Janet Street-Porter: Mixing politics and business turns off voters

Related Topics

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.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice