Tuesday, December 07, 2004

You cannot be serious!

Fish was on the brain when I got up this morning. Blame Radio 4’s Today. Its lead story was about a new government expert report arguing for ‘no-fishing zones’ off parts of the British (read Scottish) coast to help boost stocks. It would be coupled with a reduction in fishing capacity as well.

The logic behind this idea is that by stopping fishing would not increase fish in those parts but presumably tempt them into other areas where fewer boats would snaffle them.

You can’t really fault it – except for the minor fact of the fishermen themselves. They were on the radio grumbling about what this would mean to fishing communities in Scotland. As if the current situation, whereby annual quotas are decided upon every December, giving rise to the same predictable headlines about destroying communities, etc, etc – and just before Christmas.

Life in a fisherman’s home can’t be fun.

Having spent a couple of years at the helm (pardon the pun) on the subject for the Lib Dems in Parliament, I think it would be great to get a resolution to this crisis. And it would also mean stopping the Lib Dem spokesman, Andrew George, from his ridiculous posturing on the last day of the Parliamentary session and six days before Christmas, two years ago:

“Will the Minister consider the recall of Parliament next week to ensure that we have the chance to discuss… the fishing industry?”

The short answer: no. What odds for the same this year?
It's the hypocrisy I find so hurtful...

'Democracy has never functioned as well in Pakistan as it is now.'
‘President’ Pervez Musharraf, Newsnight, 6 December.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman claimed during a briefing that Pakistan was ‘moving in the right direction… towards full democracy’.

Can it really only be five years ago that Labour was trying to score political points of the Tories when Musharraf seized power in a coup?

'The principle at stake is that it is for the people of Pakistan to make up their own mind, and the place to do that is at the ballot box. There will be many friends of Britain throughout Africa and Asia who are dismayed to learn that the modern Tory party endorses a military coup.'

Robin Cook, 2 November 1999

I wonder what has happened to bring both Musharraf and Blair together at a press conference yesterday…

Ah yes, silly me. The so-called war on terror. In this new world down is the new up, left is right and dictatorship, democracy. Sorry, what were we exactly fighting for again?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Strange mix

The girlfriend came back from Santiago, Chile at the weekend. We won’t go into the saga of her epic journey across two continents, including a change of time from 9am to 5pm, to 10pm and then back to 8pm, the possibility of two separate arrivals, either at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 at 5.15pm or Terminal 1 only 15 minutes later and her eventual arrival at Gatwick…

Iberia, as you might imagine, is not our favourite airline company at the moment.

No, what I wanted to comment on were the two editions of a magazine she brought me back to read, Cosas. She said that she thought I might find them of interest, since they have plenty of interviews with the president, Valparaiso’s mayor and other political luminaries. But they sit oddly with plenty of spreads about the Spanish and British royal families and stories about Chilean celebrities professing their undying love for one another.

It’s rather like a cross between Hello and the Spectator, reaching to two different markets, both him and her.

That could never happen here.

Or could it?
Balancing markets and social justice

Outsourcing – good or bad? That was the angle for a presentation done by two of us this morning. Which side did I get? The pro- side, which meant that I was for the chop, this being an Institute concerned with social justice.

But what’s noticeable is the number of those who are pro-market who recognise its limitations and the problems that the current globalisation process presents, including lost jobs and localised economic recession. Contrary to what the anti-globalisation movement thinks, it’s not a case of ‘them and us’, but ‘how do we resolve it’?

I can see the advantage of the anti-globalisation movement trying to demonise the other side for not caring. But the reality is much more complex than that, with many on the pro-market wanting not ‘free markets’ but ‘fair markets’. Even this report from McKinsey (that bastion of anti-globalisation, I don't think!), which I had to read to prepare for the class, notes the need for effective public policies where jobs are lost.

The problem though, is how to do this? This is of particular concern to social democrats. As a friend put it to me on Friday night, ‘Almost everyone accepts the market now as the best means of allocating resources. But where social democrats fall down – and they need to have a response – is to square the issue of social justice. The challenge for them is to say in what circumstances can social justice trump the market – and in a systematic and thorough way.’


Friday, December 03, 2004

Sex comedy, Peruvian style

I failed to make a single film at the Latin American film festival at the beginning of the month. But luckily for me, there’s a second, which is coming to its end. And this week I managed to make one of the films, along with a group from the Institute.

It was Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (Pantaleon and the Visitors), a Peruvian comedy and based on a book by Mario Vargas Llosa. I knew nothing about it when I sat down, which meant I had no expectations. But it was quite good – as Peruvian comedies go. Perhaps a little heavy in its humour, but a change from the usual Hollywood guff.

The film follows an army captain who is charged with opening a brothel for soldiers. As you can imagine, he approaches his work in a thoroughly disciplined manner; the humour is directed at this contrast between the informality of language among the prostitutes and the military organisation of Pantaleon.

I’m not sure how many others (apart from my Institute colleagues) picked up on it, but I was struck by Vargas Llosa’s sly comment within the film. We looked at the role of the military in class a few weeks ago, and the apparent differences between the Peruvian military government (1968-80) compared to those elsewhere on the continent.

