FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Has Berlusconi Bounced Back?

by TOM GILL

The latest polls make depressing reading. Billionaire media magnate Silvio Berlusconi has narrowed his lead over the centre-left’s Pier Luigi Bersani to within the margin of error of an opinion poll for the first time before Italy’s February 24-25 elections. The gap between the two has now narrowed to 3.7 points, according to a poll that has a margin error of 4 percentage points. The same pollster, Tecne, had Bersani leading by 14 percentage points on January 2.

So why has Berlusconi, who left office for the fourth time in November 2011 under a gigantic cloud, come bouncing back? Here’s five reasons:

1. Well that’s what he does, he’s the come back kid, and he’s a genius showman.

2. When you also control the show, that makes a political makeover a whole lot easier. Yes, his investment portfolio still includes three (out of four) national private terrestrial TV channels, Il Giornale, one of Italy’s top selling dailies, Publitalia, the country’s largest advertiser, and as his People of Freedom party is the largest in parliament, he’s got much influence over state TV too. And of course, that’s excluding the free publicity that comes with owning top football club AC Milan, and the clout that comes with a fortune of some $6 billion.

3. He’s having some success at smearing the Left through the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank scandal, although this affair, which has rocked Italy’s hitherto relatively stable banking system, is not about improper political influence in the historically ‘red’ Tuscan town. Rather it it a result of the world’s old bank embracing the hyper-speculative practices (derivative trading) of the 21st century finance industry that has already brought much of the West to its knees.

4. Berlusconi’s return, despite being sentenced to four years for tax fraud and continuing a case over child prostitution, is also a matter of policy substance, even if he has always made up policy (apart from that pertaining to himself) on the hoof.

Some of his policies are proving rather popular, like abolishing a hated housing tax (he’s done that before, on the eve of an election, and then won it). This is not surprising coming after a year of pure austerity courtesy of unelected PM Mario Monti – a year in which, as Berlusconi correctly states, not a single economic indicator has improved, including jobs and incomes, which are sliding dramatically. And while Bersani is decidedly pro-European, Berlusconi has in words, if not in deeds, been Euro-skeptic, even floating the idea of Italy leaving the Eurozone as part of an attack on Germany and its hegemony over the bloc. Quite apart from real resentment among Italians of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s austere recipes for Italy and other struggling southern EU members, this plays on memories of Germany’s occupation of Italy in World War Two.

5. The absence of real alternatives. Bersani made clear at the outset of the campaign he would stick to Monti’s ‘reform’ agenda (that is, rolling back welfare and labour rights) as well as his (economically suicidal) deficit reduction goals . This week he went further, saying he’d seal an alliance with Monti if that was what it would take garner a majority in parliament. This is in fact perfectly consistent with the past 12 months in which Monti has only been able to impose a most violent and self-defeating austerity and structural reform programme with Bersani’s support. And indeed that of Berlusconi. In fact, both main parties have been hiding behind the ‘technocrat’, a former European Commissioner, in the hope that he takes all the heat for policies they have in effect ratified by giving him the parliamentary support.

But in politics appearances are everything and Berlusconi has this past year been careful to distance himself from Monti, and is standing now, as he always has, together with the nasty, xenophobic Northern League. Meanwhile Bersani, who, previous to this overture to the most pure neo-liberal on the European scene had done a deal with a man to his left, the openly gay Puglia governor and leader of the Left Ecology Freedom Party Nichi Vendola, now risks looking even more inconsistent and opportunist than Berlusconi. And he will certainly struggle to articulate how his government will be any different that the current administration if Mario Monti is part of his team.

There is  in fact a genuine alternative, the Civil Revolution party, comprising communists, greens and other left-wingers including a crusading former anti-mafia magistrate Antonio Ingroia, the movement’s leader. But it is polling at just 5% and being a new creation, with no friends in the media, political or business establishment, it will struggle to gain the kind of visibility it needs, at least in time for polling day end of the month.

Concluding…

At root, Berlusconi’s return is caused by that chronic disease on Italy’s left since the Italian Communist Party (PCI), once Italy’s second largest political movement, dissolved itself 1989-91: an endless search for alliances to its Right, leading to much political flip flopping, and a steady abandonment of radical demands, or even those associated with traditional social democracy, like labour rights and welfare. Indeed the main successor of the PCI, the Democrats, has failed to champion even the most basic of liberal demands, like a semblance of freedom of the press. They had national power twice since Berlusconi first stormed Rome in 1994, but failed to break up his media empire.

This latest manifestation of that disease may ultimately leave the field open to the real wild card in the election: the Five Star Movement led by comedian-blogger Beppe Grillo that shouts loudly about corruption and austerity, even if it’s thin on policy detail and suffers the same cult of the personality as Berlusconi’s party. With local and regional victories under its belt, from Parma in the north to Sicily in the extreme south, Grillo’s movement is scoring third in the polls, at 16%. Part of the attraction of this upstart populist movement, in the current confusion that reigns in Italian politics, is its refusal to do deals with any other parties. It might not be the most likely scenario, but the final showdown on election day could yet be Grillo vs Berlusconi.

Tom Gill blogs at www.revolting-europe.com

 

Tom Gill edits Revolting Europe.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail