24 Jan 2013

Comic Opera: Europe’s 3rd largest economy goes to the polls

It’s carnival time in Italy. With spring twinkling over the horizon, hearts beat faster and people dress up in flamboyant costumes straight out of 18th century Venice. It’s the perfect time then to stage a comic opera. It is called – drum roll please – the Italian Election.
By Richard Cottrell: Italians will vote for a new government at the end of next month. The country is stuck in the worst recession since the war, but from watching the antics of the ruling caste you wouldn’t think so. A more sober assessment would suggest that if Italians are not very careful they are about invite a re-play of Mussolini.
Now let’s sort the wheat from the chaff. The old lecher Silvio Berlusconi, who caused this erection (Freudian slip, election) by pulling the plug on the EU-IMF technocrat Mario Monti, is having a lot of fun kicking the furniture around.
He’s like a comedian making his last performance, basically to rousing applause, although almost no one wants him to be premier again. He is, however, a truly national ornament, a walking lightning storm, the festive joker with the rare gift of gaffing to the public gallery with such intimacy the blood of old maids has been known to rise to unsafe temperatures.
Millions of women admit they dream of being in bed with him. Millions of men are deeply envious of his amours and his money.
Now the story has leaked out revealing that the old scoundrel made some sort of backroom deal with Monti, which runs like this: Support for Monti in the country was sagging to epic lows, so the powers backing him (EU-IMF-ECB-Bilderberg) decided Italy needed a legit government with the professor in charge.

