I’m visiting a stylish but tense Rome today, just as the Italian legislature has voted down a non-confidence vote in Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s mogul-cum-leader. "Rome is at war" my taxi driver told me and numerous demonstrations are going on.
Ill Cavaliere, as Berlusconi is sometimes known, put in a strong defence of his record in the Senate and managed to coax, cajole and, some claim, bribe enough parliamentarians in the Chamber of Deputies to secure a small victory. He pulled not a Full Monty but a "Full Andreotti", using every trick and tactic in the book (and some scribbled in the margin too).
For now, Berlusconi survives and can resume a life of partying pleasure-seeking and friendship with Vladimir Putin, which caused the political ructions in the first place. His main opponent, the ex-fascist and former ally Gianfranco Fini, lost the latest round in their internecine fight.
But there are more rounds to go. Berlusconi’s majority is pizza-thin and he will struggle to govern. Elections may not be far off – some say six months at most.
Should Italy end up at the polls, Berlusconi might actually do quite well, in part because any poll will be held under the election law he introduced. Though his party would expect to gain far fewer votes than last time.
Fini looks like he could be turfed out of parliament at the next elections if his new party even makes it that far. And the country’s squabbling and weakly-led Left – the Democratic Party, Italy of Values and Union of the Centre do not look like they could regain power unless they unite around the old Cavaliere-slayer, ex-EU Commission President Romano Prodi. But he seems to be enjoying his retirement.
The real winner in all this may be Umberto Bossi, the right-wing Northern League leader, who is set to hoover up votes from the Left and Right. The real losers will be the Italians. They substituted decades of ever-changing and corrupt governments in the 1970s and 80s, with ever-changing weak ones led by the Right and Left in the 1990s. The pattern was finally broken by Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, which formed a stable, long-serving but divisive administration. Now Italy looks set to opt for the worst of all the decades: weak, divisive and increasingly corrupt government.
But the Italians look as stylish as ever, with many strolling the winter-cooled streets like they had no care in the world. Bella figura is still key after all.