“Ex-PM Silvio #Berlusconi confronted by topless women with Enough Berlusconi scrawled on them at polls http://bbc.in/YOaVKz #elezioni2013”. This was, by far, the most striking BBC News tweet of yesterday, when the news agenda was otherwise dominated by the Pope’s last message and speculation about Oscar winners.
Love him or loathe him, Berlusconi is unforgettable and unmissable. Summed up by voter Maria Teresa Gottardi talking to Agence France-Presse: “I know he has his defects but he’s the best.” What is so captivating about him?
- Man of the people? He certainly likes a lot of company (ahem). I almost met him once in Strasbourg, where he was out for a quiet evening stroll with 30 people surrounding him, and he swooped into a restaurant and embraced a rather embarrassed looking British MEP.
- No fear of embarrassment? The hair transplant affair speaks for itself, but he never misses an opportunity. A blonde East European friend of mine once visited his palazzo in Rome on an official delegation, and he loudly invited her for dinner. She loudly declined, but in good humour he gave her an autographed book and a medal (I have seen both).
- His capacity to liven up dull EU meetings? It has been reported that he once said at a boring European Summit “let’s talk about football and women instead” in the earshot of Angela Merkel. He also once jumped out on Merkel from behind a statue and shouted ‘peek a boo’ when she arrived in Italy for an official visit.
Despite all the scandals and court cases, he is becoming a rare breed in European politics in the sense that people – even abroad – actually know who he is. On the basis of current forecasts, Signor Pier Luigi Bersani, a former Communist, is likely to form the next Italian Government. Even if he is a former MEP, I challenge any Brussels-based consultant to identify him in a line up.
The French have already gone down the same path, by ejecting Sarko and the bellissima Carla (note that no full name is required for either of them) and installing M. François Hollande and his wife/partner. Remember the first Sarko visit to the UK? Great spectacle, gaffes regarding Her Majesty, he wore all his medals, Carla outglammed Sarah Brown, it was fantastic theatre. Now I must confess I have no idea how many trips M. Hollande has made to the UK, nor can I remember a single thing that anyone discussed.
So why are European voters throwing out their personalities and replacing them with invisible politicians? Do people reap greater comfort from electing unrecognisable party officials and bureaucrats in times of crisis? Do the invisible men actually deliver better results? At least in Britain we buck the trend with Boris (no surname required). What would Boris do, confronted by topless ladies at the ballot box? I wonder if he would smile and take it in his stride, or if he might decide to point the delightful ladies in the direction of Rio 2016 to add an unexpected new twist to the flag waving? Hopefully time will tell …