Forza Italia's politicians range from ex-Communists to ex-Christian Democrats, and while its policies are generally center-right, its platform carries a string of caveats (''a liberal party although not an elitist one...a Catholic party although not a confessional one"). Berlusconi, the richest man in Italy, is a media magnate who owns three national television channels. The party is intensely top-down, with little input from membership; its control over the country's media has been the mainstay of its success, drawing criticism from organizations like Reporters Without Borders.
The ''New" Labor Party under Tony Blair also fits the model, if somewhat differently. ''Blair, ironically, won three elections while Labor's membership went into free fall, and its ideology became indistinguishable from the Conservative Party," McCargo says. Under Blair, New Labor jettisoned its socialist heritage in favor of a ''Third Way." Pollster Philip Gould and communications specialist Alastair Campbell became influential figures, bypassing the party's fractious membership to develop platforms with broader public appeal, and keeping the leadership relentlessly ''on message."
Thaksin's approach has combined New Labor's professional media management with Berlusconi's direct ownership of media outlets. His initial run for the premiership, in 2000, employed a public relations offensive drawn up by media entrepreneur Sondhi Limthongkul's Manager Media group. Thaksin brilliantly combined his nonideological, pro-business CEO image with nationalist resentment of the International Monetary Fund and with populist programs for the rural poor, including debt forgiveness, village development grants, and a national health insurance plan costing just 30 baht (75 cents) per year.
Steinglass, the author of the piece, calls this “populist neoliberalism.” A lot of it seems to hark back to old fashioned developmental dictatorships – South Korea or Indonesia in the 1970’s for instance - with lots of emphasis on community and “working together” and a generalised impatience with political liberty as something which stood in the way of the leader’s goals: note that the Abolition of Parliament Act is supposed to “reduce red tape”. With Blair and Berlusconi, there’s also a reflexive dependence on a larger, sponsoring power and in this light the UK’s involvement in Iraq would be analogous to that of South Korea and the Philippines in Vietnam. What’s new here is the sophisticated electoral mechanics and incestuous media relationships. It’s odd to think of Cherie and Tony as a kind of feeble and less extravagant version of Ferdinand and Imelda, but it does fit. I can just see him looking sweaty and pensive in the back seat of a limo on its way to the airport, shredding documents and signing pardons behind tinted windows.