of the vote, with the League down to around 7 per cent. Independent polls last week had Forza Italia at 27 per cent and the League at 8 per cent nationally, with Mr Berlusconi's other ally, the neo-fascist Alleanza Nazionale at 10 per cent.
A couple of weeks ago Mr Berlusconi allowed that he was 'a bit sorry' he had formed this electoral alliance, but he was making every effort to remain calm and conciliatory. He understood the League's difficulties, but it was natural that one party should grow stronger, he said, adding: 'We consider our allies' candidates as blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh.'
Gianfranco Fini, leader of the Alleanza Nazionale, whom Mr Bossi brands a fascist, was less charitable. 'His irritability shows that his star is waning,' he said. The League and AN are not allies: the former are mainly limited to the north and the latter to the south, and are bitter opponents.
Mr Bossi would not be mollified. 'This is not one big family,' he said, and warned that the League had a double-barrelled gun 'with one bullet for our enemies and one for false friends'.
Meanwhile a poll for the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana predicted that together the right would have between 316 and 331 seats, but did not say how this might be divided up among the various parties. The left would get around 220, the centre 72 and the non-aligned rest a total of 15.
But Professor Gianni Statera, of Rome's La Sapienza university, who has analysed projections from last year's municipal elections, said it was 'highly likely' that no single alliance would get an absolute majority. The left has as good a chance of getting a relative majority as of being beaten by the right, he said.
The right-wing alliance, which also includes a small group of conservative former Christian Democrats, can hardly break up now. But if the tensions continue it looks unlikely that this electoral alliance can turn into a government alliance.
The parties are very different - Mr Berlusconi and the nationalist Alliance have no sympathy, for instance, with the League's federalism. If he does as well as his own pollsters say, Mr Berlusconi could be forced to look to the centre for allies.Reuse content