He’s only been back for a couple of weeks, but already Silvio Berlusconi is everywhere.
You cannot switch on a television or buy a paper without seeing pictures of his tanned face. Berlusconi is determined to use his media might to have another go at becoming Italy’s prime minister and is employing the same media saturation tactics as he has done in the past.
Will his communication skills actually help him achieve his goal yet again? It’s possible, but unlikely. This Italy watcher is hearing plenty of stories of disillusioned Berlusconi fans. These people voted for Berlusconi because they hoped he’d make a difference, instead he left Italy no better than it was before he came on the scene. Family income in Italy since 2001 has grown a mere 6%, whereas inflation in the same period has risen 20%. Italians have less money to spend and falling consumer spending shows they are feeling the pinch. If consumers are not consuming, businesses are not growing and not employing either. Taxes are killing businesses too. Berlusconi promised to reduce taxes, but Italy’s tax burden is still crippling.
Many of Italy’s under 35s are without work and many others have unstable work contracts. This makes long term spending commitments, like mortgages for houses, out of the question. Indeed, house sales have dropped and so have property prices. Italians are buying fewer new cars – but lots more bicycles!
Had Berlusconi done a better job, Italy might not have needed Monti and his austerity. It is possible Italians understand this and won’t swallow Berlusconi’s election campaign promises which are not much different, if at all, to those he made during previous election campaigns.
During Berlusconi’s reign Italy lost a huge dollop of credibility at international level. As a consequence, Berlusconi has dented his own image. While Italians would have listened to him in the past, now they are much less likely to.
Twitter Italy is awash with scathing “not you again” comments aimed squarely at Berlusconi.
Elections are to be held in Italy on February 24th and this gives Berlusconi little time to rebuild his credibility, media might or not. His PdL party will be made up of 80-90% new faces, or so go the stories in Italy’s press. Whether the new faces will be enough remains to be seen and exactly who these new Berlusconi mobsters will be is unknown too.
To complicate matters for campaigning Silvio, judges in Milan have requested that he be sent to prison for a year in a bank buyout case which stinks of insider dealing. Prosecutors seem to believe there is enough evidence to justify the conviction. Berlusconi’s lawyers are convinced that the same prosecutors are trying to damage their client’s attempts to seek re-election.
Expect promises of urgent legal reforms from Berlusconi shortly. Curiously, Mario Monti did not regard justice system reforms as a priority for Italy.
The Berlusconi show will rumble on relentlessly. This time round though, all the usual rhetoric may well simply bore Italians to death.
Berlusconi’s entertainment factor is fading as fast as his spray on tan.
If Berlusconi and his PdL party receive a complete drubbing in the upcoming elections, it won’t be a huge surprise.
We’ll find out in around two months time.