Leading article: Political crowds

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Even those who would delight in seeing Silvio Berlusconi humiliated in an Italian election would be appalled by the assault on him at the weekend. By mingling with the crowd in Milan's cathedral square, signing autographs and exchanging remarks, he was doing something which British political leaders, for instance, do all too rarely. Originally, it was the fear of IRA terrorists that caused our leading politicians to limit their contact with the public. Now it is the fear of Islamic extremists.

But the terrorist risk is also a convenient pretext for politicians who do not want unscripted encounters with the public, because there is no telling what people will say. It is more comfortable to be locked away in heavily guarded buildings undisturbed by anyone except civil servants and paid advisers.

There is no evidence that the attack on Mr Berlusconi was anything but the act of a loner with a history of mental illness. Sadly, the images of his blood-stained face will reinforce the views of other political leaders that it is not safe to venture out.

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