Peter Popham: Sad fact is that Italians cannot conceive of life without him

Share
Related Topics

What sort of grip does the old man hold over his country? The outside world wrote Silvio Berlusconi off years ago, The Economist leading the charge with its "Unfit to govern" cover, the US embassy in Rome (we now know thanks to WikiLeaks) following up with its verdict of "feckless, vain and ineffective". But yesterday, the 74-year-old billionaire was basking in another improbable parliamentary victory.

To conclude that Mr Berlusconi has simply bought himself another lease of life would be to misunderstand the nature of his appeal. The awkward fact is that after 16 years at the centre of the nation's politics, Mr Berlusconi occupies such a huge space that it is difficult to conceive of life after him. Physical stature aside, everything about him is epic: his wealth, his business empire, his vanity, his weaknesses, his charm. His idea of uniting the two untouchables of Italian politics, the neo-Fascists and the Northern League secessionists, in coalition with a party cooked up by his advertising men was much derided, but bold. And it has endured better than any other contemporary Italian political arrangement.

Gianfranco Fini's trajectory illustrates the problem. A clever politician who led his extremists in from the fascist fringe, his career was predicated on Mr Berlusconi's patronage as he became the unlikely voice of the conservative conscience. But in trying to go it alone, he has been exposed as another political pygmy.

Mr Berlusconi's slim victory yesterday was in truth merely the latest stage in his slow dissolution. Even if he succeeds in tempting the ex-Christian Democrats into his coalition, he is unlikely to be able to stagger on for more than a few months. But his departure will not solve the malaise of Italian politics. The disappearance of the Socialists and Christian Democrats in a massive bribery scandal in 1994 was hailed as the beginning of a Second Republic. Instead, Mr Berlusconi marched in, and the Second Republic was stillborn.

The lessons of his long domination are that Italy has a crying need for fresh, bold, iconoclastic ideas – not the tired temporising of the present leaders.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF,...

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