Once again, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is going to have a very difficult summer. For 17 years it has been unwise (and incorrect) to write him off, but now the wind really does seem to have turned. On other occasions he has spoken about possible successors and about leaving politics, but no one took him very seriously; now he might even mean it and certainly some of his behaviour suggests that he is past his sell-by date.

It is clear that, in the country as a whole, he lost the majority in the May local elections and above all in the June referendums. Opinion polls after the June voting put his approval ratings at around 24 per cent (the lowest ever), well below those of the Partito Democratico (PD) leader Pierluigi Bersani (36 per cent). They also put the present centre-right coalition well below a

PD-SEL-IDV centre-left alliance (37.3 per cent compared to 44.7 per cent).

In Italy, though, a government stays in power as long as it has the confidence of parliament. Polls and partial election results are certainly influential, but at the end of the day, all that counts is the vote in both houses. So Berlusconi