Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi salute.jpg

there is something about the Italian leader that makes me warm to him

he defends his remarks with all the confidence and insouciance of one who has a personal fortune estimated at $12 billion, making him the richest man in Europe

I cannot help hoping that this peacock will be given one last chance to convert his outrageousness into real political bravery, and reform the Italian economy

Berlusconi has his faults, but dullness isn’t one of them

Before we go any further, I want to make it absolutely clear that I have not received a penny from Silvio Berlusconi.

Yes, I have been to his socking great villa, strewn with helicopter pads, amphitheatres and thalassotherapy baths, on a Sardinian promontory. In common with other world leaders, I have been driven by Mr B around the estate, and admired his demented Dr No-style cactus collection, including a spiny mutant which he likened to “the brain of my finance minister”.

It is true that I have eaten a large quantity of the Italian prime minister’s pistachio ice cream – which he personally rustled up from the kitchen – and drunk about a quart of iced tea. It is true that our conversation became extremely animated, though when he says that I “took advantage of him” in the cicada-chirping dusk, having plied him with “several bottles of champagne”, I fear his memory is playing him false. I reported some of the more exciting things he said, and ever since then he has shown a stony refusal to pay off my mortgage or even to help me invest in a hedge fund.

So I hope you will agree that I still have a faint trace of impartiality in declaring there is something about the Italian leader that makes me warm to him; and it would be sad if he were to lose next month in the Italian elections to one as spine-crackingly worthy as Romano Prodi.

Silvio Berlusconi is a landmark of modern politics. There is no one to touch him for sheer exuberant outrageousness. In his speech, in his dress, his bandanas, his face-lifts, his ludicrous 1950s cruise-ship sexism, he is a standing reproach to the parade of platitudinous Pooters that pass across the stage of international diplomacy.

He once called an important press conference with one of the Continent’s leading Euro-bores, Anders Fogh Rassmussen, the Danish prime minister, and announced that he was going to introduce Mr Rassmussen to his wife, because the Dane was so good-looking that he might divert her from the man with whom she was then romantically entangled, a chemistry professor called Cacciari.

Dio mio! said the journalists. Has any Italian prime minister ever behaved like that before? Has any politician ever cracked a joke about his wife’s boyfriend? Let alone in the presence of some po-faced, bearded and deeply mystified Dane? Only Berlusconi could get away with it, and – as he doubtless calculated – the remark does not seem to have hurt him in the polls, earning him as it did the sympathy of every cuckold and straying wife in Italy, a significant chunk of the electorate.

Of course there are aspects of his premiership that are sinister, and troubling. How can the Italians vote for a man who owns 90 per cent of Italy’s independent television sector, as well as all sorts of newspapers, supermarkets, football clubs and heaven knows what else? This is a man so ruthless and so powerful that he has actually changed the law so that he cannot be prosecuted for his alleged corruption, as long as he is in office.

How can the Italian electorate tolerate these epic conflicts of interest? It is not as though he has lived up to his original billing as a man who was going to reform Italy with Thatcherite zeal. The euro experiment is proving particularly tough on the Italians (as this column has been predicting for about 15 years), since they cannot devalue as they used to, and, while Germany’s share of world exports has remained steady at about 11 per cent, Italy’s has declined from 4.5 per cent to 2.6 per cent.

The Italians never emulated the British, in switching from manufacturing to service industries, and now all their beautiful leather and textile firms are being pounded by the Chinese. The poor Italians are so nervous about their financial position that the birth rate has fallen to 1.3 per mother, and 40 per cent of 30- to 34-year-olds are still so strapped for cash that they are living with their parents.

Berlusconi could have done far more, in his first term, to tame the unions and reform the labour markets and generally get Anglo-Saxon on the economy; and everyone agrees that he has been a disappointment, and that his attacks on the size of the state have had all the incisiveness of limp fettucine.

How can they still like him, then, this former member of the P2 Masonic lodge, this buddy of Bettino Craxi, this man over whom there will always be a Vesuvian cloud of suspicion? How can they continue, in such large numbers, to give their affection to a man who is so often the object of international hilarity?

