Long life

Jeremy Corbyn’s debt to Silvio Berlusconi

Tony Blair’s cavorting with a right-wing billionaire mired in scandal epitomises what the Labour party is now trying to leave behind

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

I’m going off Jeremy Corbyn. He seems more and more pleased with himself by the minute. But I understand why he is so popular with Labour supporters. It isn’t just his perceived authenticity in a field of machine politicians — the same attribute that has thrust Donald Trump to the fore in the race for the Republican nomination in the United States. It is something of which I have been reminded this week by the news that Silvio Berlusconi is planning to sell his preposterous Sardinian villa to a Saudi prince, and this is the shame felt by so many party members over their long servility to Tony Blair. For perhaps nothing better exemplifies Blair’s indifference to Labour sensibilities than his visit with Cherie to the Villa Certosa in 2004.

Despite the monastic implications of its name, the Villa Certosa is — to quote a headline from the Times — ‘the ultimate in property porn’. It is a sprawling estate on Sardinia’s Emerald Coast, with 168 acres of garden, six swimming pools, an amphitheatre, an artificial volcano, and direct access by tunnel to the sea. But despite the kind of security that would appeal to the Saudi royal family, this didn’t prevent one enterprising paparazzo from taking photos of a large number of scantily clad girls at one of Berlusconi’s ‘bunga bunga’ entertainments. The pictures included a remarkable one of a former Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, completely naked and in a state of sexual arousal.

Berlusconi, Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini, was choosy about who he invited to the Villa Certosa (unless, that is, they were teenage models). Among foreign leaders, he would invite only those he regarded as his personal ‘friends’, such as George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. But not even these giants on the world stage were fêted quite as lavishly as his really close ‘friend’, Tony Blair. The war in Iraq was at its height. Thousands were dying there. But this didn’t inhibit the gaiety of the celebrations during the Blairs’ 24-hour visit.

Four years later Cherie Blair still recalled it with rapture. ‘I have never had an evening like the one I had in Sardinia,’ she said in an interview with an Italian magazine. ‘Fireworks lit up the words “Viva Tony”, and we all sang “Summertime” together.’ Many in the Labour party had recoiled in horror at the sight of their leader cavorting shamelessly in public with a right-wing billionaire mired in financial and sexual scandal. Could it have been some diplomatic imperative that had driven him to accept this unwelcome invitation? Alas, no. In the same interview Cherie spoke with pride about the ‘friendship and trust’ that existed between Berlusconi and her husband.

The two prime ministers had, of course, one or two things in common. They were united in subservience to President Bush and alone among the leaders of major European countries (apart from the little Spanish prime minister José María Aznar, who left office soon after it started) in their unswerving support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This colossal misjudgment, deeply unpopular in the Labour party at the time, has haunted Tony Blair ever since and has now been cited by Jeremy Corbyn as a possible pretext for trying him as a war criminal. Yet I feel that Blair’s taste for the high life, his habit of spongeing off the rich, and his addiction to glamorous foreign holidays sticks just as much in the craw of traditional Labour voters.

Until 2001, when foot-and-mouth disease struck Britain, the Blairs used to stay regularly each summer in Tuscany with Prince Girolamo Guicciardini Strozzi, an aristocrat of the grandest and most ancient lineage. That he didn’t go back subsequently seems to have been thanks less to his own political sensitivity than to that of the Italian nobleman, who said in a newspaper interview at the time that ‘it would seem strange, as foot-and-mouth disease lays waste to the British tourism industry, for the prime minister to be seen going off with his family to Tuscany again. I wouldn’t do it. That’s for sure.’

Since leaving office, Blair has been free to enrich and indulge himself as much as he wants, thus drifting ever further away from the party he once led. He may have given Labour 13 years in power, but at such discomfort to the party that many of its members would do anything to feel good about themselves again, even if it means languishing in opposition for a while yet. I don’t know where the Blairs are vacationing this summer, but Jeremy Corbyn isn’t having a holiday at all.

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  • Gergiev

    It is well to be reminded of the puritan tradition in Britain to which Jeremy is heir.

  • blandings

    “The pictures included a remarkable one of a former Czech prime minister,
    Mirek Topolánek, completely naked and in a state of sexual arousal.”

    Hey dude, you could’ve left that bit out.

    • John Hawkins Totnes

      Leave it out? Certainly not. He should have shown us the actual picture!

      • blandings

        Beware what you wish for

  • jim

    Of course it’s a disgrace..on the other hand,if there is one guy’s party you would like to attend it would be Silvio’s.

    • Tamerlane

      I would definitely go to Silvio’s party.

      • MacGuffin

        Yep, lots of fat late middle-aged men groping young prostitutes. Whats not to like?

