Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Rome

Immigration is one of the questions of the day, with riots and disruption in reception camps. Much of the argument recalls the sort of debates on the subject which we used to have in the late Fifties and the Sixties, around the time of the first Immigration Acts. Some of the conversations I heard reminded me of Auberon Waugh's remark that his mother `who had lived all her life in large country mansions felt a distinct sympathy for the rumbles of the indigenous urban population against Commonwealth immigration'. Does immigration take work from Italians? The proposition was put to the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, by Alain Elkann, a fashionable television interviewer. No, Prodi replied, because the immigrants were doing night shifts in factories, and took jobs as cleaners etc. `Wouldn't it be better that this work was done by Italians?' Elkann (described to me as Italy's Jeremy Paxman) persisted. `Would you', Prodi asked, `get your son to take a night-shift job in a factory or picking tomatoes?' Elkann was visibly embarrassed. No wonder. He is Gianni Agnelli's son-in-law, and his own son Jacopo is already, in his early twenties, on the advisory board of Fiat. No doubt Prodi's reply was unfair, but it is nice to see Italy's Islington equivalents put in their place.

Twenty-five years ago I used to spend winter afternoons in a little wine shop in Piazza del Pasquino, just behind Piazza Navona, drinking Marino wine with a Polish prince and a red-faced English Augustinian. The wine shop is no more, alas, transformed into an ordinary trattoria, doubtless more profitable. Still, the statue of Pasquino himself remains and continues to perform its traditional function, which is to serve as a noticeboard for critics of whichever regime is in power. It was dug up at the beginning of the 16th century, and very soon afterwards it became customary for those who resented papal rule to attach lampoons and satires, usually in verse, to the battered and sceptical-looking Pasquino. This week it bears a little poem declaring that the poet and film-maker Pasolini was murdered 20 years ago by the secret services. `Un mistero ancora fitto grave intorno a quella notte' ('A seriously deep mystery about that night'), it begins.

Italian scandals have the legs and lungs of long-running soaps. Like the old Windmill Theatre, they never close. All the same, most people are now bored stiff with Tangentopoli, Italy's own cash-for-access. The boredom is only one reason why Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate turned would-be Mussolini-in-a-blue-blazer, will not serve the prison sentence imposed on him. (He claims that the charges brought against him were all the result of a communist plot; well, he would, wouldn't he?) Meanwhile the Greens have come forward with the proposal that the way out of Tangentopoli is to abolish prison for all those charged with corruption, abuse of office and illicit financing of political parties. Instead they should make full confession, full restitution, and be forbidden to hold public office of any sort for ten years. It is doubtful if this horse will run; certainly it's unlikely to have the staying-power of Tangentopoli itself.

The new politicians may be more honest, perhaps, but I miss the old gang of Christian Democrats, so adept at the involved, partner-changing dance of the political game. Whatever their faults Fanfani, Moro, Andreotti, and the rest were men of some stature. Andreotti has of course been destroyed by the allegations of complicity with the Mafia. Naturally, in the South, every political party made deals with Mafia bosses, but the charges are ridiculous, whatever the courts say. …

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