Whereas those in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc were conservative, anti-communist and repressive, the Peruvians gained international attention for taking power away from the oligarchs precisely because of the failure of the state to develop the country. So while other Latin American armies were incarcerating subversives, Peru’s generals were introducing land reform and creating development projects around the country.

References to the army’s creation of a sex industry (with a double-edged meaning there) and Pantaleon’s literacy classes to the Indians (including writing on the board 'Yo amo a mi Peru' – 'I love my Peru') are all pointers in this direction.

But then I’m sure many others will just say I’ve been working too hard and it’s time to take a break! Perhaps. Term ends next week.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The dangers of prediction

I am also in the process of putting together what I hope will be more than just a provisional title for my dissertation. I’m aiming to write on the role of participatory democracy and mechanisms as a way of developing social democracy in Brazil. I’ll be using the PT, with its efforts in developing participatory budgets in Porto Alegre and other cities, as the main agent of this process.

I also spent the weekend skimming through what limited material I have on social democracy on my shelves: Anthony Giddens’ The Third Way and Will Hutton’s The State We’re In. I think Hutton’s is probably most relevant, not least because his book highlights the importance of underpinning a dynamic economy with constitutional reform. Rather like what the PT is doing.

Unfortunately though, he’s a little shaky in his endorsement of East Asian economies as possessing a dynamism and vibrancy lacking in the UK – not least because less than three years after the book first came out the financial crisis hit the region, producing much angst-ridden material suggesting they weren’t as active as they first appeared.

Ah, the joy of hindsight!
Not a clue

Having had a relatively heated debate in our weekly seminar on trans-national corporations (topic: globalisation), I’m still no clearer to knowing one way or the other: are TNCs a cause or effect of capitalism? And if they are one or the other, does that influence the way they can be regulated?

Answers on a postcard, please.
Uncheery telly

Watched Bus 174 yesterday, the documentary about the bus hijacking in Rio four years ago. The film spliced the footage of the drama on the bus with interviews of the policemen and hostages, as well as those who knew the hijacker and a gang leader. There were also studies of the conditions in which criminals are treated in Brazil’s prisons which made the point that the hijacker, Sandro, had very few options open to him once the police surrounded him and the media descended on the area.

Not happy viewing by any stretch, but it was well-made and highlights the social problems which exist in Brazil. The director argues that the way the Brazilian state treats its underclass (violently) means that it responds violently as well. In the short interview he gives on the DVD after the feature itself, when asked if he thinks his film has helped changed society, he gives a no – but then qualifies it by saying it would require a change in society as well.

Then again, how likely is that, when the policemen who were accused on killing Sandro in the back of the police car after the crisis ended, were found not guilty by a jury?

Even though I sympathise with the plight of street children, condemn the brutality of vigilante groups who murder them and the lack of training and respect for human rights in the police, two things kept sticking out in my mind throughout the film.

First, how many viewers tried to imagine what the hostages were going through at the time? When that’s presented on TV and without explaining the background, how do you think most people will react? Most likely, just as the jury members did.

Second, what was going through Sandro’s mind throughout? He must have known he was in a no-win situation. He could never have escaped police attention, especially after embarrassing them so publicly on Brazil’s TV sets. So why take on the state? I’m sure he didn’t want to die, but given police brutality, wasn’t it fairly likely?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Reviewing ambition

So just sent off my first book review in awhile. It was on a pretty dry subject, especially if you’re not into political science. Hopefully it should appear at the Latin American Review of Books soon enough. I found Latamrob as it seems to be called through the bulletin boards at the Institute. The chap who runs it is an academic over at Queen Mary. Knowing I’m studing politics he sent me David Samuels’ book, Ambition, Federalism and Legislative Politics in Brazil to cover. I hope he likes it.

I need to get back into the habit of writing. Since the project on Sao Paulo ended at the beginning of the month I’ve been getting out of practice at regular scribbling. With the Christmas break just around the corner I must get started again.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Another blog

Finally, now that I'm back on the blog, I should mention Andrew's latest reincarnation, this time in the form of a political, Westminster-inspired blog. Not that he needs the plug, but since he helped out with the Sao Paulo project we had at least one reader in his girlfriend, Zan (you mean you haven't seen it? It's available here).
Due for refurbishment

I was hoping to have a longer chat with Richard Gott last night, not least because I wanted to pick up on his book about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, In the Shadow of the Liberator.

It was written about four years ago, which means it’s missing out a lot of the most notable events which have happened since: his re-election, the oil strike, the aborted coup and his referendum win. My reading was that Gott seemed a little starry-eyed by the so-called Bolivarian revolution unleashed by Chavez – I remain sceptical, not least because it’s not entirely clear that the structures he’s building will last beyond him (a la Fujimori).