The answer is that they like him not in spite of the gaffes, but because of the gaffes. It is Berlusconi’s genius that he has become the only world leader in the great queue of grey-suited line-toers who can be consistently relied on to say something eye-popping, and then, rather than apologise, he defends his remarks with all the confidence and insouciance of one who has a personal fortune estimated at $12 billion, making him the richest man in Europe.

Did you hear the Berlusconi joke about the man with Aids, whose doctor told him to take a mud-bath? “It won’t cure you,” said the doctor, “but you’ll get used to being buried.”

Now, if a British MP had used that joke, publicly or privately, it would, without question, have been the end of his or her career. It is tasteless in the extreme and politically incorrect to the point of insanity. I can imagine that sensitive readers will be shuddering with amazement.

But Berlusconi not only said it: he repeated it, and then said that his critics deserved to be buried themselves for their sense of humour failure.

He said that he had used his “playboy skills” to persuade the Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, to allow the European Food Standards Agency to be located in Italy, an analysis that so offended the feminist Finns that there was a diplomatic crisis.

And there is more. I do not defend his jokes, but they help to make him fallible and human, and to explain his popularity. I cannot help hoping that this peacock will be given one last chance to convert his outrageousness into real political bravery, and reform the Italian economy; and, if he fails, then by all means put him on trial.

54 thoughts on “Silvio Berlusconi”

  1. Now, if a British MP had used that joke, publicly or privately, it would, without question, have been the end of his or her career.

    So basically he’s Prince Phillip with authority.

    Prince Charles is perennially nailed to the wall for making the odd (largely sensible) recommendation. His Dad, like most people with (at least) a spine and more than half a brain, enjoys a joke. Your mate, Berlusconi, seems to combine both talents for political ridicule in one, all too solid, body.

    The most amazing thing about his political primacy is that nobody’s shot him.

  2. He’ll do better tha Mussolini, then..he only ever managed to get ONE train to run on time!

  3. I have friends living close to Turin, a small town called Rivolta.

    They are deperately unhappy with the widespread corruption in the country.
    If were only Berlusconi who was openly dismissive of public opinion , it would be bad enough, but, according to my friends, such behaviour and corrupt practices are more or less accepted by everybody.
    Corruption and disdain for the law is regarded by all and sundry as part and parcel of daily corporate and political life, throughout Italy.

  4. Corruption is a killer of democracy, free-enterprise and a healthy social and economic life.

    I am shocked that Boris treats Berlusconi as some kind of harmless figure. The man looks like a crook, he smells like a crook, he sounds like …

  5. Well i must have mis-read The Bozzers piece, Count. I took it to be firmly tongue in cheek!


  6. **Deliberately Off Topic**

    There really should be somewhere on this site that people can start a thread, because sometimes pertinant stuff ends up being ignored.

    Case in point: An English Parliament.

    The Welsh and the Scots both have their own Parliaments, but Lord Falconer wont allow an English one because he believes it will result in a break-up of the UK. Ok, fair enough…but surely there should be an “English Only” vote allowable for issues that only affect England? Currently, the Welsh and Scots can dictate to the English, whilst we have no say in their respective countries.

    This is fundamentally WRONG, and must be redressed as soon as possible.

    Ok, you can all go back on topic now!


  7. Psimon,
    I’m in absolute agreement with you and the topic you have raised is substantially more significant to English interests than Berlusconi’s propensity for chicanery and Barnumism(?).

  8. Psi:
    I don’t know who that fat ex room-mate of Bliar is listening to , when he claims that there is no REAL interest in an English Parliament: everyone I speak to is hugely interested is of the opinion that it is grossly unfair for the Celts,( of whom I am one ), to have their own humungously expensive talking shop,( which seems to need repair already), whilst by far the largest section of society has none.

    At the very least it would break the unhealthy hold of Nu Lie Boor over the mass of non labour voters living in England.

    As long as the Scots have all the plum jobs ,(thanks to Oor Tone), there is no chance ; today or any other day, that the English will be able to vote to waste their own money.

    If the young pretender; Dave , would , for once stop shadowing Bliar, and declare that an English Pariiament would be on the cards under a Tory Government , they would win seats everywhere. But that is as likely to happen as Lord Lucan’s re-entrance stage left .

    IDS was ” The Quiet Man” and admitted it.

