Thatcher Decries Left-Wing Assault Against Italian Politician

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - Former British prime minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher has come out in support of Italy's flamboyant center-right leader, Silvio Berlusconi, who has accused left-wing critics across Europe of undermining his campaign to be elected prime minister in elections on Sunday.

In a letter sent to Italian newspapers and released by her office Friday, Thatcher criticized left wing European politicians and journalists whom she said had led a "character assassination" drive against Berlusconi, a media mogul and Italy's wealthiest man.

The 64-year-old Forza Italia leader has been accused of corruption, tax evasion and bribery, and has been under fire for teaming up with controversial far-right coalition parties.

Some British media, joined by a handful of leading European papers, have questioned Berlusconi's suitability to govern Italy.

Thatcher said that, since a campaign to vilify Berlusconi had been launched by media in Britain it was appropriate that she "offer some comments."

Thatcher, who was Conservative prime minister from 1979-90, said she found it "profoundly offensive" that left-wingers in Italy and elsewhere assumed that they hold the moral high ground.

Those who in the past had been apologists for oppressive communist regimes and had since reinvented themselves were now claiming that their hands were clean while those on the right had become a danger to liberty, she said.

"It is those on the center-right of politics, like Mr. Berlusconi, who still seek to strengthen and deepen freedom; it is those on the left, reared in the stables of Marxism or at least nourished in the adjoining paddocks of social democracy, who would constrain the people's liberty."

Thatcher said the Italian leader's political goals were "very similar to those which the government that I led pursued in Britain."

"The coordinated press campaign against Silvio Berlusconi and Forza Italia is ... part of a wider campaign against national democracy itself, and it must be defeated."

The rest of Europe should not interfere in the Italian election, she said, noting that this was "not the first such Europe-wide attempt to bully national electorates."

Last year Austria was shunned by the rest of the European Union after a party led by a leader who had expressed views sympathetic to Nazis joined the ruling coalition.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel suggested recently that, if Berlusconi wins, Italy should be isolated politically.

Corruption convictions against Berlusconi have been overturned on appeal, but he faces further court cases. Thatcher said the charges had either been dismissed, dropped or were unsubstantiated.

She suggested that European journalists investigate corruption closer to home.

"In English we have an expression to the effect that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones," she wrote. "Europe today has an abundance of glass houses."

Berlusconi's party is allied with the Northern League, a party established to push for independence for the wealthy north from the rest of Italy, but which has since adjusted its stance to call for devolution. Its anti-immigration views have been widely attacked as xenophobic.

Another coalition partner is Alleanza Nazionale, a party which has its roots in the fascist movement, although has moderated its positions.

Although polls are not allowed toward the end of Italian election campaigns, Berlusconi's "House of Freedoms" coalition looks set to win, analysts say.

Berlusconi served as prime minister for seven months in 1994 before his coalition collapsed.

He portrays himself as the Italian heir of the conservative tradition of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan - a description the former British prime minister's letter of support will no doubt reinforce.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow