Friday, April 14, 2006

Cashmere Communism

Reuters has this story by Robin Pomeroy

"With his dapper appearance and urbane manner, 66-year-old Fausto Bertinotti does not look like the harbinger of "misery, terror and death" that Silvio Berlusconi has accused Italy's communist leader of being. The head of Italy's biggest hard-left party, Communist Refoundation, often called a "cashmere communist" because of his taste for expensive clothes, Bertinotti is set to play a key role in Romano Prodi's new government. Bertinotti has said he would not become a minister himself, but as his party secured third place in Prodi's centre-left election victory, it will demand significant spoils after more than 2 million Italians gave him their vote.

"...Confounding the Prime Minister's constant warnings of "baby-eating" communists, Bertinotti has taken a left-wing but hardly extreme stance, calling for lower tax on labour and higher taxes on capital gains - a policy broadly adopted by Prodi's "Union" coalition. "There's nothing wrong with being rich, as long as you pay taxes," he has said.

"...It is not just Berlusconi voters who fear Italy's communists. Many moderates in the centre-left are concerned Bertinotti could hold Prodi to ransom unless he gets his way. He was responsible for sinking Prodi's first government when, in 1998, he turned against him in a confidence vote due to disagreements over labour policy.

"...New lawmakers who may enter parliament under Refoundation's banner include Vladimir Luxuria, a transvestite who aims to be Europe's first "trans-gender" lawmaker, Francesco Caruso, a leader of the anti-globalisation movement, and Haidi Giuliani, mother of a demonstrator shot dead by police at G8 protests in Genoa in 2001."

I love the way commentators make out that the PRC are fair weather friends, as if leaving the government was just some sort of wrecking technique. The Prodi government was pursuing free market policies that the PRC totally opposed and so they could not continue to support the government. The PRC was absolutely consistent and principled - and it is a testiment to their willingness to work with others that they are giving it another go.

But that doesn't mean the coalition is going to be easy sailing - if Prodi isn't willing to give significant concessions to his coalition partners he wont deserve to stay... Italian election results in detail


badmatthew said...

What are the specific demands being made, or likely to made by Bertinotti and the PRC?

Jim Jay said...

Dear Mr Bad Matthew,

sorry for not replying to this earlier - I wanted to chat to my sources about this to get it right... or as right as I can.

Currently this is an open question - but there is an understanding that the workplace legislation that Berlusconi had enacted will be repealed, and the PRC, I think, will take this as a base line plus a move towards more progressive taxation.

If even this doesn't happen (or something like it) then there is no point in continuing the partnership - but they will press for more I'm sure.

Also they are in a kind of one foot in one foot out approach in that they are not going to take high office in the government (which they could) and so can maintain a respectful distance - and therefore protest and organise against things they don't like.

But there is a difference form the last Prodi led government in that, as I understand it, the PRC did not run in the same bloc as Prodi and came on board (and eventually left) without undermining their electoral mandate. This time they ran with Prodi and co and therefore they have more of a commitment to maintain the coalition. I think.

Of course it will be a few weeks yet before a really clear picture of the new government emerges - even without Berlusconi's sulky petulance.

AN said...

As an aside, there is an interesting issue here about electoral systems.
An old favorite criticism of PR is that the Italain system produces sataelmate governemnts, but what is most notable in contrast to the recent British elections, is that there is no triangulation to concentrate only on the issues that effect swing voters.
Instead Every party has as a big incentive to get out the biggest vote they can, by concentrating on their core supporters. Much more democratic.

Jim Jay said...

And additional to that the bizarre political goings on over the election are down to the fact that Italian society is genuinely divided over Berlusconi with just under half wanting him in and half wanting him out. Rather than some problem with the system.