Gott did tell me that he’s in the process of updating the book. I hope he takes a more critical view in it. The main concern I had with the 2000 edition was that there was an awful lot of Chavez’s history and his plans for his presidency and not enough analysis of what he was putting in place. While the definitive work can’t be written after Chavez leaves office, a study of his ‘Bolivarian revolution’ to date will be extremely useful.
New look through a new book

It’s been awhile since I last wrote anything on this blog. I’ve been getting a bit slack. Anyway, a quick update: last night we had the launch of Richard Gott’s new book, Cuba: A New History, over at Senate House. Over drinks afterwards he claimed that it was to be a short history, but at 600 pages plus, the title had to be ditched. This he followed with a toast to the Cuban revolution, producing all sorts of awkwardness amongst the assembled ranks.

The point of his talk was to highlight aspects of Cuban historiography which hasn’t received much of an airing to date. Most striking was his focus on race relations on the island, much of which is currently being investigated. However, in his overview on the state of historic scholarship he pointed out that almost all of it stops at 1959 – no-one it seems is prepared to write the first draft of the Cuban revolution until Fidel shuffles off the stage.

Which does pose some questions about race since 1959. Given the lack of writing on the period, domestically the Cubans themselves haven’t focused on the subject either. What does exist has generally been the result of black American scholars, but it still remains a peripheral issue.

Given that we have to come up with dissertation titles the week after next, perhaps a student currently undergoing a crisis on what topic to write might consider this as an option?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

A modest proposal

Not that anyone will pay any attention – after all, there are plenty of other blogs more widely read than mine. But since it’s Election Day across the pond, I thought I’d add my penny’s worth as well.

It’s frustrating that what happens in this poll will affect us all, even though none of us here have a say in the final choice. It got me thinking of an ironic piece I read in The Guardian around the time of Clinton’s second election win. Then, as now, the same point was made: we would be affected no matter what. So the journalist suggested that the solution for Britain was to join the US as the 51st state.

That way we would have direct influence over the presidential election, especially because the distribution of votes in the Electoral College would mean that we would be crucial. Look at this way: California is the biggest state in the Union, with 35m people. This is around 12% of the national population of approximately 291m. It has 54 votes in the College, which is 10% of the total 538.

Now assume Britain was a state. Our 59m would increase the size of the United States population to 350m. We would be more than one-and-a-half times the size of California and correspond to nearly 17% of the total population. And although I don’t know exactly how the Electoral College divides up its votes, assuming the same proportion as California’s would mean Britain emerged with up to 90 votes.

Which would mean that we wouldn’t be worrying about how Americans in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida will vote. Instead the only state which would matter would be us.

When you look at it that way, we should make an application to join as quickly as possible…

…Wait. Oh. It would also mean Bush spending more time in the country, seeking my vote. Hmm, maybe not. Forget I ever said anything…
Back again

So it's done. The final words have been written and a chapter closed. The blog that Andrew Stevens (of Guacamoleville and Race4CityHall) began on the Sao Paulo election has come to an end.

Although the result never looked in doubt (we could have used an American-style, knife-edge scenario as is currently happening between Bush and Kerry), the results were interesting and would be worth following over the next few weeks. There's nothing like elections to shake up the dynamics between and within parties. And it certainly looks like things may well happen in Brazil over the next few weeks and months.

The PT not only lost Sao Paulo, but also it's symoblic centre, Porto Alegre. To lose one would be bad luck; to lose two sounds irresponsible. Before the election campaign prominent petista Emir Sader had written a paper (which I linked to back on 13 August) which indicated that if the PT held Sao Paulo the moderate tendency associated with Lula would prevail within the party; if Sao Paulo was lost it would strengthen the left, which is most closely linked with Porto Alegre. But I don't think Sader envisaged the PT losing both.

On top of the PT's defeat is the effect it will have on its main rivals: the PSDB. They have strengthened their position for 2006, with presumably Geraldo Alckmin, the state governor, as the most likely challenger to Lula for the presidency. There's also the question of what will happen to the PSDB's allies, the PFL; the older generation was already being eclipsed by the younger, more technocratic stars in the party. Antonio Carlos Magalhaes was having informal meetings with Lula in the summer (winter months in Brazil), but his position will be weakened by the failure of his protege, Cesar Borges, to win in Salvador.

While I don't plan to do a regular briefing on the state of Brazilian politics, I do hope that now my duties over at Prefeito Paulistano are over, I will be able to revist them here (and maybe over at Brazzil, if Rodney will let me).

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Under construction?

The end looks almost in sight! Another week and then it's back to this blog and an end to the Sao Paulo blogwatch (which is where you should be if you're coming here). Really. There's nothing to see here for the moment - at least not till after the close of polls next Sunday and the short pieces of analysis I will probably have to scribble up as well.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Fading idols

Was at the Carling Academy in Islington on Sunday to see a long time interest of mine: Transglobal Underground.