    This one says nothing of substance at all, but will not acknowledge it.

    I think the man is a zephyr in a windtunnel. As welcome as a …. in a spacesuit, as ” The Big Yin ” once so famously said on the Parkinson Show.

    Come back The Yorkshire Tyke; all is forgiven: baseball cap and all.

  9. Berlusconi is the worst thing that has happened to Italy, and I do hope that he doesn’t get a second term. He has destroyed the Italian constitution, changed the laws according to his own interests, that is the only thing he has done, for his own interests. In a second term he would do little more. And if this was written tongue in cheek, sorry Boris get your facts right, Cacciari is a philosophy professor. If you cannot get details like this right, how can I continue to read what you write without thinking that you have gotten quite a lot wrong?
    ps an English parliament is needed, most people I have talked with agree with it, or at least stop Scottish and Welsh MP voting on English laws.

  10. I support a free parliament for anyone who is willing to translate Macarnie’s last post into the vernacular. He gets awful Celtic when he gets talking about politics.

  11. Raincoaster:
    The bare gist:
    We are told this morning in a radio interview, by a very senior Labour politician , that Labour does not want to upset the status quo, despite having achieved just that; twice; in recent times, when they allowed both Wales and Scotland to have separate parliaments, or Assemblies.

    To square the circle , it would be fair to allow England the same privilege. Without this , the unfair anomaly will remain a thorn in many peoples sides.

    They, ( Labour), say it is in no way on the agenda. Full stop.
    The rest was mere light hearted political bias.

  12. I don’t mind having an English parliament if we can move the seat of government to Ely, turn London into a wildlife park, send the Normans back to Normandy, restore the Saxon line, make Abbot Ale (draught) the national drink, and make jokes about webby footed people punishable by ordeal. And it’s Friday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Happy weekend one and all!

  13. William Hague, one of many recent Tory leaders, used to wear a baseball cap. But only while taking rides on a slide into a pond.

  14. Jack Ramsey

    You’re welcome to your English Government, and a jolly good location and national drink you’ve chosen too.

    However I feel I ought to put in a good word for the Cornish, who as eny fule kno are British not English and therefore liable to be a bit ticked off at being lumped in with a load of webby-footed Saxons in the far east. Especially as all the other Britons in Wales and Scotland seem to have got their own parliaments already.

    For the Cornish seat of government I’d recommend the Blisland Inn on Bodmin Moor. The people already lined up on the barstools would all make excellent cabinet ministers, and (it being a free house) the national drink could rotate week on week. Which means a guest appearance by Abbot (on draught) at least once a year.

    You can do what you like with London, as far as the Cornish are concerned. Once they’ve finished digging the Tamar all the way to the North Coast, there won’t be any further need for foreigners anyway…

  15. You might call it insouciance, I call it arrogance – the Aitken kind, the Hamilton Kind and most definately the Jeffery Archer kind.

    Ken Clarke is insouciant, but I cannot think of any others on that side of the sheet.

    I see your point, we do need “personalities”, but not the crappy ones who think they are above the level of the hoi polloi.

  16. Mark

    When you complete the Tamar cut will the Cornish Times headline be

    “Tamar cut finished, England cut off”

  17. Gerard E:
    I see nothing light-hearted or nonchalant about this lot. The mistaken belief in their inherent inviolability , due to their position in society, is more than mere arrogance, it is the outer skin of the arrant belief in their right to behave in such a fashion, without fear of negative criticism. In such circles, it is widely believed that all but ones equals , ( of whom there are, per se , but scarce few) , are of a lesser intellect and value, and are therefore not worthy of further consideration.

    This type of behaviour is on the increase, due to the growing fraternity of such persons gaining positions of considerable influence, either in their own right, or as coat-tail hangers on to those who have acceded to such positions of public office.

    The public in the democratic countries; hoodwinked long enough; must apply, at the first oppportunity, the antidote the to this growing threat to democracy. The ballot box.

  18. Abbot Ale, Jack? Can’t drink too much of it myself – draws the bile. Prefer Greene King’s other treasure, IPA. It’s the finest brew on earth and another reason for not living in Italy.

