Fairy-tale ends for Berlusconi

ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

When Silvio Berlusconi was Prime Minister of Italy last year, he said he felt "anointed by the Lord" and the bearer of a divine mission. Yesterday, having clamorously failed to unseat his successor, Lamberto Dini, in a parliamentary no-confidence vote, he was casting himself in a rather humbler light.

"I feel like Snow White in a world without fairy-tales," he said, clearly feeling the pinch of humiliation as a key ally in his push to topple the government, the far-left Rifondazione Comunista, pulled out at the last moment. "The rules of business don't seem to apply to politics ... Once upon a time Communists were serious people."

This was more than uncomfortable bleating from a wounded leader. Among Mr Berlusconi's colleagues in his patchwork conservative coalition, the Freedom Alliance, the talk was openly of whether this no-confidence vote was one blunder too many, and whether the time had come to find someone else to lead the Italian centre-right.

"I get the impression that another candidate has emerged in the last few days," one of Mr Berlusconi's newer allies, the Christian Democrat leader Rocco Buttiglione, said with an enigmatic smile. Although he did not say so in as many words, Mr Buttiglione and, indeed, much of the Christian Democrat component in the Freedom Alliance, have been pushing to nominate the former head of state, Francesco Cossiga, as their prime ministerial candidate.

A man wholly identified with the old political order, Mr Cossiga is, frankly, an unlikely choice. But the threat to Mr Berlusconi's authority is very real, and is likely to intensify once a timetable is established for Italy's much-heralded next general election. After all, this is a man who promised the earth when he spectacularly entered politics at the beginning of last year, but whose record has proved him to be far more talk than action.

The coalition with which Mr Berlusconi won the March 1994 general elections fell apart after seven turbulent months in which he failed to deliver on any of his key campaign promises. Since his resignation he has ceaselessly pressed for fresh elections, but failed to obtain them. He has tried to woo both Mr Dini and the popular former anti-corruption magistrate, Antonio Di Pietro, into his political movement, but managed only to alienate them.

And now, starting in January, his trial on charges of corruption relating to his Fininvest business empire risks turning him into a serious electoral liability. His chief ally, the leader of the former neo-Fascist National Alliance, Gianfranco Fini, has talked openly about reconsidering Mr Berlusconi's position, stopping short only of the obvious consequence - nominating himself in his place.

Mr Berlusconi is likely to prove a hard man to dislodge, however. Not only does he have charisma, populist appeal and the allegiance of scores of former business associates turned politicians, but he also has the one weapon which makes him the envy of the entire political spectrum: his three private television stations.

One possibility is that Mr Berlusconi takes a back seat, acting as political godfather to the centre-right but allowing someone else to run for prime minister. But even that will take some persuading, given Mr Berlusconi's hard-bitten ambition and his clear relish at being the centre of attention.

"You say the Alliance needs a new manager?" he said on Thursday night in response to a joke about the soccer team he owns, AC Milan. "Well I didn't score too many victories in my first year at Milan, but once I started winning I didn't stop."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
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

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
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