Friday, February 22, 2013

Fingers are being crossed in Paris and Berlin that The Buffoon is not back - some hope given a decent but dull opponent. In Spain Rajoy promises to chop off his own hand, while in Athens the Greeks learn to swim

Well, all good thing must come to an end, and Italy’s recent resurgence in the credibility stakes could well breath its last in two days. Those who take an interest in these matters, and quite possibility even some of those who don’t, will remember that with Italy’s national debt growing ever bigger and the interest rates it had to offer in order to get people to lend it money growing ever larger the, the country – and the euro – was dragged back from the brink of disaster when its prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was persuaded to do the decent thing, take a pistol into the woods and resign.

In his place was appointed one Mario Monti, a highly respected economist, who set up an government of technocrats and helped Italy regain the confidence of the markets. But most importantly, unlike Berlusconi he was not regarded by the rest of the world as a complete buffoon. And in world politics these things do matter. Monti did the biz, much to the relief of assorted eurocrats for whom ‘the project’ and its success is not a matter of principle or ideals, rather a matter of not looking like a complete dick in the eyes of those who wish them ill at the best of times. And the euro is, in many ways, a symbol of the EU: if it crashes - in my view when it crashes - it will make the EU look so silly that the whole shooting match will go tits up (if I might, on this occasion, be allowed to mix ten to 15 metaphors).

On February 25 Italy goes to the polls in its 2,345th general election since the end of World War II. The left in Italy is led by a chap called Pier Luigi Bersani (a former Communist, but then most of those on the left usually are) who is well-respected generally thought to have the charisma of a packet of cornflakes. He is said to be staid and uninspiring, and that makes him no match for Berlusconi, however much of a buffoon our Silvio is.

Incidentally, there is still a great vagueness about how our man Silvio set up is business empire, which embraces the media, the food industry and a football team, and made his billions (the Daily Mail delights in his Blofeld-type lair on the coast of Sardinia). The Economist, which has never liked him, has hinted that he was first set up by the Mafia as a useful means to get

their money laundered. I can’t remember what evidence they produced for that claim, but I have to admit that it is a claim I subscribe to completely, solid evidence or not. It is the sheer vagueness of his start in business which is so worrying.

When Monti resigned and the election was called, the left had a very healthy lead in the polls of around 15 per cent. Then Berlusconi went out on the stump, got the crowds laughing (where Bersani has the crowds yawning) and that lead has already been cut to just under 10 per cent. That, admittedly, would be sufficient to see the man off, but the question is, will Berlusconi manage to whittle it away even more? We won’t however, know, because Italian electoral law dictates that no opinion polls can be held in the last two weeks of campaigning.

I should imagine that from Paris, Madrid and Berlin everyone is keeping his or her fingers crossed that The Buffoon is not returned to power. Because if he is that could well be curtains to all the good work in restoring the Italian economy Monti has done. And that could mean the curtain could go up in the – in my view long overdue – final act of the tragedy that is the euro. For once Italy falls, as it might, Spain will follow, then France. Germany’s Angela Merkel faces the electorate  in just over seven months and if the euro is going to the wall, she will know full well, ideals or not, that no electorate will be won over with exhortations to dig even deeper in their pockets to bail out their European cousins. No sir.

On the other hand, of course, Bersani might well squeak home and be in a strong enough position to form a government. Who knows.

And where does the leave yesterday’s ‘coming man’ the ‘Catholic gay poet’ Nichi Vendola. Well, exactly nowhere. When I first came across him courtesy of a radio documentary he was, indeed, the coming man of the Left and the one everyone ‘in the know’ predicted would be challenging Silvio Berlusconi at the next general election. Well, that was obviously news to our Mr Bersani, who is the man doing the challenging on Sunday and Monday. So if anyone assures you in any way that your are a ‘coming man’ or a ‘coming woman’, do the decent think and withdraw from public life gracefully, though sharpish, before you are obliged to withdraw from public life with rather less grace and a lot of egg on your face.

. . .

Quite apart from all that annoying business with the euro which might or might not blow up, Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy has been facing demands that’s he should resign over  corruption allegations. I didn’t know until I heard it on a recent edition of the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent (available on all good online radios, laptops and desktops) that the Spanish have a phrase, something of a linguistic shrug of the shoulders, which loosely translated means ‘well, that’s how it is’. It is a philosophical attitude which allows many to cope with some of the shit life throws their way.

But it would seem that Spain is becoming increasingly fed up with corruption, which (according to the FOOC correspondent) is rather more  widespread than I imagined. Quite a few people are at it. The examples given was slipping your doctor a fistful of euros to shift you


up the list to an estate agent agreeing not to charge you an extra 250 euros if he doesn’t have to give you’re a receipt for the money you have just paid him for some other business. On Wednesday Rajoy gave the Spanish equivalent to an address to the nation in which he pledged to cut down on party political spending blah-di-blah. What he didn’t address were the claims that he, too, has been busily stuffing used €10 euro notes into his underpants.

And what about Greece, the perpetual basket case whose government is so broke that hospitals are open for a day other month but whose national wealth is still quite fabulous (not paying taxes being seen, according to my brother, as a national patriotic duty, one which came from the days when Greece was ruled by those horrible Turkish Ottomans. It also helpfully means you have a bit more moolah to spend on all the goodies you want to treat yourself to)? Well, Athens was hit by several hours of heavy rain and a thunderstorm and is now ankle-deep in water everywhere. Which only goes to show that it never rains but it pours. (If I get negative feedback about that, admittedly rather weak, joke, I promise to withdraw it.)

. . .

I keep and eye on ‘the stats’ of this blog (should that be the ‘stats’ or ‘the’ stats? I don’t know. Suggestions please and all silly ones will be acted upon) and I am astounded to discover that one particular entry (this one) has been viewed more than twice as much as the next most popular entry — 4,031 times. At the time of writing this — March 2, 2013, at 10.06am, this blog as been views 38,128 times, so more than 10 per cent of those viewings are of that one entry. Why? Well, when I delve deeper into ‘the stats’ and look at ‘referring sites’, a great many of them are visited by people tracking down a well-known picture (left) of Mandy Rice-Davies (‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he’). So it has occurred to me to include that picture (and this preamble explaining what I’m doing) in every blog entry in an attempt to drum up visitors and encourage them to take a look at some other entries. It helps that when the picture was taken, she was a rather attractive woman.

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