  19. Well, given that Canada’s finest brew is called Fin du Monde, I cannot reccommend it in the context of the current discussion, no matter how tasty it is.

  20. Back to Berlusconi: Boris would say this, wouldn’t he? Of course he likes the guy’s flamboyant style – he is cast in the same mould. I, too, wish there were more of them.

    Isn’t anyone else troubled by the grey, santimonious bores who dominate the political scene these days? The earnest, charisma-free wimmin who, if they do have children, look as if they acquired them by immaculate conception? The line-toers and self-righteous do-gooders. I am deeply suspicious of anyone who claims never to have put a foot wrong. How can someone run a country when they’ve not seen life, not known sin?

    In fact I rather like the idea of being governed by people with moderate human frailties. Take Blunkett: Have we reached such a state of puritanism that someone wrongly buying a rail ticket on expenses deserves the ultimate sacrifice, especially when that someone was probably the only decent minister they had?

    The media have a lot to answer for, of course. One foot out of line and you’re front page, P45 in the post.

    So how do you get away with it, Boris? (Didn’t mean that, honestly!)

  21. PaulD:
    Everything you were saying was being ticked off as being Okayed by my little brain , until you mentioned Blunkett.

    In the whole unattractive, graceless miscellany of fawning, A…e licking sycophants, with which Bliar has managed to surround himself , he was probably the least savoury , ( barring perhaps Mandelson), of the bunch, and that takes some doing.

    There was something of the Uriah Heep about him, just as there is something of the Bill Sykes about the fat controller. Urgh! Fair makes my toes curl, I can tell ‘e sir!.

    Any more fugitives from the Dickens, or indeed anyone else’s collection?

    Who , for instance is Fagin?

    As for the possibility of the distaff members of this government having experienced human parthenogenesis : I never believed it the first time round , and I’m not going to start reconsidering the possibility now.

  22. Macarnie: I never said he was good, just the best they had!

    Fagin? Uncle Gordon of course. Better be careful here. Didn’t Labour cast Michael Howard as Fagin in an advertisement?

  23. Mac,
    You must cast Tony as ‘the Artful Dodger’.

    I’d go for Alistair Campbell as Fagin (even though he’s only peripheral now)

    Can’t wait to see the film.

  24. O.K. Joe : done deal , but only if I can have the chubby one , Bliar’s ex room- mate Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoro ton,( aptly named too ), as Mr. Bumble, the Beadle.

    Oliver is of course, Poor Little England, asking for his own Parliament,( It’s gruelling enough. Ouch !)

  25. Perhaps Gordon should have been Mr Micawber, with one exception.

    Annual income twenty pounds etc … result misery

    Annual income twenty pounds etc … result misery

  26. Only one thing wrong with that casting Paul;

    Micawber had some redeemiing features.

  27. Hi Boris,
    I understand that Labour are handing out peerages at the knockdown price of 1.5 Mil a pop and I wondered if the Conservatives may have a few fire-sale bargains on hand.

    Not that I want to start a price war or anything, I’m just shopping around a bit and looking for good value.

    Is there perhaps a loyalty point scheme if I go with your crew? Green shield and dexter chevron, unicorn rampant stamps perhaps?

    Lord Joseph Back-hander of Walk-like-an-Egyptian has an impressive ring to it don’t you think?

  28. I quite agree with PaulD.
    Politicians seem to need to be perfect, which they don’t. Berlusconi is obviously an example of this but needless to say isn’t exactly an example to be follwed.

    May I add that HRH Queen Elizabeth seems a bit quiet. Harry ought to find his way onto the throne and get some good done.

  29. Given that Cheney’s hunting partner’s donation of $6,500 to the Republicans last year was obviously insufficient to prevent his being SHOT BY THE VICE-PRESIDENT, maybe the UK should look at the honours system as a great way of guaranteeing a positive cashflow with minimal reciprocal obligations.

    “Yes, we promise not to shoot you.” That should do it.

  30. Didn’t Micawber bring the ghastly Heep to his just ends? Isn’t he the hero that we petty bourgeouis English men hope lurks beneath our M & S pullovers?

