Berlusconi could show Julia Gillard a thing or two
The party’s over and the place is a mess. A sober Mario Monti will be putting the house back into order, clearing the bottles away and scrubbing the carpet.
Over the next few weeks he’ll probably still be finding knickers down the back of the couch and noticing disturbing stains on the ceiling.
Italy’s financial crisis forced Prime Minister Silvio “Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi to step down - to save the country by delivering it into the safer hands of the credible economist “Super Mario” Monti, whom people have quickly dubbed the “anti-Berlusconi”.
Even before the grappa spills had dried Berlusconi was hinting at a comeback.
And it may not be idle day-after-the-night-before chatter. Despite the sex scandals, the corruption allegations, the Prince Philip-esque gaffes, Berlusconi has managed to dominate Italian politics for almost 20 years with three stints in power, making him one of Italy’s longest serving Prime Ministers.
His popularity only started waning recently - and it took an alleged encounter with an underage prostitute to do it - showing the Italian public were quite prepared to indulge his peccadilloes. Up to a point.
Julia Gillard, who may end up with a fairly short stint in office, could learn a few lessons from the Book of Berlusconi.
She no doubt already looks at his media control with envious eyes.
There’s no need to host a vindictive media inquiry when you own newspapers and television stations yourself, and can use them to silence the media you don’t own.
While Gillard bleated at the Australian media to not “write crap”, Berlusconi was able to issue an edict to ministers to refuse to answer any gossipy questions about his spectacular sex life.
At least he’s up front.
There are plenty of “what not to do” lessons for Gillard in Berlusconi’s conduct. She would be well advised, for example, not to refer to Barack Obama when he arrives in Australia as “handsome, young and also sun-tanned”, an epithet Berlusconi also bestowed on an African priest. As long as nothing untoward happens, the upcoming visit will go down a treat for Labor, who’ll be hoping for plenty more photos showing the two leaders as the best of friends.
Gillard has already done quite well at avoiding sex scandals; the only recent blip on the radar involving an impersonator and an Australian flag was a far cry from infidelity and orgies and alleged sex with a young girl.
But there is an important lesson she can, and should, learn from the Playboy PM.
Berlusconi was consistently in the headlines for his outrageous comments and his sleazy behaviour, but at least he had passion and was unafraid to express raw, honest emotion.
Most of our politicians, and particularly Julia Gillard, are paralysed with fright at the idea they might be captured going ‘off message’, so they are reduced to drone-like walking press releases.
Gillard, who by all accounts is smart, warm, and likeable, manages to come across as the precise opposite – dull, cool, and annoying. Two examples spring to mind. During Cyclone Yasi Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s distress was all the more evident in contrast to Gillard’s poker face.
When Gillard fronted the press she could as easily have been giving a speech at the opening of the new Nhill grocery store, or delivering a lecture on horizontal fiscal equalisation.
She was equally devoid of emotion when talking about the devastating betrayal of yet another Afghan soldier, who shot and wounded three Australian diggers last week. We wanted outrage, disgust, despair, burning fury. We got monotony. She said it was distressing, but didn’t seem distressed. She stayed on message: We must stay the course.
There’s a reason people were so fond of boozy, weepy Bob Hawke, and the almost always entertaining Paul Keating. It’s the same reason people love independents Nick Xenophon and Bob Katter. We don’t have to be in awe of our politicians, but Heaven forbid we are bored by them.
Boredom so easily turns to contempt, which – despite this week’s less-than-catastrophic poll results (see Greg Hunt and Daniel Piotrowski’s Punch pieces today for more on that) – Gillard seems to be a magnet for.
I’m not suggesting that Gillard needs to start insulting Islam, or bedding underage prostitutes, or annoying Queen Elizabeth – although frighteningly there may be votes in at least two of those.
But she could take a leaf out of Berlusconi’s book and show us just a bit of passion and personality.
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