Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Send in the clowns

There are plenty of people in Europe who hold stereotype-based views about Italy - that it is and has always been an ‘unserious’ country. Italian voters won’t have helped that perception over the weekend, when half of them voted for either a comedian or a clown to lead their country. “Do they think this is a joke?” one exasperated German asked me this morning.

Elections have consequences, and people get the leaders they deserve. Those Italians who insist on re-electing the clownish SilvioBerlusconi despite the ruin and shame he’s brought to Italy - and those Italians who decided they would rather see political anarchy by voting for a comedian who will not even sit in the parliament – will get the future they deserve. The problem is that because of the Eurozone debt crisis, we are all going to get the future they deserve.

Those outside Italy have long been baffled at how such a sizable portion of the Italian population could still support Berlusconi after the corruption allegations, Bunga Bunga parties, dalliances with underage Moroccan prostitutes and – most consequentially – the disastrous handling of the Italian economy. But what is newly shocking is the other surprise winner of this election – an anti-establishment comedian. The fact that so many Italians would vote for what is essentially an anarchist party, led by a comedian who does not even intend to take a seat in the Italian parliament, has rattled the world today.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Italian election that could sink Europe

Italy’s constant lurching between left and right since WWII had, in the past, become so frequent that few people bothered to pay too much attention to the vagaries of Italian politics. But all that has changed since the advent of the eurozone crisis. All eyes are on the Eurozone's third largest economy this weekend as Italians go to the polls in what could be the most consequential Italian election of the modern republic.

Much of the international media attention has focused on the possibility of a return to power for the country’s notorious former leader Silvio Berlusconi, who was ousted in 2011 by what essentially amounted to an EU putsch. The prospect of a return to power for the now clearly mentally unstable Berlusconi is terrifying to the rest of Europe and would likely result in absolute panic in the Eurozone. But such a scenario is unlikely, even with Berlusconi’s last-minute efforts to try to buy votes by promising tax rebates.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

UK rejects ‘separate but equal’ marriage

The British House of Commons has just concluded a historic vote, voting 400 to 175 to adopt gay marriage in England. But despite its historic nature, the legislation will prove to be of more symbolic than practical importance – particularly for its author, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

In effect, the UK has already had gay marriage for eight years – but by another name. The Civil Unions signed into UK law in 2004 confer the exact same rights as a marriage – to the letter. Interestingly, as I’ve written about before, this made the gay marriage debate fade out of the limelight for many years in the UK. Because the civil unions were theoretically “equal”, gay rights activists weren’t really pushing too hard to have the word changed to ‘marriage’.

That was until an unlikely hero came along – David Cameron, leader of the British Conservative party. Cameron made it the central mission of his leadership to “detoxify” the conservative brand in the UK after years of being successfully cast as the “nasty Tories” by Tony Blair. Part of his effort to modernise the party was an campaign pledge in 2010 to enact gay marriage if elected. The response from gay UK was, “well, alright then I guess.”