The sometime prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi is 76 years old. The recovery of the political position of his political alliance in the last general election to within 0.4 of a percentage point of Pierluigi Bersani's 'winning' alliance 'Common Good' (or 'Common Purpose', as the Italian Bene Comune could readily be translated, and made up of the Democratic Party plus various leftist and Rainbow Alliance splinter groups) was extraordinary. Extraordinary too was Berlusconi's input. Angelo Alfano, the Secretary of the People of Liberty, spoke gracefully and truly when he said that without Berlusconi their defeat would have been far greater than the difficulties Berlsuconi brings along together with his political abilities and near-victory.
Now Angels watches with increasing distaste and democratic concern the legal hounding of Berlusconi. Certainly he has been tried and sentenced in the first instance for tax evasion, and has appealed. But the other crimes of which he is accused fall much closer to the line between criminality and criminalisation. Enticing members of Parliament to cross the floor, even with large cash bungs, is a standard political act; entertaining girls one month from their 18th birthday may be inappropriate for a man of his age but hardly deserving of the montatura of criminal behaviour concocted round his 'tasteful' dinner parties.
There are two horrid aspects to what is going on: an old man hospitalised with health difficulties indicative of much more serious problems, following on his political tour de force, is being examined by judicial order when wholly respectable, indeed distinguished clinicians have certified to the Court that he must stay in hospital: shades of USSR medical and judicial practice; the other horrid aspect is the blind refusal, particularly by sections of the media and so-called intelligentsia, to accept that Silvio Berlusconi is the elected representative of a huge section of the electorate who might reasonably expect their choices to be nurtured at a time of such political tension, rather than the man who carries those choices to be harried by court actions, and even fresh charges that are as tenuously criminal as the older subjects of Berlusconi's trials.