  31. Applauding Berlusconi’s Buffoonery – Boris Johnson aims out of the vase

    Boris Johnson, writing in the Spectator, suggests that it would be a shame were Silvio Berlusconi to lose the next election. Focussing primarily on Berlusconi’s legendary gaffes, suggesting “they help to make him fallible and human, and to explain his…

  32. I’m an italian student and I’m interested about the way the other countries’s press judge italian politic..i can report my own experience with Berlusconi’s government..he destroyed italian economy but increased his incomings boundlessly, endorsed many laws that protected him by jail’s gates for corruption and other financial gamblings, dismantled the university system and many young people (like me) are barred to hope for a steady job, but above all, since berlusconi is at power, there’s a lack of freedom..with the exception of rai 3, all the medias are controlled directly or indirectly by him. it’s a sort of soft fascism that operates in people’s minds, it’s not visible but it’s though the italian tv panorama disappeared people like Santoro, Biagi(journalists) , Luttazzi and Grillo(satirists) who tried to investigate Berlusconi’s past. About it I invite you to visit Grillo’s blog (, which is visited daily by over 100,000 people who are tired to hear and to read news controlled by the “politburo”..
    Best regards

  33. An interesting comment, Roberto, but isn’t there another dimension to this?

    I’ve always had the impression that Italians – the same people who vote for Silvio – have a strict code of conduct whereby they will obey any law as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them.

  34. I can’t think of a thing to say about Berlusconi.

    Can we start talking about Abbot Ale again?

    (Draws the bile, indeed…)

  35. Draught Abbott is about as near one can get to sublime ecstasy with one’s clothes on. Once, returning from exile, we stopped off at a modest little pub where the bar was a functional wooden affair in the corner, the walls were light nicotine and not a horsebrass to be seen. Good old boys were supping away with their packed sandwich lunches their missuses had prepared for their midday break. Whether any were really ploughmen I have no idea but their conversation was on the spare side and usually to the point. It was not a place to ask for the menu. I think idlex would have liked it. In fact I think many of my fellow e-colleagues would. As I took my delightful sip in several years I felt the ancient gods and spirits of the Fens calling me home. Sadly after too few days in the old country I had to return to exile.

    Unfortunatley pubs outside East Anglia that sell the nectar often don’t have the same ambience, or perhaps lack of ambience.

    Over to you Mark.

  36. Since Boris hasn’t seen fit to get back to me on the price of peerages, I’ll just have to carry on fawning to Prince Charles (tuh!) I only wanted to get in before the rush.

    What’s worrying me at the moment is the increased use of the word ‘transparency’ in the context of party campaign ‘loans’. The problem with these loans is, surely, that they are already too transparent! To the extent that we can’t see them!

    Maybe we’ll get some whitewash to cover the transparency up.

  37. Please ignore the remark of the previous Silvio who is clearly a fake. Boris, thank you for your support. I wish to assure you that if you ever get anywhere near the real levers of power you are welcome to come and stay in my villa and you will be eligible to participate in my “friendship scheme”. This is the scheme whereby we exchange gifts of value proportionate to our own wealth. Why some people confuse this for corruption is amazing. Incidentally I must introduce you to some of my friends. They will be good to you.

  38. Please ignore the previous, previous remark by Silvio and the more recent one by (allegedly) ‘The Real Silvio’.

    I AM the real Silvio and so’s my wife. I further lay claim to the Silvio(TM) brand and any derived products.

    I would like to take this opportunity to offer to pay your mortgage in exchange for one of those nice peerages apparently on offer in Britain.

    I saw one in Brighton and decided it would look good on the end of one of my villas.

    Silvio Burlesque-oni

  39. I heartly agree with the analysis of Mr. Berlusconi’s politics. Having had the opporiunity to meet the man, he’s truly a force of nature.

    To briefly describe my humble meeting with Mr. Berusconi would be fruitless, but I leave you with this question. How many other men would verbally assault a reporter after shoving a young woman (me) during a press conference at the European Parliament?

  40. I am Italian.

    Dear Europeans, Americans, foreigners. Imagine what your country would know and think about George W. Bush if all they knew about him was learned from Michael Moore’s films.

    Now, I hope I’m wrong, because I’m not completely into foreign media, but it seems to me that this is exactly what happens about Berlusconi. All the world knows about him seems to be filtered through Italian leftist propaganda.