Frustratingly, they didn’t get on stage until past 11pm and only played an hour set. Managed to miss the tube home, which meant bus journeys through the capital.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, it was a rather disappointing gig. A bit fat and complacent – or at least the performers seemed to be. All on the cusp of middle age, with comfortable, expanded waistlines. Still, Natasha Atlas’s voice was some compensation. It was just a shame that they didn’t play more of their old stuff – Boss Tabla, Lookee Here and Psychic Karaoke would have been great. As it was they started off with Ali Mullah, which is a good track, but then it all went downhill. Still, top marks for Atlas and her rendition of Ma Vie en Rose.

Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour which skewed my feelings about the performance. Still, they’re on again next week. Maybe I’ll give them another chance.

I reckon it also had something to do with the band who came on before. I hadn’t seem Oojami before, but they were great. Whereas TGU were a little threadbare (whoever thought they should be headliners, I don’t know), Ooojami oozed enthusiasm. And the sound was a little more accessible, being jazzier and less focused on percussion as TGU’s was.

Maybe it’s a generation thing. Or the whirling dervish on stage. Or the belly dancers. I can’t decide. But I may try and catch them again next week when they’re at Cargo’s. Closer to home! But I must remember my NUS card this time…

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Trying my hand at something different

Well here it is: the first installment in the likely-never-to-be-published travel epic which I wrote at the end of last year. Not sure how many will finally make their way onto Hackwriters (which is what I am). I'm not sure how long the editor Sam North will put up with my pieces before he tires of me, but at least I'm getting a hand in at a genre I've always fanciede.

And let's face it: I want the freebies, so anything to build up the travel lit portfolio!
You'll find me elsewhere...

Given my new status as a student and my journeys through the University’s various libraries, I haven’t been able to post as regularly – either here or at the Sao Paulo election blog I’m running with Andrew Stevens of Guacamoleville. However, now Hartlepool is done and dusted, I’m sure Andrew will be able to concentrate more on the Brazil material and I’ll try and fill in where possible. So for more about that – and more regular posts than here – go and check it out.
Where I've been

Just finished my first week at the new Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA). It’s a merger of the old US Studies Institute and ILAS, which focuses on Latin American politics. Little surprise to those who have grasped what this blog is about that I should be doing the latter.

It’s mainly been a case of introduction sessions in the classes, organising presentations for the coming term and finding out how to use the library. At the moment it looks like I’m going to be in classes on Comparative Politics, International Politics and a choice between Society and Development or Trans National Corporations. The attraction with the latter is that it’s the first time it’s being run; but unlike the former is more limited in scope.

So no useful insights to present from these preparatory classes at present. However, we have had lectures on Mexico – is regionalism a new focus in the study of its politics? No, actually, it never went away – and a government confidence index being conducted in Argentina. Must confess to being a bit of an anorak and finding the methodology attached to the use of the questionnaire most interesting even if colleagues didn’t.

Other questions to ponder and consider this week (and not emanating from the readings I’ve so far – and far from exhaustively – done): is overt American militarism in the region no longer feasible? Are there alternative models of development, given that all advocates will have to work within the context of market economies? And will Mexican President Fox’s legacy only be his victory three years ago, thereby ending PRI rule?

I haven’t a clue. But one thing’s for sure: it’s been seven years since I did a course on Latin American politics. And most of what I learned then is now out of date.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A thought...

Mark Oaten on Today this morning, expounding the virtues of ‘tough liberalism’, which will involve community panels sentencing offenders to clean up graffiti and put vandalism right. He was asked how it was all going to be paid for. His response? Flog off the prisons in the cities and build new ones out of town.

Can you see it now? Planning applications for prisons in North Dingly Dell-under-Lyme with irate protestors and NIMBY-types refusing to have a bunch of criminal types placed down the road.

Haven’t we learned anything from the asylum seeker protests a few years ago? At this rate once we’ve sold out the inner city prisons, Mark will find himself having to float the idea – quite literally – of putting them all out on ships or an island off the mainland, a la Oliver Letwin…

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Blogging from afar

Last month James Crabtree, an old university chum, sent around an email suggesting Labour and Lib Dem conferences be blogged. It followed on from his last post on Voxpolitics.

Well I’m not at conference this year (small matter of finishing up work here in London, starting a postgraduate course and getting the electricians into my rapidly crumbling flat), but that doesn’t mean I can’t make observations from afar. In fact this is the first time in four years that I’ve not been at conference, so I’m getting a different perspective from the media. Conference is like a cocoon, a bubble where what the grassroots talk about rarely gets represented. I admit to making the same grumbles as anyone else, but it’s also easy to get led into thinking that what we’re debating is of extreme importance.

Um… well it might be – but only to us. Conference three years ago was overshadowed by events in New York and the possibility of action against Afghanistan; two years ago the talk was of the Iraq dossier.

At conference I would read the papers, but rarely got to a TV or the radio; hence why this year listening to the Today programme and watching the 6pm bulletins (the ones most likely to get seen by the voters) has been so interesting.

For example I thought Vince Cable’s comments about the party’s spending plans were measured and reasonable on Today this morning, including admitting that some would pay more under the proposed local income tax which would replace council tax. But 20 minutes later, during the 8am bulletin the radio presenter noted that the Lib Dems would be debating environmental incentives. One of these would be reductions in council tax for certain eco-friendly measures undertaken in the home.

