Et tu, Brute!

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12 October 2013

Fangs ain’t what they used to be, as reviewers joke about the declining quality of horror films.

Nor are things what they used to be in the horrific drama of Italian politics.

True, the octopus of the mafia continues to spread its tentacles in the shadowy interface between business and politics.

True, the black market of undeclared untaxed business transactions continues to account, allegedly, for up to a third of the country’s economic output.

True that, as a result, the public coffers are fast emptying and the public debt mountain (currently 130 % of GDP) is growing exponentially.

Nonetheless, change has occurred and not least the historic compromise clinched earlier this year between the so-called “left of centre” Democratic Party led by the opportunistic johnny-come-lately Enrico Letta and the unashamedly rightwing People of Freedom Party led by the even more blatantly opportunistic Silvio Berlusconi – entrepreneur, media tycoon, serial criminal defendant, convicted tax evader and one of Italy’s richest men, who served four terms as Prime Minister of Italy between 1994 and 2011.


Like the entire European political class outside Italy, Antigone1984 has always opposed Berlusconi.


European politicians across the spectrum – from the rightwing conservatives to the rightwing self-styled socialists – have long wanted Berlusconi’s head on a plate. Not because he was rightwing – they too are all rightwingers – but because, unlike the rest of them, he was not a safe pair of hands. A histrionic showman – to his critics, a clown – Berlusconi was a political maverick, a wild card, the joker in the pack. The restrained bland conventional comportment of the grey men and women in suits was not for him.


Our own opposition to Berlusconi was more straightforward. We opposed him on the grounds that he was rightwing. To Antigone1984, as to the post-war British Labour politician Nye Bevan, the right are “lower than vermin”.


So you might expect us to rejoice at Berlusconi’s recent come-uppance. Well, it’s not so simple as that.


Ever since he was definitively found guilty of tax fraud on 1 August 2013, Berlusconi has been manoeuvring to bring down the government, in which his party is the junior partner. His machinations came to a head towards the end of September when he instructed his party’s ministers to pull out of the government.


Aristotle, in his Poetics, said, paradoxically, that the unexpected has a tendency to occur. And so it happened at this critical juncture in the career of “Il Cavaliere”, as Berlusconi is popularly known in Italy.


For the first time since his party came to power in 1994, Berlusconi suffered an unprecedented rebellion from within his own ranks. A substantial number of party members decided to ignore their leader and back the government.


What made matters worse was that the rebel ring-leader was none other than Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s long-standing right-hand man. A Sicilian lawyer, Alfano had become Deputy Prime Minister thanks to Berlusconi’s government pact with Letta in April.  Now, the allurements of public office being such, Alfano was in no hurry to return to the parliamentary back benches, doubtless taking the view that, with Berlusconi’s star on the wane, now was the time to jump ship.


The reproach made by Julius Caesar to Brutus when he spotted his old friend among his assassins comes readily to mind: “Et tu, Brute!” (“Even you, Brutus!”, sometimes jokingly mistranslated into English as “Even you, you brute!”).


The parliamentary arithmetic now against him, Berlusconi was forced into a humiliating climb-down and had no option but to vote with the government in a vote of confidence on 2 October 2013.


Two days later, on 4 October, a committee of the Italian Senate voted 15 to 8 to expel Berlusconi from the Senate because of his conviction for tax fraud. That vote must be confirmed by the full Senate around the middle of this month.


About the same time, Berlusconi will begin to serve the one-year sentence of community service or house arrest handed down by the court which convicted him of tax fraud on 1 August 2013. The court also banned him from holding public office for up to three years.


It is just conceivable, therefore, that, as part of his public service sentence, we shall see the man who was four times Prime Minister of Italy cleaning out the toilets in some public building.


Poetic justice, some might say, and indeed Berlusconi’s comprehensive and dramatic downfall – he is still entangled in other legal cases, including a charge that he had sexual intercourse with an under-age prostitute – has more than a touch of Shakespearian tragedy about it.


However, what is at stake now goes well beyond the drama of one man’s fate.


However paradoxical it may seem, in our view it is a tragedy for Italian democracy that Letta won the vote of confidence on 2 October.


