Wednesday 23 January 2019

Berlusconi's rivals are taught a lesson in sexual politics

Silvio has shown that it doesn't matter who you're screwing as long as it's not the electorate, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

SILVIO Berlusconi is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think the dishcloth of scandal has been squeezed dry, out comes another drop. Naked poolside parties, high-class prostitutes, teenage lovers, secret love children: you name it, the Italian PM's been linked to it.

Of course, if you're Italian then all this is news to you, because the Berlusconi-owned media fixes it so that the voters never get to hear a word about the scandalous allegations, and so still think Silvio is a latter day St Francis of Assisi, who lives his life with monkish simplicity.

Or at least that's what Berlusconi's many detractors at home and abroad would have you believe, as they struggle to explain why the man himself continues to survive and thrive politically, despite all his enemies' best efforts to send the hated one packing with his tail (or perhaps that should be another part of his anatomy?) between his legs.

The truth is that Italians know all about their prime minister's extra curricular antics, consuming the gossip with the same gusto as the rest of the world. They just don't react to it in the way Berlusconi's opponents shrilly demand that they should.

They are probably even now smiling into their espressos over Berlusconi's latest spat, this time with the Church, over a broadside that was published in a Berlusconi family newspaper against the editor of a Catholic daily paper which had criticised the prime minister. More hilarity may ensue as Berlusconi threatens libel proceedings against a number of newspapers.

His opponents on the Left shake their heads and say they just don't get it.

How much embarrassment does a man have to bring upon himself before the voters cry enough? But it would be truer to say that they understand perfectly, but only when it's one of their own who oversteps the limits.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. It's as if only left wingers are allowed shameful episodes in their private live.

Bereft of any real ammunition against Berlusconi, his critics are resorting instead to humiliating him, with a new book out this week, written by a close confidante of his estranged wife, revealing how his inner circle advised the Italian PM to attend a sex addiction clinic, pointing to one near the Austrian border which uses a combination of therapy and medication to bring its patients' libidos under control. It sounds like some Orwellian nightmare.

By trying to pathologise his sexual appetites into something abnormal and sinister, his opponents are simply trying to achieve through sordid innuendo what they have failed to achieve through political argument. That one of the principal members of the anti-Berlusconi chorus happens to be his estranged wife is beside the point. The people who really come out of this looking pathetic are those in Veronica Lario's circle, who seem to be encouraging her to stay locked in a negative love-hate dynamic with her wayward husband, rather than getting on with her life like the attractive, intelligent, independent woman which she clearly is.

She's hurt, that's for sure. She has every right to be. By all accounts, Silvio is a philandering, lying little bastardo. But the only people who are holding that against Berlusconi politically are those who never liked the diminutive lothario anyway. Everybody else processed the information long ago, decided not to give a damn, and moved on.

Mark Mardell recently stepped down as the BBC's Europe editor with the observation, on his blog, that Germany was now "probably the most grown up country in the world" -- because the Germans are so sensible and responsible and social-democratic and self-analytical and, most readers were probably thinking privately, so epically dull. But maybe it's the Italians who deserve that honour, for steadfastly refusing to condemn a man because he shows a little human frailty.

Silvio Berlusconi is undoubtedly the husband from hell, but we're not electing husbands when we go to the polls, we're electing leaders. It really shouldn't matter who they're screwing, just so long as it isn't us.

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