Which got me thinking: since council tax will be scrapped by the local income tax, would the incentive still apply? And if so, would it help reduce the burden on those who would see their burden go up as a result of the tax change?
Villainy of the stereotypical kind

Last night settled down to catch the second half of Mel Gibson’s The Patriot. Not that I was actively seeking to watch it. It was just on.

It does seem that Gibson has a – ahem – slight grudge towards the English? We’ve had Gallipoli (idealistic, wide-eyed Australian soldiers mistreated by callous British generals), Braveheart (Scotland v England) and The Patriot (quiet American family man roused to anger and fighting for his country against the British).

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to his next project which will see him as a member of Saddam’s Republican Guard taking on the British army. Admittedly, it could be a tough sell in Hollywood, but a story that I'm sure Gibson can sell to producers in his own indomitable style...

Monday, September 20, 2004

Unlikely to say the least

Contrary to expectations, I'm not in Bournemouth for the annual Lib Dem jamboree. Things to finish up at work this week before starting here next Monday.

But I couldn't let the Lib Dems go without some mention. So apart from my astonishment that we could even countenance forming a coalition with Labour in the event of a hung Parliament (is it really only one-and-a-half years since we voted against them on the defining issue of this Parliament, against war in Iraq?), I popped into the Waterstones near Senate House to see about this Orange Book that's been creating such a stink.

Not that I plan to buy it, mind. I just wanted to see who had contributed. Although they had three in stock the assistant wasn't able to find it. "Maybe they've been stolen or moved to another part of the shop," she said.

Who in their right mind would steal not one or two, but three copies of a series of dry Lib Dem policies?

Well? I'm waiting.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

A clever move?

Is Lula going to form an alliance with the Liberal Front Party (PFL) in Brazil? I know there are tensions between some of the PFL leadership, with some in favour and others wanting to stay in opposition. But the PFL is like a lot of right-wing parties: they like power; opposition doesn’t suit them.

Anyone thinking that Lula’s left-wing government would be a break with the past must be stunned. I hear jaws hitting the floor among our dinosaur left observers here in the UK.

However, it could be that Lula’s playing a canny game. The consequence of courting the PFL is encouraging splits within the party (today's edition), as shown by the proceedings now taking place to expel one of the grand old names of the PFL, Antonio Carlos Magalhaes. Even if it doesn’t actually happen, it may well divide the party to such an extent that Lula need never worry about a concerted and united opposition again.

We’ll see.
Up or down?

Sometimes I wonder about my former employers in Parliament.

Just look at today’s Independent:

Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, who was in the chamber,
said: “This incident must give encouragement to the average terrorist.”

What could we expect from a below-average terrorist? Where would yesterday’s performance sit in a terrorist league table?
Order! Order!

Why should I bother posting on something that everyone has probably already done to death.

Good question.

But what’s a blog if it isn’t an opportunity for me to vent my spleen.

So here’s my contribution (for what it’s worth and if you’re still interested):

1. Trust the media for focusing on what the officers in Parliament were wearing when they rugby-tackled the protestors on the floor of the Commons: buckle shoes, stockings and socks. So what do they say? Get the police to look after the place. Um, hello? Who are these officers? Ex-army. Damn sight more useful than a copper, methinks. And perhaps they’ll finally shelve their stupid plans to create glass screens and actually grabble with providing basic security rather than grandiose schemes.

2. Finally the right (go on, most of those supporters are all Tory voters) have finally got a lesson in police brutality. All those times they said that the left brought it onto themselves (poll tax riots, Stop the War, anti-globalisation demos, miners’ strike), now they know what it’s like. And as for claiming it was a small minority that caused the violence… Yes, it’s the same at the lefty ones as well. Maybe we’ll now get a little more understanding in future?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Power to the people... and companies?

My latest article is now up at Brazzil. It’s about a visit a few of us made to Caetano Veloso’s and Gilberto Gil’s old house here in London.

That was last Sunday. But I want to write here about something else later that day. In the evening I met up with a friend to watch the ICA event in Trafalgar Square: Battleship Potemkin with a Pet Shop Boys-written score. Surprisingly it seemed to work as well, although more in the build up and tension of particular scenes, including the celebrations by the local people and the ship speeding its way towards the squadron.

The only drawback was that our feet hurt. Still, we managed to stay to the end – which meant that we got a better view as scores of people headed for an early train home.

It threatened to pour down all evening, but didn’t. And even if it had I’m sure the same thing would have befallen everyone who put up an umbrella: hecklers behind us would shout at them to put it away.

Most inspiring moment? When the guards refuse to fire on their fellow sailors – you could even hear a small cheer from the crowd towards the front (how long had they been standing there?).