    Surfing the internet in English, I read almost everywhere that Berlusconi is a mafioso and a dictator. I find that he monopolizes the Italian media, he’s danger for democracy, he’s comparable to Mussolini.

    Ironically, that is exatcly the same impression one gets from watching the Italian media. Which fact, alone, demonstrates that the impression is false. If Berlusconi were a Mussolini-like dictator, the media would be on his side, not against him.

    Dear Roberto, dear Italian leftists who love to compare Berlusconi to Mussolini and complain about his control over television, please be honest and stop telling lies to yourself and others.

    You say that Berlusconi controls the television. Have you ever actually watched the Italian television? Have you ever seen immensely popular Leftist satyrical shows like Zelig, Rockpolitik, le Iene? Political talk-shows like BallarĂ² and L’Infedele? Television news programs like… well, ALL of them, except for that of Fede?

    Also notice that there is NO conservative equivalent to the shows I have listed – nobody in the television ever dares to defend the premier, not even implicitly (except for the lonely Fede who has a ridiculously little audience anyway).

    Berlusconi stated that 80% of television journalists are part of Usigrai, the union of Leftist journalists. This is a fact. It’s so much a fact that none of his opponents ever tried to reply to this, even though they never miss a chance to speak against Berlusconi.

    Not to mention the printed press. There is no major newspaper that doesn’t attack Berlusconi all the time (unless you count Il Giornale as a major newspaper).

    Just an example. The banlieue episode in Paris. How would you describe it? An Islamic riot? You can’t deny that the protesters were mostly Islamic. You would expect a conservative media to underline or at least mention the Islamic character of the riot. This would be in Berlusconi’s interests. Now, all the newspaper articles and television services I saw in those days tried to conceal the Islamic thing. I asked around, and found that most of the people I know here in Italy, even conservatives, didn’t understand that the riot was Islamic. Doesn’t this mean that the Left controls the media?

    All this may seem strange, since Berlusconi, in theory, controls the media. Yes, he personally owns three channels. In theory, he also controls the state television being the head of the government (but then the state television has always been government controlled).
    However, he doesn’t do much to pull the media to his side, nor he could even if he wanted. There are many reason for this – one is that doing so would backfire in terms of popularity.

    There are so many misconceptions about Berlusconi, both in Italy and the world. That he’s a dictator, a criminal, a Mafioso. None of those is true.

    I would like to go on and on and on, explaining my point of views. But I don’t have the strenght, the patience, and even the fluency in English to do so. Sorry.

  41. A quick note: the Italian Left is not what most foreigners think it is.

    Fifteen years ago, Italy had the PCI, the Italian Communist Party. Its symbol was the sickle-and-hammer. Its leaders used to travel to Moscow regularly, taking both orders and money from Soviet leaders. The KGB archives, now open to the public, list several personalities of the former PCI as paid agents.
    After the fall of the Wall, the PCI changed its name into DS, Democratici di Sinistra or Left Democratics. (Don’t confuse them with Rifondazione Comunista, a fraction of the party which refused to abandon Marxism and still wields the sickle and hammer). But, don’t let the name change fool you – the DS, former PCI, have retained the old structure, supporters, leaders, possessions, network of contacts and allies, and above all the old mindset – which is all but democratic, being Communist and Soviet-inspired. And they are the leading, most powerful party of the Left. They, not Berlusconi, are the main threat to the Italian democracy.

  42. Well, maybe I picked the wrong example, because, in fact, I understand that one may object about the Islamic nature of the Paris riot.

    Anyhow, just watch one day of RAI3 transmissions and you’ll have no doubt that Berlusconi is not the media censor and monopolist that they say.

  43. Surfing the internet in English, I read almost everywhere that Berlusconi is a mafioso and a dictator. I find that he monopolizes the Italian media, he’s danger for democracy, he’s comparable to Mussolini.

    Ironically, that is exatcly the same impression one gets from watching the Italian media. Which fact, alone, demonstrates that the impression is false. If Berlusconi were a Mussolini-like dictator, the media would be on his side, not against him.

    Actually, that may in fact BE what Berlusconi wants the media to say. The simple fact is that Italy doesn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that their leader is a mafioso and laughingstock.

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