  • thomasaikenhead

    The media and metropolitan chattering classes are reeling as they realise that their patronising gesture of gathering votes to put a token leftist on the election list for leadership election of the Labour Party has blown up in their faces and the general public and Labour Party leadership electorate have warmly embraced both the man and his policies!

    • MacGuffin

      The general public has not warmly embraced Comrade Corbyn, and they never will. If Corbyn’s leadership survives to the 2020 election, I expect to see Labour’s share of the vote be about 20%.

      • thomasaikenhead

        The Blair/Brown group led the Labour Party to defeat in the last two general elections and the last one saw the party wiped out in Scotland.

        Corbyn could hardly do any worse, could he?

        • MacGuffin

          Corbyn could easily take Labour down to 20% or even lower. Who, other than the benefits underclass (who rarely vote) and the public sector lower-management marxist tendency, would vote for someone like Corbyn?

          • thomasaikenhead

            Who will vote for Corbyn?

            Why not wait until the votes for the Labour Party leadership election are cast?

          • MacGuffin

            Why would I wait until the votes are cast before discussing the implications of the most likely result? Odd comment.

  • Nexialist

    Jeremy Corbyn’s New Labour Party and its hard left-agenda, should he become leader, may well take some of its cues and inspiration from his beloved Venezuela. I do not refer to the sinister ‘colectivos’, i.e. marauding motor cycle gangs (trained by Cuban military personnel) which assist the police in controlling the huge street protests of today by shooting and killing innocent demonstrators. No, I’m thinking more of Corbyn’s ‘thought experiments’ regarding nationalisation of some of the UK’s ‘commanding heights’, i.e. rail, energy, potential mining assets etc and his obvious appetite for another round of QE to pay for them. Let us hope Corbyn realises, that printing more funny money (after the BofE’s first 375billion of QE) will have consequences. Indeed, investing 100 billion in social housing and giving away state assets to friendly latino dictatorships (as Chavez did to Cuba, for example, which more or less runs and controls the Maduro regime nowadays) can lead to hyperinflation and much indebtedness, not to mention the total debauchery of the currency. Trouble is, as a conviction politician, Corbyn is unlikely to be deflected from his ‘bolivarianista’ creed, embodied in his great hero Hugo ‘El Comandante’ Chavez. At bottom, for Corbyn, rather than the real economy, it is the purity of theidea which matters, and which sustains his utopian fantasies. In the real world, does anyone know what the price of aspirin is in Venezuela at the moment?

    • Sylar

      “hard left-agenda”… how quaint.

      • Harry Palmer

        You’re right. I prefer ‘stupid fascist tw@t agenda’. It’s more accurate and fitting for Corbyn, as that’s the place where all socialists come to rest if left to their own devices.

        • Sylar

          That doesn’t make any sense given that Corbyn isn’t a fascist, though I suspect you probably are but aren’t honest enough to admit it to yourself. If you’re not a fascist, then you’re probably one of those Falangist types.

  • WFC

    Berlusconi, Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini, was choosy about who he invited to the Villa Certosa (unless, that is, they were teenage models)

    How is that failing to be choosy?

    (Is it coz they is women?)

  • WFC

    Reading the headline, I was assuming that the article would be about Corbyn having, in the 1970s/1980s, set up a semi-pirate television company to challenge the existing broadcasting networks, by rather more risqué offerings.

    For example, a quiz show which required contestants to take off an item of clothing when they got a question wrong – and put something back on, if they got a question right.

    Where the question for a chap would be “who scored the winning goal when Italy won the World Cup in …” whenever.

    Whereas the question for the attractive girl would be “who was made the third undersecretary of state for education in Mussolini’s June 1928 reshuffle”.

  • Sue Smith

    We’ve just had an article today in our national newspaper, “The Australian” about Corbyn. The article, written by our leading political/foreign policy journalist, Greg Sheridan, says Corbyn’s policies are “madness” and will keep Labor in opposition for decades. The writer also says that much of Europe is presently hostage to this same “madness”.

    Very disturbing indeed.

    • Major Plonquer

      What’s most “disturbing” is the notion that in “decades” we’ll still have a Labour Party. Sell-by-date passed and all that.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I needed to explain the word “bent” to a group of Japanese. No problem:
    “Silvio Berlusconi”.

  • AuldCurmudgeonNotTheGuardian

    There’s the little matter of replacing the subscriotions of the old Labour members driven out, with a bewilderingly generous awarding of peerages, also.

  • Nexialist

    Corbyn is not only quaint in his duff socialist politics, he actually believes in the efficacy and superiority of what PolSci wonks call misleadingly ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ like Chavez’s Venezuela, in meltdown as I write. Look out for his ‘conversation’ about new exchange controls and regulated energy prices and housing rents.

  • Hamburger

    I always liked Mr Berlusconi, he seemed to add to the gait of nations. Saying so also make po faced people very cross.