Berlusconi obligingly withdrew his parliamentary support in order to pave the way for early elections. In return he would get full amnesty for all his various crimes, such as tax evasion and the ongoing saga known as The Ruby Affair
, the allegation that he had improper relations with an under-age – at the time – Moroccan sprite.
This is the story which is now doing the rounds, and whether it is true or not doesn’t really matter. The mere hint was enough to split what’s left of the main party of the right – the House of Freedoms – right down the middle. Anyway what kind of an Italian election would it be without a leading lady, especially one endowed with such abundant charms?
Now to make things more complicated, Professor Monti is running for office and yet not running at the same time. This is perfectly normal in the Latin climate.  He is not a politician and he doesn’t have a political party. Well actually he does, but it is not a party, it is a List that supports Monti. So there is a ‘party’ after all. Yes and no to that one. The List is a sort of bespoke armchair from which the professor will exercise the levers of power.
The real heavy lifting will be done by the Partito Democratico (PD), which insists that its center-left credentials are in full working order.  But PD has been rooting and tooting for Monti’s ‘reforms’ ever since he appeared on the scene early last autumn.
They are gung-ho for the austerity package which has put Italians out of work in record numbers (the real figure is about 14%, including those who have given up looking for work and touching 35% among the Giovanni – 18-30 age group). Industrial production has fallen off the slopes of Vesuvius.
In fact there is more life in Vesuvius than there is in the economy. Vesuvius is presently dormant, so you will see my point.
Monti is a Senator, a most honorable status in Italia. Because he is nominated he doesn’t have to look for grubbing around in the hustings.  So if his Civic List does reasonably well (10% in the polls at the moment) and the PD delivers around 40% (poll prediction), then Monti is off to the Quirinale Palace, where his belongings are waiting for him anyway.
Or not, as the case may be.
The leader of the socialists, a dreary Italian stereotype of the nominal ‘Left’ called Pier Luigi Bersani, doesn’t see why he shouldn’t be kissing hands with the president, especially since you can’t slip a cigarette paper between his program and that of the Signor Professore.
Monti’s plan is to lord it from the Senate, while the government itself is composed of MP’s in the Lower House. Hmmm. Quite a few Italians hear skeletons rattling.
While not precisely over-lapping, the circumstances echo the elevation to power of a certain Benito Mussolini, back in 1922.  Mussolini kept parliament busy, while throwing the socialists out (despite having previously been a socialist MP himself).  Parliament was a very good talking shop and allowed Italy to maintain the pretence of democracy, while the great Benito was the spiritual guide and master. You’ll catch my drift.
Spanners in the works, anyone? Yes, and being Italy, this one is the personal property of a biting satirist called Beppe Grillo, a famous toreador who has made the life of the establishment parties a misery. He is in the fray with his 5 Star Movement, which had an excellent run in last year’s local elections.
Grillo, whose head seems to be crowned with an eagle’s nest of unduly splendid proportions, can fill large football stadiums with brilliantly clever and cutting rants lasting several hours. He is a biting, witty iconoclast. But there are no real or deep politics in his program. He is mani pulite – Signor Clean Hands – echoing famous Italian scandals from the past.
More skeletons.
He is all for term limits, no outside jobs for MPs, caps on politicians’ pay, banishing the corrupt Vatican and the priesthood from Italian public life, saying no to NATO, saying no to foreign wars, getting nukes out, and is all for ‘localism,’ that is, the return of political and public responsibility to the towns and cities, far from the perpetual stench of Rome.
Again being Italia, Grillo is not himself running for office.  He could, but he abstains because of a conviction for manslaughter involving a car accident some years ago. He acerbically denies himself power because he says that persons convicted of crimes are ineligible for seats in parliament, or for that matter, local authorities. Of course Signor Berlusconi is unhappy with such idle chatter, but many Italians – and it may yet turn out to be in impressive numbers – wholeheartedly agree.
We cannot regard Italia as a normal country in any respect. People speak of the Risorgimento (the union of Italy a century and more ago) as a ‘work in progress.’ But you must admit, it certainly is a bit of a weird pantomime when the 5th largest business in the country is organized crime, while the premier-in-waiting is a dry-as-dust Austrian School economist.
The ‘third largest economy in Europe’ is unable to unravel the tax-free activities of the Mafioso from normal business – construction contracts, waste disposal, ports, shipping, you name it – because when all is said and done, there is no political champion for such a task.
Italia’s essential ungovernability since WWII is now deeply ingrained.   Mario Monti seems to have no instinctive feel for people who are his countrymen. He is happier roosting with the bureaucrats in Brussels, or teaching the virtues of economic purity to idyllic youngsters at an expensive Milan private university – which have no prospect of being practiced in Italy.
Corporations are large and corrupt, the unions impotent, the entire nation tormented by petty jobsworths picking the last euro from the lower classes while the Usual Suspects stow it away in sackfuls in Swiss banks. It was ever thus, and ever will be.
The collapse of political normality began with the murder of the saintly former PM, Aldo Moro, in 1978. ‘Normality’ in the Italian sense always meant the perpetual rule of the Christian Democrats. Moro, their president, the Italian Gandhi, preached the ‘historic compromise’ between the Right and the burgeoning Eurocommunists. So for these sins he was put to death, along with the Left as an idea and a practical concept.
To be absolutely fair, this is the identical trend we find in British politics following the rise of Blair and the melding of the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States. Similar trends are at work in France. Sarkozy would have gladly invaded Mali. Hollande has.
The truth that dare not speak its name, yet hovers over the entire pageant, is Italy’s failure to exorcise the latent spirit of fascism. Berlusconi has implied that Monti has a fascist temperament, but this is a crudity.
Monti is the supreme globalist, for sure an enterprise with distinct neo-fascist overtones, but that does not make him a fascist in the sense usually understood in Italy. The real problem is that many of his supporters belong to the ranks where a certain hankering for ‘strong leadership’ in the style of Mussolini is very prevalent.
Views of this kind are firmly entrenched in quarters such as owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, the upwardly mobile yuppies of Milan, football terraces and church pews, in banks, and among the ranks of the military, the police and the secret services.
A party openly campaigning in favor of government beneath the Black Flag would be lucky to scrape the minimum number of votes to get into parliament. It is a tribute to Berlusconi’s considerable political talents therefore that he successfully drew on this well of discontent for two decades. So the leading question is where that frustrated reservoir of energy support will now be channeled.
My guess is that it will flow in equal proportions to the Monti List and the rump of Berlusconi’s fractured cause. But this is simply the first stage in a longer run.
I suspect that Monti wants to tame unruly Italy permanently by changing the constitution to fit the Gaullist model of a strong presidency and a nominal government. Undoubtedly this is the heartfelt wish of Mission Control in Brussels. This is also more or less the model that he recently pursued as the non-elected techno-premier presiding over a lame duck parliament.
Such a constitutional change will introduce fiat rule by decree, as in France (and the US, thanks to the on-going usurpation of Congress by successive occupants of the White House). The consequences will be irreversible.
The constitution is a mighty rule book, much revered by many Italians. But there is a sense that moving on might make sense. There is potential common cause here between left and right. The only opposition might come from Grillo’s Populist Front, but I doubt that he and his merry boys and girls are strong enough to stop the bulldozer.
A referendum is required to change the constitution. We shall see the first stage of that, although in disguise, when Italians go to the polling stations at the end of next month.
We are certainly not observing a jerky script of make it up as we go along. I am quite sure that matters are working out according to plan.  The carnival may be over.

Richard Cottrell is a writer, journalist and former European MP (Conservative). 
Richard’s latest articles “What goes around comes around: Gladio awakens in Greece” and “Benghazi-Gate: What exactly is the FBI hiding?” 



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