The only thing which left a sour taste in the mouth (and it was washed away by the start of the film proper) was some chap who sounded suspiciously like an SWP stooge, who began the evening by talking about Trafalgar Square’s association with popular protest and rebellion, drawing in the poll tax riot, Stop the War marches, Aldermaston and so on. It rather seemed to escape him and the socialists in the crowd of the corporate sponsors on the screen before the start…

Friday, September 10, 2004

Diplomatic maneuverings

Tuesday I made the trip down to the Brazilian Embassy for the Independence Day reception. Completely full it was too. Must have been a pain for the ambassador, his wife and the various attaches, standing their shaking hands with all and sundry.

As I passed Bustani, his eyes looked glazed and his grin fixed. But his wife wasn't taking it as well. Then inside for an orange juice, Coke or - and remember this was midday - a glass of whiskey to go along with the nibbles.

Service was carried out by white-coated Brazilians, moving noiselessly through the wooden rooms into the covered garden. With the sun as warm as it's been all summer, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were in the tropics and not off a road near Hyde Park.

But really, it wasn't much use as a networking event. I wasn't sure who was there and I've never been the type to small talk. So an opportunity to sell the Sao Paulo blog was lost.

Oh well.

But good news elsewhere. Rodney of Brazzil magazine seems enthusiastic about the project and has made me a columnist. We've now got an arrangement whereby what we write for the blog gets some coverage in Brazzil as well. And that appears to be helping the hit rate.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Asking for a halt

Is it just me or is the political blogging scene here in the UK getting incredibly self-referential? When I started – just six months ago – it still didn’t seem to have that many advocates. Trail blazers were few on the ground and the debate seemed informed.

How though it all seems to have gone over the top. While I supported Bloggerheads’ call to arms to encourage our elected representatives to take blogging up, it now seems to have spawned out of control.

‘Stalking’ an MP by setting up a blog in their name was a good idea, if only to emphasise to the individual in question that there was a space out there with their name on it – literally. And in some cases they provide a service by informing logged-on people what their MP is up to.

But what about when an MP or prospective MP takes up the challenge? Should they be left to get on with it? Take the blog of Lib Dem candidate Jody Dunn in Hartlepool. She’s doing one while there is another which claims to shadow what’s she’s doing but is clearly against what she stands for. Similarly there are the campaigning blogs like Labour Watch and Lib Dem Watch who are scrutinising the parties, from a biased starting point.

The Hartlepool by-election has seen a proliferation of blogs over the last month, many of which no longer seem to be interested in engaging with the campaign or (except in a few honourable cases, like Guacamoleville) reporting upon it. In fact some seem more interested in making the news – or what they think passes for it – including the idea that Jody Dunn shouldn’t be elected for having a web domain based in Germany. As the satirists at Comical Tommy point out, how can you parody something when the reporting is beyond a joke?

I’m beginning to get concerned that whereas before blogging offered a welcome addition to the political stew and could perhaps reach parts not yet reached, in a large part it’s gone off in its own directionless tangent. Anyone trying to follow the Hartlepool by-election solely by blog would find it to be almost utterly different to that being thought in the conventional press or in the street.

I wonder what others think…
Why we're doing it

My latest article is up at Brazzil about the Sao Paulo mayoral election blog which is taking up most of my blogging time at the moment.

Come on, let's get the hit rate up!

Friday, September 03, 2004

No fat lady in sight

Ever since one of the Cheney daughters appeared on Newsnight at the Republican Convention this week I've been unable to think how myopic these people's grasp of history has been.

Defending WOT ('war on terror' to you and me), Ms Cheney argued that Clinton had tried to deal with al-Qaeda and terrorism as if it were a policing matter, treating them liken criminals. And that didn't work. So now we have the military option and the grandiose claim of fighting this 'war on terror'.

They really don't get it, do they? They can never beat it in the way they're doing. And if they don't believe me, then they should go back to their classrooms and remember how the US won its independence. Instead of meeting the enemy head on, they resorted to hit-and-run guerilla tactics. They relied on the help of their knowledge of the local terrain and supporters. George Washington wasn't that great a commander. I vaguely recall reading he lost more battles than he won. But he also knew that as long as he kept the Continental Army in existence the British could never win. And sure enough, they conceded.

Substitute terrorists for Washington's lot and you'll see why Dubya won't ever win.
Before passing judgment...

Yes. Much comment in the goldfish bowl that is Lib Dem politics has been uttered on this Orange Book. And I've made my views on this and the associated strategy known before.

But I'm going to make a change. Rather than blow hot or cold, I think I'll pick up my own copy (preferably for nothing) and review it. Speaking of which, I still have this and this to write up following my visit to Canada last month.
Up goes the drawbridge

I'm not quite sure what Donnachadh McCarthy thinks he's going to achieve with this. It's not as if the Parliamentary Ombudsman has any authority over internal Lib Dem party processes.

But then I suppose that's not the point. Donnachadh has been quite upset about the matter for some time and finally resigned from the party's federal executive earlier this year. His letter explaining the reasons are in May's Liberator (page 21).

While I sympathise wit his view that the leadership should be held to account by the party through conference, I fear this complaint isn't going to go anywhere. Part of the problem is Donnachadh himself. While I like him and agree with many of his views (although I'm not sure he realises it), he does have a confrontational approach with jars with many in the party.

