Thank GOD for Gordon Brown. Praise the little baby Jesus for David Cameron . Get on your knees in abject grateful supplication to whichever celestial spooky imaginary friend takes your fancy for British politics generally; yes, British politics in all its sleazy, spinny, expense-fiddling, nanny-stating, milk-snatching, WMD-inventing glory. This is at least, I have no doubt whatsoever, what any UK resident would be saying were they exposed, even for a week or two, to Italy under the governance of Silvio Berlusconi.
As some of you may know, I’ve just returned from the land of my forefathers, and whenever I’m there, I can’t help but contemplate its less-than-glorious leader; how his sleazy South American-style junta is rapidly transforming Italy into a banana republic, and (if I might speak plainly), how much of a little dickbag he is.
“Little” is the first thing you notice about him; a classic example of the megalomania of stunted rulers, he’ll regularly stride around political summits in 4-inch heeled boots (which Italian newspapers are strictly forbidden to photograph), yet still only come up to Barack Obama’s chest. Then there’s the hair - not only was he prepared to suffer the indignity of a Waxl Rose-style bandana for a few weeks in 2004, he subsequently emerged with a bizarre greased-back hair weave which looks like it was designed by a 3-year-old using fuzzy-felt and pritt-stick.
As is well known, he’s a one-man gaffe machine; the creators of “Fawlty Towers” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” regularly weep with envy at his natural talent for the faux-pas. He’s compared himself to Jesus, complimented Barack Obama on his “suntan”, compared a German MEP to a concentration camp guard, suggested to people made homeless and living in a temporary shelter after the L’Aquila earthquake that they “enjoy it like a camping trip” - and much, much more.
Then, of course, there’s the seemingly endless sex scandal, which is still being drip-fed to an incredulous audience worldwide. In any other country, he’d have been removed long ago; after all, he’s lied to his wife and the public, and used taxpayer’s money to fly hordes of girls fifty years younger than him out to his villa in Sardinia (some of whom go on to be ministers in his government) - but this is Italy, and the public love him for it. Women on the peninsula appear to have a “boys will be boys” attitude, whilst men are undoubtedly thinking “get in, my son!”. Even the upright, moral bastion* that is the Roman Catholic church, so set against the idea of non-procreative sex that they recently discouraged the use of condoms in AIDS-riven Africa, is strangely silent on Berlusconi’s conquests.
“So what?” - you might ask; all of these are ultimately venial sins. But let’s not forget that this is a man who openly admires Mussolini; a man who, when in any kind of political hole, will liberally and enthusiastically play the race card to an increasingly inflamed and dangerous country. A man who sees no conflict of interest in being Prime Minister and simultaneously owning most of the media*. A man mired in decades of bribery and corruption who changed Italian law to render himself immune from prosecution.
In short, he’s not just a dickbag, he’s practically a dictator. 35-40% of Italians absolutely loathe him, but whilst there are so many idiots prepared to vote for him, they have no choice but to get out of the country if they can (as my family has done), or just wring their hands, watch their country becoming ever more the laughing stock of the world, and wait for him to die. Which I hope is VERY soon.
(* - hundreds of thousands of children in the care of Catholic priests down the years have unfortunately experienced their “upright bastions” very intimately.)
(** - Berlusconi’s Fininvest and Mediaset operations own several newspapers and TV stations; most other newspaper owners are friends of his, and the only other significant TV channels are state-run. Amusingly, Berlusconi recently gave up running AC Milan because he felt that it represented a “conflict of interests” with his premiership…)