Perhaps Gordon Brown should take a look at the furore surrounding the antics of irrepressible Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and ask himself whether it was such a clever idea to bring Sir Alan Sugar into government. Not because Sir Alan surrounds himself with topless models, or cavorts with gorgeous female television weathergirls when he isn't being brutal on The Apprentice, but because events in Italy prove that mixing politics and the cut-throat attitude you need to run a thriving business causes nothing but trouble and turns off voters.
I'm writing this from Sardinia, just down the road from Silvio's lavish villa, where a series of photographs taken last year allegedly show the former Czech Prime Minister starkers, surrounded by topless women. Berlusconi is under investigation after one picture showed his favourite crooner and some dancing girls arriving on the island in the Prime Minister's jet, a trip funded by the long-suffering taxpayers. Actually, Berlusconi got a law through parliament which allows people to travel for free on this plane, but it only came into effect last August and the offending snaps were taken in May. He's confident that, once again, no mud will stick, announcing that this is just a "mean minded plot by the left... a fruitless gimmick".
Having a prime minister who is a media billionaire means that some Italians (mainly men) think he's doing a great job and is an inspirational role model. My tennis coach, Emiliano, is less sanguine, claiming that Mr B is making Italy an international laughing stock as his friendship with an 18-year- old lingerie model has seen his wife file for divorce and left-wing newspapers pressing for his resignation.
Berlusconi's right-wing People of Freedom party did take a hit in the EU elections – gaining around 35 per cent of the vote after he had publicly said he expected 40 to 45 per cent. Interestingly, the anti-immigration party, the Northern League, gained 10.9 per cent and Italy of Values (who campaigned against the government, claiming it was racist, xenophobic and anti-democratic) gained 7.8 per cent (doubling their share since the general election last year). The turnout was 66.5 per cent, the highest in Europe – which shows just how strongly Berlusconi divides the electorate.
Berlusconi's real enemy isn't the left or the morality campaigners, but another businessman, one far more powerful than he will ever be. Rupert Murdoch is furious that last December Berlusconi imposed a 20 per cent tax on pay TV, meaning that Sky Italia subscribers face an average increase of a whopping £44 a year. The Times newspaper has run unflattering editorials and Murdoch has written to Italian MPs attacking the tax. Sky Italia increased the stakes by pinching the top presenter from Berlusconi's Mediaset channel, Rosario Fiorello. This summer Berlusconi plans to launch his own satellite service in Italy, a highly risky enterprise, given Sky's domination of the market.
All of which makes one wonder just how much time Berlusconi can devote to running a country. We know Berlusconi has manners more suited to the cut-and-thrust of business than the world of diplomacy – he kept Angela Merkel waiting while he took a call on his mobile and thought nothing of shouting his head off in front of the Queen. I'm not suggesting that Sir Alan suffers from the Berlusconi school of deportment, but anyone who needs the huge ego boost of appearing on television in a spotlight firing people in a ludicrously theatrical manner is hardly suited to listening to the other person's point of view. How can Sir Alan advise British business? He seems only interested in one thing and that's reinforcing his brand, just like Berlusconi.
With this Telstar we have take-off
A hugely entertaining film about the early days of Britpop – Telstar – opens next week, reminding reminds us that back in the late 1950s the UK had a home-grown Phil Spector – the flamboyant and wonderfully bonkers Joe Meek, who was responsible for huge hits like "Johnny Remember Me", "Have I the Right?" and "Telstar".
Songwriter and producer Joe worked out of a home-made studio over a leather-goods shop in north London's Holloway Road – and his financial backer was an ex-army character called Major Banks, played in the film by Kevin Spacey. The former actor Nick Moran ( Lock Stock) has adapted a stage play about Meek by James Hicks and made a pretty good job of directing this seminal moment in British pop history.
Con O'Neill is mesmerising as Meek, whose downfall was young boys and an obsession with a cute but second-rate pop star called Heinz. Spacey has clearly been spending time watching classic British cinema as his accent is eerily reminiscent of Trevor Howard. The Major and Meek eventually fell out, and Banks forgot about pop music and went on to invent the Wheelie Bin. You couldn't make it up!
Grapefruit bowls not among life's essentials
Are any excuses for an MP's expenses more bizarre than those trotted out by Gerald Kaufman? How does he explain trying to charge taxpayers for a £8,865 40-inch Bang and Olufsen television, a £225 rollerball pen, and an expensive cut-glass grapefruit bowl? According to Sir Gerald, he suffers from "obsessive compulsive disorder", which meant everything had to be just perfect at all times.
My mother once made me take the Christmas present she'd bought me to the West Indies as she was so annoyed I wouldn't be in the UK to unwrap it – and when I opened the box it contained two cut-glass grapefruit bowls. I gave them to the maid – so if I can live without them, so can you Sir Gerald.
* Some MPs have claimed thousands in expenses for what is described as speech writing and media advice. Two companies seem to have done well; Scarlett McGuire received £10,000 from Harriet Harman, £5,000 from Douglas Alexander and £500 from Ed Miliband, while the Tories spent money with their former director of Communications, Nick Wood, whose company, Media Intelligence Partners Ltd, claims it "exists to help clients negotiate the media minefield". It received £11,000 from Iain Duncan Smith, £18,800 from Andrew Mitchell, £20,000 from Nadine Dorries and £17,000 from Philip Dunne. The invoices refer to "research and administrative services" as MP's are forbidden to pay for self-promotion or PR advice, but surely this is a grey area which needs tightening up.Reuse content