Is it All Over for Silvio?

by TOM GILL

Is it all over for Silvio? This question has been asked repeatedly over the past twenty years since the billionaire media magnate entered Italian politics. Today the answer has never looked more certainly a Yes.

On Wednesday the former prime minister was forced into a humiliating u-turn as plans to topple the government by withdrawing his party’s support backfired very badly.

Silvio Berlusconi’s actions prompted a confidence vote but Italian Premier Enrico Letta, from the Democratic Party that since the Spring has been in a ‘grand coalition’ with Berlusconi’s PDL party, won it. The Senate voted 235 to 70 in favour.

When it became clear that several of his senators would back the government, Berlusconi was forced to fall into line and declare his support too. As he left the Senate building after the vote, Italians outside greeted Il Cavaliere with catcalls, whistles and cries of “go away”.

The vote now increases the possibility that Silvio will be ejected from the Senate on the fairly reasonable grounds he is a convicted criminal. On Friday a Senate committee is due to vote on whether to strip him of his seat following his conviction for tax fraud.

 

Italy’s most high profile tax dodger will have to serve a one-year sentence, either community service or most likely house arrest because of his 77 years of age (you can imagine the suffering in the vast Villa San Martino, outside Milan, or the sumptuous Villa Certosa on Sardinia’s Porto Rotondo).

 

He has also been sentenced to seven years in jail for paying for sex with 17-year-old prostitute Karima El-Mahroug, known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, and for abuse of office.

 

The three times PM has bounced back many times in his rollercoaster career so any predictions of his definitive disappearance from politics should be treated with caution.

 

He’s disgustingly wealthy and still dominates private TV, and owns a few highly influential newspapers too. And there’s no obvious successor to his leadership of Right.

 

If Enrico Letta’s Democrats are serious about ensuring he doesn’t come back they will need to break up his huge media empire and ban such a obscene conflict of interest between political office and one of the richest men in the country. Most of this can be done with existing legislation that has never been implemented.

 

Until then, even if he doesn’t gain political office again, he can direct things from behind the scenes, like Rupert Murdoch has done with his News International empire for 30 odd years in Britain, and like former comedian Beppe Grillo, the new kid on Italy’s political block, is trying to do from his top rated blog.

 

As for a successor to lead his PDL party, the Sicilian Angelino Alfano, a former Christian Democrat who led the revolt over the Senate vote, is in the frame. But his performance as the PDL’s candidate for premier in the February elections was very weak, and it is still possible Il Cavaliere can keep the Berlusconi family in the driving seat by seeking to get his daughter Marina, who heads the multi billion euro business empire. She has already been tipped to succeed him, although denies any such plans. Silvio did the same, before he felt compelled to ‘enter the field’ in 1994 with his Forza Italia party.

Any blow for a man – now a convicted criminal – who has succeeded in putting his overblown ego and the desire to protect his vast wealth above the interests of 60 million people has to be welcomed.

But the government that has been saved is not a government of the people.  It is simply a government that has changed from being dominated by the big money interests of one individual, to big money interests in general.

Italian and foreign capitalists once needed Berlusconi to keep left wing policies at bay when the established party of the Right, the Christian Democrats melted down under the heat of corruption scandals in the early 1990s.

But his usefulness has long since passed its sell by date: now a ‘modernised’ left, shorn of Marxism and even social democratic goals, in bed with their former historic rivals, some of whom fused with former communists and some of whom, like Alfano, joined Berlusconi’s camp, today provides a reliable political consensus to defend the interests of the elite class.

As Paolo Ferrero, the communist leader puts it:  ‘After the confidence vote in the Senate there are two pieces of news. The good news is that Berlusconi has been left humiliated by the affair and without any political credibility: Berlusconi is finished. The bad news is that the Letta government is left standing, a government that is pursuing disastrous policies, privatizing everything and tampering with [labour rights and the powers of a sovereign parliament enshrined in] the Constitution.’

And yet more self-defeating austerity. Indeed, an analysis by economist Gustavo Piga, finds the current government, despite being led by the ‘centre-left’ leader Letta, is even more austere than that its predecessor. PM Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and member of the Bilderberg Group, was booted out precisely because of his obsession with cutting an already low level of public spending and hiking taxes on middle and lower income groups.

According to Piga, Monti had planned to reduce public spending between 2013 to 2017 by 0.4% of GDP while Letta plans cuts worth 0.9% of GDP. That is double the amount from a man who stated on forming his grand coalition with Berlusconi’s crowd in April that the country was ‘dying’ from austerity, and who vowed to adopt growth policies.

Despite a couple of months of positive jobs news, unemployment, at 12 percent, remains close to an historic high, while the economy, thanks to the millions of jobless, depressed wages and public spending cuts, remains mired in the longest recession since World War II.

But not to worry – the Milan stock market rose on news the Government had survived, so boosting, in the speak of EU Commissioners and their banker friends, the prospects of political ‘stability’ needed to implement of more ‘reform’. All genuine democrats will celebrate the demise of Europe’s most prominent out-of-control oligarch – if this is really the case. But if it just paves the way for more destructive austerity and neo-liberal policies, the party will be short lived.

Tom Gill blogs at www.revolting-europe.com

Tom Gill edits Revolting Europe.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”