My own experience with him was a few years ago, when we were working on the rural affairs policy working group. He was adamant we rule out GM completely from the document. But as far as I could see, anything less would be seen as a concession to the biotech companies in his eyes.

What he didn't realise was there was concern about GM around the table and that many of us were far closer to him than he probably saw. But because I was working with the Parliamentarians I must have appeared to represent everything he was against. And the resulting confrontation not only lost him support but also encouraged individuals to draw ranks against him.

If he could be a bit less spiky and perhaps encourage others to act on his and others' behalf, then maybe we could weaken the barriers ahead. I just fear that this submission to the Ombudsman will just harden attitudes against him and his concerns.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Old is the new young

I've got my LDYS e-bulletin today. I've said on this site before that I thought I was too old to be getting this stuff. But one of the bits of news made me reconsider:

NEW COUNCILLOR IN YOUR FIRST TERM? Then we have the event for you. The National Young Councillor Forum was a Lib Dem Initiative and is now gaining strength and developing ways to support councillors under 35.

Looks like I've got another seven years of yoof-fulness ahead of me...
Clash of the titans?

So was it any surprise really? With a comprehensive 71% of the returned ballots, Simon Hughes is the new president of the Lib Dems. Was Lembit anywhere near?

I think I can admit to having voted for Simon. But I was almost torn. I really was.

In almost all circumstances I would have voted for Simon - he was the first to give me a job in Parliament (alright, it was slave labour, doing the filing and in any case it was his then chief of staff, the great tell-it-like-it-is Graeme Salt who really invited me in) and I helped him during his 1997 election campaign in Southwark. He was one of the few MPs to remember me and take time out to talk. And when I became a GLA candidate he was enthusiastic and spent a lot of time with us in East London which was hardly obvious target territory, it must be said).

And I don't hold with some of the murmurs that Simon ran a weak campaign in June, that he didn't pull his weight, that his failure to beat Norris showed up deficiencies in his leadership.

He was doing what he's always has done, campaigning on the doorstep, talking to people in the street.

But having said that, Lembit almost seduced me away.

His was the fancier, glitzier campaign. He seemed to really want the president's post; some of the answers he gave to different internal Lib Dem groups suggested he had thought about what the president could do. By contrast Simon's comments and responses seemed a little tired, a bit too woolly and unfocused.

But one thing held me back from marking Lembit: his ambition. It was the last edition of Liberator which did it. Both candidates were asked whether they were using the position of president as a platform to party leader. And although he didn't admit it, it seemed obvious (to me at any rate!) that Lembit saw it as just that. More dialogue with non-traditional media was his proposal to reach out to the wider electorate.

Now where have I heard that before? Oh yes, our Dear Leader, CK (to give him his current nom-de-fragrance) who was once party president before beating Hughesy to the leader's post five years ago.

And suddenly I woke up and berated myself. How could I have almost fallen for Lembit? No, it won't happen again.

Of course that's not to say Simon isn't without ambition. I'm sure he wants the ultimate prize (insofar as being Lib Dem leader is that) one day. But I got taken in by a media luvvie once before (no, I'm not going to say who), and I lived to regret it.

But that doesn't mean Simon's going to get a free run from me. By no means. I hope he will take some of the concerns and ideas from Lembit's bid and run with them - not least how to engage with our grass roots and councillor base. I voted for him although I wasn't sure his ideas were the freshest. But I'm giving him another chance. And I hope he'll make a success of it.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I don't believe it... a la Victor Meldrew

How long will it be until we get a response from the left here in Britain? I'm really looking forward to it! Basically this story says that before the recent referendum in Venezuela, President Chavez signed deals with Chevron-Texaco and Microsoft.

Given the socialist revolutionary instincts of these two corporations, how long before we start hearing from all those SWP dinosaurs that they were (a) betrayed by Chavez and his so-called 'popular' Bolivarian revolution; (b) never a supporter of Chavez in the first place, but of the Venezuelan people, or (c) that they know Chavez is just using the machines of capitalist imperialism to extract largesse from the American tyrant to the north.

Answers on a postcard please.

Until then, I'll just assume the deafening silence from the old left is a momentary sense of disbelief as they take it all in. Cue crashing of jaws on tables and smashed crockery...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Quite right

I never thought I'd say this...

...but go, Ming, go!

Finally someone stands up in the party and tells some of our more 'enthusiastic' MPs where to shove it. Not that Ming is beyond taking the top-down approach himself. But really, it's become exasperating that our elected representatives seem to think they have a greater say in party policy than the wider membership.

Because of the visibility of our MPs over our councillors and other party members and affiliated organisations, it's perhaps inevitable they get more publicity by the media (limited as it is!). The nature of Parliament which enables political parties present there to be more organised than their grass roots also doesn't help.

