Observing the political classes: the Berlusconi circus
One typical type of fall-out from economic crisis is a steep drop in respect for politicians. If conditions become really bad, most voters become really negative about the politicians who presided over the period that got them there. Sometimes that is both understandable and justified, sometimes it’s just understandable. These moments are genuinely risky for political and social stability, and it becomes vital for politicians to display skill and integrity.
Right now we are at such a moment. Irish politicians – those that have been in government – have had some difficulty finding the right note for the times they are in, as was the case also with the last British government under Gordon Brown. But whatever else we might say about Brown or Brian Cowen (who is rapidly disappearing from everyone’s consciousness), they have not been accused of personal wrongdoing or lapses in professional integrity (as distinct from serious lapses of judgement).
The same can manifestly not be said of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Throughout most of his career as a political leader he has been dogged by scandal and controversy, covering his business activities and interests and his personal life. From the distance of these islands it is sometimes easy to laugh at his antics and to marvel at how his political career can have survived them to date. But really, it’s not a laughing matter for a European politician and the leader of one of the large countries of the EU to be seen in this way, as his collapsing credibility has some effect on the integrity of European politics more generally.
Now a judge in Milan has ordered Berlusconi to stand trial in April for paying for sex with an under-age woman, amidst rumours that this conduct, if found to be true, might resemble other similar, additional, allegations.
In the interests of European political integrity, it is time for Italy to remove this politician from office, and to do so fast. It is no longer funny, if it ever was.
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