Why I'm troubled by Berlusconi's departure

If what happened in Italy were repeated here, Peter Mandelson would be prime minister by the end of

This may seem surprising. I'm surprised myself. But I heard the news that Silvio Berlusconi had resigned with more sadness than good cheer.

Why so, when Europe's fourth largest economy finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy, brought there by the leadership of a man seemingly more concerned with his libido than sorting out some fairly fundamental issues with the nation's finances? Shouldn't we all be delighted to be saying farewell to "The Great Seducer"?

Well, I'm not wasting tears on the billionaire media mogul. But his departure does mark yet another nail in the coffin of the democratic rights that we all seem to take for granted and yet wave goodbye to with such abandon when it suits us.

Berlusconi hasn't gone because the Italian people have decided that it would be better if he was given the chance to spend more time with his party organiser. Indeed, constitutionally, he didn't need to resign even now.

He's stepped down because the markets thought that it would probably be for the best if one of their own was given the chance to run things for a while. Given the markets are made up of the same bankers who got the world economy into this mess in the first place, I am not entirely convinced they are the best placed group to be making leadership decisions on behalf of the Italian people.

Also, the new leader doesn't exactly have a democratic mandate, does he? Selected mainly because he would be seen as acceptable to the Group de Frankfurt, Signor Monti is an unelected lifetime Senator, a former European Commissioner and a member of that shadowy cabal, the Bilderberg group.

If what's happened in Italy were repeated in the UK, Peter Mandelson would be kissing the Sovereign's hands by the end of the month. Now, there's a thought.

And so we find two of Southern Europe's democracies being run by unelected technocrats -- Greece's new Prime Minister appears to be the Hellenic equivalent of Sir Mervyn King -- with no set date for when either country's people may get asked the question of who they would like to be in charge.

With contagion very much on the cards, how many more of our European partners will be being run by technocrats by the end of the year?

I guess it at least demonstrates that voting does change things. So they've abolished it.


Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.