Had the Italian government fallen on that date and failing formation of a new opportunistic coalition, the way would have been open for new parliamentary elections. However, this is something that the entire Italian political establishment is against, not least “King George” (“Re Giorgio”), President Giorgio Napolitano, an ex-Communist transmogrified, like so many former leftists, into a pillar of the status quo.


Why this fear of fresh elections?


Because the main concern of the Italian establishment is that new elections could enable the anti-establishment anti-corruption pro-democracy Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) led by comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo to gain a working majority in one or both houses of parliament.


Now that would be an out-and-out tragedy for the establishment, who want nothing more than to perpetuate the existing pork-barrel arrangements whereby the spoils of office are shared out, more or less equitably, between two parties with virtually identical polices, one of these parties being on the right and the other cynically purporting to be on the left. The last thing these parties want is a third group with principles muscling in to upset their cosy arrangement. That is why Napolitano has been so desperate to avoid seeking the view of the Italian people in a fresh election: he is afraid that the people might take the wrong decision!


The key process currently taking place in Italian politics is the preparation of a new electoral law which will be concocted in such a way as to prevent third parties such as the Five Star Movement from securing enough seats to form a challenge to the status quo. That legislation is still going through the mill, which is why, from the establishment standpoint, elections must be held off at all costs for the time being.


As the London Guardian – as an institution, a die-hard supporter of the status quo – said in an editorial on 3 October 2013, “Mr Letta’s primary goal is to push through political reforms – such as changes to Italy’s voting system, which would deliver decisive results and strong governments.”


Decisive results, strong governments….resolute leadership, iron determination, single-minded ruthlessness …. Now where have we heard all that before? Think of the history of the 2oth century. Think what happened in the last century when the peoples of Europe placed their faith in leaders of steel.


To give an idea of the hatred of democracy that is endemic in the European establishment, here is the start of our blog post – The people have spoken, the bastards! – of 5 March 2013 on the Italian elections which took place on 24 and 25 February 2013:


“The people have spoken, the bastards!”

These are the immortal words of Dick Tuck (b. 1924), an aspirant for nomination as Democratic Party candidate for the 1966 election to the California State Senate, on learning that he had lost to George Danielson.

Tuck’s remark chimes perfectly with the howls of rage and disbelief that have emanated from the gullets of the European elitocracy at the news that, in a parliamentary election on 24 and 25 February 2013, the voters of Italy had had the brass neck to elect the upstart anti-party Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) – hitherto without any national political representation – as the largest single party in the lower chamber of the bicameral Italian Parliament (if the votes of overseas Italians are excluded).

The German political class is said to have reacted with the wish that Italy had a different electorate. Perhaps a German electorate? The German social democratic party (SPD) deputy chairman Peer Steinbrück said he was appalled that the election had been won by “two clowns” (Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo).

In public, most other European leaders prudently refrained from commenting directly on the outcome of the election, but in private comments, made public via the media, they made plain their shock and outrage at the upsurge of “populism” among voters who refused to toe the line of Italy’s established pro-austerity political parties. The message of the Euro-elite relayed by the usual pliant media was that Italy may have chosen a new parliament but the policies that this parliament adopts must remain the same (continued austerity and belt-tightening) – or else!

The idea that politicians are elected to represent the views of the voters who elect them is an alien concept in Brussels or Frankfurt. To the Eurocrats, democracy means that a tiny handful of senior establishment politicians fix policy among themselves behind closed doors and then rely on docile media and biddable party underlings to persuade a passive electorate that there is no alternative.

Writing in the London Guardian on 27 February 2013, contrarian commentator Simon Jenkins maintained that “wildcat populism always terrifies the existing order”. He added: “If there is one thing a politician dreads more than a central banker, it is an election”.

But what is this “populism” of which they are frit?

It is simply means that those aspiring to public office undertake to represent the views of those who put them there. Instead of imposing on people policies which they do not want, it means listening to what the voters say and giving them what they want. It is in fact nothing other than our old friend democracy, to which the powers-that-be pay lip-service in public but do everything they can to thwart in practice. In theory democracy means “rule by the people”. In practice, it means “rule over the people” by a tiny elite of political bosses who have manoeuvred themselves into public office via the springboard of political parties which they themselves control.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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