Faint breath of scandal panics the left

ROME DAYS

These are confusing times for the Italian left. Normally they would be denouncing their opponents for the kinds of things right-wing politicians do - running into legal trouble over party financing scandals, arranging comfortable housing deals for their families, or offending minorities with a tribute to a crypto-Fascist from the recent past.

Now the tables have been turned, and the left is being accused of these crimes while the right rubs its hands. In the lazy post-holiday atmosphere of a Roman September, the main left-wing party, the PDS, and its allies are managing to slip up on every banana skin going.

Thus it is that Massimo D'Alema, the PDS's professorial leader, is under judicial investigation for arranging back-handers for the party via a network of co-operatives in northern Italy. Thus it is that Mr D'Alema and the editor of the PDS newspaper, Walter Veltroni, are involved in a "Golden Rents" scandal, under which they were offered privileged rates for properties belonging to state investment funds and insurance companies. And Francesco Rutelli, the left-wing Mayor of Rome, is under fire for naming a square after Giuseppe Bottai, Mussolini's education minister at the time of the notorious 1938 race laws which hounded Jewish children out of state schools.

To believe the excited headlines of Il Giornale, the right-wing Milan newspaper controlled by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the whole Italian left could be about to crumble, and with it all prospects of winning power at the next elections. The headlines have worried the left, which has treated the allegations very seriously. But on closer inspection these scandals are as intangible as the autumn mists rolling across the Po valley.

It turns out that the party financing affair dates back to 1991, was small in scale and involved no personal enrichment. A magistrate's report mentions Mr D'Alema only once, in relation to a meeting he did not even attend.

As for the "Golden Rents", most of the "low" rents are little lower than the market value of the properties. Politicians needing a pied-a- terre in the capital are not the only ones to benefit - half Rome wangles a discount on rent in the same way. The real scandal is that so much property in prime locations belongs to state financial institutions. But as the left has not held power in Italy since the end of the Second World War, that is not the left's fault.

Mr D'Alema has taken no chances with the bad publicity, announcing that he will move out of his large but dingy flat at Trastevere, a little way from the Vatican. Mr Veltroni says he will ask his landlord to increase the rent to market levels. One wonders if such declarations of high principle will do any good. In Rome, anyone who volunteers to pay more than he or she has to is considered a fool.

Perhaps the stormiest debate has been over Mr Rutelli's proposed Largo Bottai, but even here one cannot help feeling let down by the paltry outrageousness of it all. Yes, Bottai was a minister under Mussolini, but he also protected enemies of the regime and paid for several prominent artists and intellectuals to go into exile. During the war he joined the resistance and was sentenced to death in absentia by the Fascist Salo Republic.

It's not as though anyone will have to live on his square. It is merely a stub of asphalt in the middle of the Villa Borghese park. And if you object to Bottai as an anti-Semite, what about all those anti-Semitic Popes who adorn Roman street signs? Or Emperor Titus, who has a huge triumphal arch to his name although he razed the Temple in Jerusalem?

For a while it seemed Mayor Rutelli would stick to his guns, but this week he backed down, saying the time was not right, though he hoped to honour Bottai in the future.

Thus, for the third time in as many weeks, the Italian left caved in to pressure from the right-wing press and humiliated itself over issues that should never have grown as big as they have.

As the commentator Michele Serra wrote recently, the left has a reputation of being intellectual, artistic, creative, friendly, socially responsible and sincere. But why does it have to ruin everything, by getting involved in politics?

ANDREW GUMBEL

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions