Magazine article The Spectator

Maggie, Not Musso

Magazine article The Spectator

Maggie, Not Musso

Article excerpt


THE Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi, is a victim of one of the most dishonest propaganda campaigns in the history of modern politics. He has been demonised by the Left, which has controlled the culture of Italy since the war. Much of the world regards him as ruthless and corrupt, at worst a tyrant, at best a clown. And there is nothing that Berlusconi, or his apparently invincible media empire, can do about it.

Tuesday's general strike - the first in Italy for 20 years - was ostensibly in protest at government plans to modify a labour law called Article 18. This makes it virtually impossible for employers in Italy to sack anyone. That means, of course, that employers are reluctant to hire anyone. The black economy - where workers have no contracts and therefore no rights - accounts for one quarter of Italy's GDP. As any fool can see, Article 18 does not cure unemployment; it causes it.

But in reality the strike was not about this trivial little reform. It was the biggest push to date in the campaign by the Left to force Berlusconi out of government by means of the piazza rather than parliament, where it is hopelessly outvoted. This obsessive, unrelenting anti-Berlusconi campaign has created such a climate of hate in Italy that on 19 March descendants of the Red Brigades, the communist terrorists who created havoc in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s, assassinated the government's adviser on workplace reform, Professor Marco Biagi - the architect of the modification of Article 18.

The professor was himself a man of the Left, though a Blairite rather than a Trotskyite. Indeed, he was one of the main supporters in Italy of the Blair-Berlusconi alliance which secured the deal on greater workplace flexibility at the recent EU summit in Barcelona. Three years earlier, the terrorists who killed him had shot dead his predecessor.

Abroad, meanwhile, the demonisation of Berlusconi continues apace. Last month it caused the Italian government delegation to withdraw from the Paris Book Fair, where Italy was guest of honour, after being mobbed by demonstrators waving placards saying `Liberate Italy'. France's socialist culture minister, Catherine Tasca, had said that Berlusconi would not be welcome. The French press had been full of virulent anti-Berlusconi articles: Italy is ruled by 'a regime' (Nouvel Observateur) and Berlusconi signals `the collapse of democracy' (Le Monde).

In Britain, it is much the same. In the Observer recently, Nick Cohen wrongly stated that one of the parties in Berlusconi's coalition is the MSI - a party which has not existed for quite some time which he described as a home for 'undiluted fascists'. Perhaps it would surprise Nick to know that the UGL, the union which supports the Alleanza Nazionale (AN) the highly diluted post-fascist party he was presumably referring to - took part in the general strike. Diluted fascists, like undiluted ones, are very big on unions and workers' rights, which is why many fascists became communists at the end of the second world war.

The idea that Berlusconi himself is fascist is, of course, absurd. He is an unreconstructed liberal. His hero is not Musso; it is Maggie. He even keeps a photograph of her on his desk. …

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