Topless ministers and teenage prostitutes: don’t go there, Dave.

by Victoria Williams

Hopefully, last week’s international women’s day prompted David Cameron to think, if only briefly, about the disappointing dearth of women in his government. Ideally, he will have thought about how he might improve it. Perhaps he will have sought advice. Let us hope he did not turn to that nice Mr Berlusconi.

The grass is not always greener dall’altro lato. The Italian premier, recently labelled the “world’s shadiest politician” by humour site, may currently only have four women in his 22 seat cabinet, but, by God, he is intent on changing that. As one might gather from the near-constant barrage of articles about the 74-year-old prime minister in the run up to his, ahem, impending trial on charges of using underage prostitutes, among other things, Silvio Berlusconi is a man who likes to surround himself with women.

In 2009, he fielded a string of female candidates as potential MEPs in the European elections. His minister for equal opportunities, Mara Carfagna, is a houshold name, as is his education secretary, Mariastella Gelmini and his recently list-appointed councillor for the Lombardy region, Nicole Minetti.

All very laudable, you might think. (Though perhaps, in a Kafkaesque loop of ill-advised political borrowing, it may have been Berlusconi taking tips from the Tories about candidate selection. Back in 2005, it was the Conservative party which recruited ab-encrusted soap star, Adam Rickitt, to its vaunted “A” list of Parliamentary candidates. He was touted around quite vigorously, but never found a seat. Perhaps local Tories felt him under-qualified).

In Berlusconi’s Italy, however, it is not local activists, but il cavaliere who decides. It is a list system, and the capo’s chosen women get seats.

Not that all Berlusconi’s women are soap stars. Of the female candidates he sent to the European parliament in 2009, he spotted one when she appeared on the Italian version of Big Brother and another when she was a candidate in the Miss Italy competition. Elected to the camera dei deputati in 2006, Mara Carfagna had been in Miss Italy too, in 1997, though Berlusconi is more likely to have seen her in one of her nude Maxim shoots. Now 35 and the cabinet minister for equal opportunities, she does less of this work than she did.

Whereas he met Nicole Minetti (whose parents are British) when he went to the dentist last year, following an attack by a mentally ill man. As he left, he took the dental hygienist – and, more pertinently, former showgirl – with him to join his Popolo della Liberta party. And the beautiful representative career of Nicole Minetti, 25, was begun.

In most Western countries, the biggest annoyances women routinely face in public are wolf-whistling and other forms of street harassment. In Italy, beautiful women can’t leave the house without running the risk of ending up an MP.

Of course, it’s that dental hygienist/topless dancer who has landed Berlusconi in his current hot water, by introducing him (the legal term, apparently, is “procuring”) to Ruby Rubacuori, a prostitute and now international tabloid darling. Ruba cuori translates as “steals hearts”. It was the tatty stage name of Karima El Mahroug. Now 18, she was 17 at the time that Berlusconi is alleged to have paid her for sex.

It’s not like he hasn’t been accused of consorting with minors before, or, indeed, with prostitutes. But while the arguably sex-addicted premier has so far seemed immune to accusations of impropriety, it’s the combination that has seen him fall foul of the law. In Italy, using prostitutes is legal, but only if they’re over 18.

Prosecutors in the trial, which begins on April 6, say he paid Ruby for sex 13 times when she was a minor. He says he didn’t. Whom to believe?

Anyway, why all the fuss about all these beautiful women ministers and underage prostitute “bunga bunga” parties? If there are more women in Parliament, should we care about how they got there? And if a world leader is doing loads to increase the visibility of women in government, must we really condemn him? Well, yes and yes, when their visibility in the very physical sense is the only reason that they’re there; and when the world leader’s defence of using teenage prostitutes is “at least I’m not gay”.

Which doesn’t let Cameron off the hook. He needs to do something to address the lack of Conservative women in our Parliament. But perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

Victoria Williams is a freelance journalist.

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2 Responses to “Topless ministers and teenage prostitutes: don’t go there, Dave.”

  1. Mac says:

    Sorry, what is the connection between Berlusconi and Cameron?

  2. Peter Lunch says:

    What a strange article…

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