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

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

Network Infrastructure Technical Lead - up to £45k DOE - Surrey

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Year 2 Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Technical Architect - Surrey - £35k-£45k DOE - Permanent

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Year 3 Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

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
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week