Monday, 14 November 2011

'17 years partying, shagging tarts and embarassing the country'

So for 33 year old Milan-based journalist Giovanni Riga, this at least will be Silvio Berlusconi's epitaph.

Goodbye Silvio - please close the door behind you
His comment on the scandal-strewn period in office of the out-going Italian Prime Minister in today's Independent speaks volumes for a discredited maverick who rode on the wave of populism and whilst doing so, fed the self-interest of those business aquaintences who surrounded him whilst allowing for his nation's economic fortunes to reach the precipice of disaster.

Papandreou - Gone / Berlusconi - Gone / Zapatero Next?
After the near collapse of the Greek economy over the past week, it is now the Italian economy and its future that has claimed the political life of its Prime Minister. Next week, Spain goes to the polls in a general election with opinion polls pointing to a change of Governemnt. Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero looks set to follow Papandreou in Greece and Berlusconi in Italy as political casualties of the European economic fall-out.

In Spain, it will be the people who will decide who leads them, but quite incredibly, that hasn't been the case in Italy. Such has been the ferocity of the economic storm that threatens not only Italy but the whole continent as a result, that President Napolitano installed the technocratic and un-elected Mario Monti as Prime Minister yesterday.

An Un-Elected Italian Prime Minister - could it happen in the UK?
It is when you take a step back and consider it, an extraordinary state of affairs. For the sake of pulling Italy through incredibly difficult economic waters, the establishment have been forced to bring in a respected former EU Competition Commissioner to implement the cuts and labour reforms required to cut Italy's £1.18trn debt.

Imagine if this economic shock led to such a political solution in the UK? A run on the markets and an unsustainable burden of debt brought the government down. Snap elections would only heighten market fear and so the only reasonable answer would be to form a government of national unity. But to do so, a leader of such a government would need to be acceptable to all. This is where Greece and Italy have found themselves precariously placed in recent days - finding an individual who can count on the support of Parliament to pass unpopular measures.

What of the UK in such a situation? In the case of a national economic emergency, would the Labour opposition willingly bring itself to formally support a Conservative Prime Minister such as David Cameron? It is difficult to envisage. Certainly there would I expect also be no willingness to support the decision to allow the leader of the opposition to take on the reins of government - only an election could precipitate such a scenario.

There would surely be a search to find a suitable Government candidate who could count on that all-party support but who such an individual could be I don't know. But to go where Italy have gone and appoint an un-elected Prime Minister who has no seat in Westminster is constitutionally incomprehensible. The closest that we could get to such a situation I would think would be to appoint a respected Member of the House of Lords who could at least speak from Parliament albeit from the wrong House in Parliament.

Such a precedent of course has been made when Sir Alec Douglas-Home was selected as the Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister in October 1963 on Harold Macmillan's resignation due to ill health. He was appointed Prime Minister on October 18th 1963 and he disclaimed his Earldom as the Earl of Home and other peerages on the 23rd October. For the next two weeks he belonged to neither House of Parliament. As Sir Alec Douglas-Home, he contested and won a by-election in the safe seat of Kinross & West Perthshire and took his seat in the House of Commons on November 8th.

Good Luck Mr Monti
Could it really happen in the UK? It is incredibly unlikely of course. But then the Italian experiment does have one particular advantage. By not being constrained to an electoral constituency, Prime Minister Monti can push ahead with what are likely to be deeply unpopular economic measures, secure in the knowledge that he is not directly answerable to the Italian people at the ballot box. Such a perverse situation will give him a free-er hand to do what is perceived to be necessary.

Mario Monti - our future rests on his shoulders
Italy currently lives in exceptionally turbulent times but all of our fates hinge in Prime Minister Monti's ability to bring the Italian economy back from the brink. It is surely to large for the EU to be able to rescue if it were to default and if that did happen, it would destroy the Euro and plunge the continent into another recession and as half of our exports in the UK are puchased by our continental neighbours, this is a doomsday scenario that we simply can not encountenance.

So we wave a relived goodbye to that partying, shagging embarassment of a former Italian Prime Minister and put our faith in his replacement who has absolutely no electoral mandate whatsoever.

We live in interesting times.

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