Wednesday, February 21, 2007
The defeat has been inflicted over both an expanded US base in Italy and the continuation of troops in Afghanistan. The expansion of the base was an agreement made between Bush and the departed Berlusconi. Not only the communists, but also the Greens and much of the Democratic Left that supports Prodi have been outraged by the attempt to persist with this policy. Prodi has repeatedly used confidence votes to get his way in the past, and this time it has flown back in his face.
There was a huge rally against the base last Saturday, and all the Berlusconi media were printing claims that some protesters were planning a terrorist attack against opposition leader Silvio himself. It's very strange: Berlusconi has compared himself to Christ in the past, and is clearly nailing himself to the cross for this, but why do so many people take him seriously? Now, because Prodi insisted on following Berlusconi's policy at the risk of collapsing the government, there is the prospect of fresh elections. The left coalition won by a tight margin last time, so there is a serious risk that in such an election Berlusconi would be re-elected. The war and the base are genuinely unpopular policies, and the campaigns are likely to have mobilised the left in a way that the timid rhetoric of last year's election could not, and it is hard to see how Berlusconi can capitalise on dissatisfaction with a policy that he supports. Berlusconi boasts that the polls give him and his coalition an eight to fifteen per cent lead. But these are the unreliable and self-serving polls conducted by Forza Italia that Berlusconi's newspapers print.
Nevertheless, Prodi has adopted the right-wing economic agenda of the Berlusconi coalition, merely avoiding the corrupt frills. He has even spoken of introducing "shock therapy" into the economy, invoking the disastrous neoliberal experiments in post-Stalinist Russia or Eastern Europe. Now, if that's the agenda, then why do Italians need an idiot like Prodi to do it? The whole point was that his government was supposed to be different. It is hard to see how it has been so: and that could cost his coalition dearly.