“He is not the Messiah, he is a very naughty boy”. Thus spake Mandy Cohen, mother of Brian, to the ignorant mob besieging her home, rejecting their mindless veneration of her son. Her statement would have been appropriate at many points in history – the world has had no shortage of false messiahs. The human condition demands hope. When collective hope is lost, up pops an improbable saviour promising salvation. Same plot, different protagonists.
Once upon a time they could plug into religion for a narrative (the occasional halo-wearer still raises his angelic head in third world countries as well as American States south of the Mason Dixon Line) but in the cynical, secular modern world despair has to seek new panaceas.
Nowadays, the Hosannas are reserved for General Elections. The Eurozone crisis and its aftermath of German imposed austerity led to hope-inspiring changes of government in, among others, Greece, Ireland, Spain and France (alright – maybe not France). However, after a period of technocratic rule it was left to the Gigolos of Europe to take the Faustian route and threaten to bugger the entire European enterprise.
Having rid themselves in 2011 of an administration that seemed to govern from the loins, the Italians went on to remarkable things under the unelected Mario Monti. Then, just as things were starting to straighten out, the former prime minister awoke from a court-case-induced coma and brought down the Government.
Now, in any normal country the expected result in the ensuing election would have been an outpouring of support for Mr Monti and an AC Milan football kicked up the buttocks of that venerable team’s chairman. But not Italy, a country where they strive to walk on water.
Rather than take the whole thing seriously Italian voters decided, as one man, to kick off their shoes, pass round a communal joint, lie back and inhale their way out of reality. Hallelujah!
The good news was that ex-King Bunga-Bunga did not win. The bad news was that neither did anybody else. A full 25% of eligible voters stayed home to watch Bunga-Bunga-owned television and Bunga-Bunga-owned football, while, among those who voted, 25% went for a Billy Connolly lookalike (but not soundalike) “comedian” with knock-out lines like: “Did you know that the British think a bidet is a bath for a violin?” Duh? The retro any-left-wing- port-in-a-storm Pier Luigi Bersani with 29% scraped only a smidgen more than his nemesis, while Mario Monti, whose only crime was that he had both feet planted firmly on the ground, picked up a pathetic 10%. His job in the new parliament is expected to be holding up the laugh prompt card.
The Italians proved once more what we have known for years. They do not like taxes and damn the consequences. One of the central features of Berlusconi’s campaign was the repeal and refund of the hated IMU tax that Monti imposed on second homes. Ironically, the expected take from that tax is only €4 billion each year. Meanwhile, anybody who managed to control his tears of mirth long enough to read Beppe Grillo’s blog would know that, while he does not object to taxes in principle, he doesn’t like the ones everybody is talking about at the moment – which is populist poppycock (unless that was supposed to be another of his side-splitting jokes).
If truth be told (and, as this is Italy, why the hell should it?) most responsible macro-economists groveling in search of a Nobel Prize today think that the policy of raising taxes in response to the Eurozone crisis is misjudged. On the other hand that does not justify the complete abrogation of responsibility by an entire nation to behave like adults (and not just consenting ones). Italian taxes are extremely high. The problem is not the tax rates but the fact that so many residents do not pay their fair share. Like red lights in Rome (of the traffic variety), taxes are a suggestion rather than an order.
Italians rejected Monti, not because he put taxes up but because he came up with clever ideas to catch those not paying them. The Redditometro which, from this month, enables the authorities to estimate what taxpayers should have declared based on databases of expenses and complex formulae, is a particular turn-off for the fun-loving population. And what about those cash-strapped citizens who live in fear of the knock at the door of the family Ferarri.
The Italians would rather just lean back and wait for the Messiah – these days a frumpy, middle-aged lady in Berlin who is going to be placed under steadily more pressure as she faces her own re-election battle later this year.
Of course, Italians and their politicians are not the only ones to make fools of themselves (although nobody can deny that they are exceedingly good at it). The current political and religious goings on in Rome reminded me of a story from the 1960s when George Brown was British Foreign Secretary. To call a spade a spade, it was universally known that Brown had a little problem with drink – he could never get enough of it. At a diplomatic ball he eyed a stunning black lady in a striking purple satin evening gown. Plucking up the courage, he ambled over and asked her to dance. “I cannot dance with you for two reasons’, came the curt reply. “Firstly, I do not dance. And, secondly, I am the Archbishop of Lagos”.
Perhaps, if every time Italians had to elect a government they were locked in a room with murals covering the walls and ceilings and not let out until there was a clear victor, they might take the whole process more seriously. On second thoughts, there is more chance of the coming of the Messiah.
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And we thrashed Inter 3-0!