Nick Squires: Is it time to say Ciao, Silvio?
Even the showgirls are deserting him now. As Italy buzzed with speculation yesterday over whether Silvio Berlusconi was about to throw in the towel after dominating Italian politics for 17 years, one of his most loyal -- and glamorous -- supporters piled on the pressure by abandoning him.
Gabriella Carlucci, a former showgirl and television presenter, declared that she was leaving Mr Berlusconi's ruling People of Freedom party (PDL) and jumping ship to the UDC, a centrist Catholic party in opposition -- the third loyalist to do so in just a few days.
It was a bitter blow for the besieged prime minister who burst on to the political scene in 1994 with his Forza Italia party. Then, he had promised to shake up Italy's calcified and discredited political scene and put the country back on track. But after nearly two decades, those promises have been shown to be woefully unfulfilled, with economic reforms failing to materialise and Italy groaning beneath a €1.9 trillion debt, 120pc of its GDP.