A week ago, Berlusconi’s archrival put it very clearly and presciently “Berlusconi was politically born in Milan, and in Milan he has politically died,” says the industrialist Carlo De Benedetti.
The results were better than anyone on the centre left had dared hope for. First of all Milan with 55.1% for Pisapia, and 44.89% Moratti; a double whammy against an unsuccessful mayor and a grossly overbearing Berlusconi who hijacked the campaign to show the world that he was still in control and failed miserably. The Milanese showed both pragmatism along with principle and fair play. They punished parties and individuals who could not solve the city’s and the country’s problems but they also punished a vainglorious and obsessive leader who is way past his best by date. They or at least a majority of them did not accept the insidious and racist scare tactics used over the last fortnight and it looks very much as if humour was a perfect antidote for hate; there is a lovely short showing “The wonderful world of Pisapia” full of drugs, immigrants landing from boats on the canals, and congestion charges in the suburbs . Even Berlusconi’s home base Arcore with his most famous villa went for the centre-left with a huge swing (56.65% compared to just over 50% for the centre right last time).
The other big one was Naples where Luigi De Magistris won a massive victory with 65.38% compared to Gianni Lettieri’s 34.61, 39,000 fewer votes than first round. It is true that Naples has a habit of looking for Messianic saviours and that De Magistris will have a difficult job fulfilling electors’ hopes but even more than in Milan, it is a crushing defeat for Berlusconi’s “can do” miracleworking. They don’t believe him and have had enough.
The centre left won in Cagliari and Trieste and the Northern League’s heartland of Novara.
The blighted former minister of culture, Sandro Bondi has already resigned from his party position and a newly appointed undersecretary, Daniela Melchiorre resigned after Berlusconi’s performance at the Deauville summit. Like an over made up ancient mariner on lifts (but without Coleridge’s language), he buttonholed Obama to tell him how he was being persecuted by left wing judges.
Taken all together, it looks like a rout. It is, but only a minor one, a skirmish when the real battle is yet to come. Berlusconi already said that he would not resign even if they lost Milan and Naples, and he won’t, at least not tomorrow. But Umberto Bossi and the Northern League are already blaming him for the defeat and will certainly make him pay for it.
In two weeks time there will be another test for the government when Italy votes on four referendums. The government is against all of them and wants a low turnout which would make them invalid; if the quorum is reached, then it will be yet another nail in Berlusconi’s coffin and Umberto Bossi will be very tempted to pull the plug on the government. He could do that at the League’s annual beano at Legnano on 19 June in a grand coup de théâtre or he could do it more slowly and calculatedly over the summer and early autumn, pushing for an interim government led by Tremonti and elections in spring.
On the other side, the left and centre left has had an immense boost and shown that they can work together and win elections when there is the right person and the right programme. Now they have to do the same nationally and do it quickly.