Admittedly our policy-making system could well do with an overhaul. Were I going to conference for the whole thing I'd be interested to hear Jeremy Hargreaves at the Liberator fringe meeting on 'wasted trees' (relating to the mountains of paper used for policy motions). But it's good that finally a senior politician in the party has pointed out what needs saying.

And to think that I never thought we saw things the same way. Being interviewed by him a few years ago for a particular job I came out thinking that he and I would never see eye-to-eye on certain subjects.

How wrong I was.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Room to rent

Right. I've tried several approaches. Perhaps this is the best way to find out whether anyone is interested in renting my spare room.

Do check it out. I'm looking for £125 per week (which includes all bills) for what I hope whoever's looking will think is reasonable. Also I've included other pictures of the rest of the flat too, so prospective tenants can see what else is in the flat. So go on. Take a look at what's on offer below.

Drop me an email (located on the sidebar) if interested.

Entrance to Flat

Entrance to Flat
Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
Welcome! Here's the entrance to the flat. To the left is our room (no need to post pictures of that!). Immediately to your right is the bathroom...


Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
...completely redone last year at great expense and much misery. I couldn't fit it in, but to the right is a bathtub and shower.

Entrance to Bedroom

Entrance to Bedroom
Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
But you want to see what the room looks like, don't you? OK, so here's the entrance to the bedroom on offer. As you can see, a telephone is close to the door - conveniently located if you want a private chat.

Bedroom - Study Area

Bedroom - Study Area
Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
Here's the study area, including desk and a chest of drawers. We've also got a TV if you're interested. We can get rid of it, if you want. To the right of the photo is a dividing wall between this space and...

Bedroom - Bed

Bedroom - Bed
Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
...a double bed beyond the sliding screen. Hopefully it's big enough.


Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
On the other side of the bedroom is the kitchen: the engine of any flat. I hope you think it's nice. It's got a breakfast bar and a washing machine and to the left, underneath the cupboards, there's a tumble dryer.

Sitting Room - View One

Sitting Room - View One
Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
To the left of the kitchen (if you're going by the last photo), takes you to the back of the flat and the sitting room. There's a small balcony behind the blind.

Sitting Room - View Two

Sitting Room - View Two
Originally uploaded by Guy Burton.
This is a view of the sitting room from the other side, on the balcony side. So what do you think? Could you be interested? Then go on. Send me an email.
Picnic in the Park

I do wonder how much time I'm going to get on this blog for the next few months. Doing a weekend round-up on the Sao Paulo election took awhile, scouring for reports and translating them! Still, it's only for a few months and I'm sure I'll come back to this blog soon enough.

But as I said last week, this will free me up to write about other things on this blog. And so I can inform my two readers that the Peladao (Big Picnic) in Regent's Park seemed to be a success.

Organised by the Jungle Drums magazine for the Brazilian community, admittedly we didn't get there till quite late - and most importantly - after the capoeira had finished. Bummer. But the football was still going (though judging by the exhaustion and slowness of the players, I suspected we were watching the final). There was also one of the samba bands warming up for the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend. A few stalls selling acai and steaks, plenty of people sitting on the grass (although it didn't feel warm), but it definitely had an end-of-day feel about it.

Would have been there earlier of course, but family duty called (along with a good stack of ribs while celebrating a birthday). I'll be interested in the 'post-match' analysis of the event in next month's edition of Jungle Drums.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

New blog

Apologies for the lack of posts today. I've been setting up a new blog, which will be done in collaboration with Andrew Stevens, of Race 4 City Hall and Guacamoleville. We're putting together a blog on the Sao Paulo election, which can be accessed here. Hopefully it will mean shifting all the stuff I've been doing on the contest from these pages and giving more attention to other things here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Guy's world music gigs #1

Went down to Cargo in Rivington Street, Shoreditch, last night. A friend of a friend was promoting a club night, the main draw being Ska Cubano.

Pretty cool sounds, with a large band of two sax, trombone, horn, guitar, drums, bongo drums, keyboard, cello and bass. That's not counting the two singers (bedecked in shiny white suits and berets) and one body recording it all on camera. If you've been down to Cargo, you'll know the stage isn't particularly big. How they managed to get several members from the audience up there as well and still dance, I don't know.

Pretty good sound too. It was recognisably ska (but not in an Ian Drury or Madness sense) and yet the Cuban sounds were distinctive throughout. Cheerful music which was definitely not up itself. But an hour and a half was about right.

Odd crowd too. Some dressed in Hawaii shirts and shorts, others in traveller fare which hasn't been seen since the tree protests of the mid-1990s, complete with nose rings and mullets with the sides shaved off.

They're playing one more gig this weekend at the Tottenham reggae festival.
Chinese whispers

Hmm. So the Lib Dems are using the silly season (and the Olympics) to make a sporting point. Oh well, why not?

Interesting how the story changes, isn't it? Don Foster makes the comment that because schools aren't good at identifying potential sportspeople, PE co-ordinators should come in and develop this skill. And he seems to be indicating these co-ordinators could be champions, whether at local, regional or national level. At least that's the implication.

So to the e-Politix take: "Liberal Democrats want sports stars to replace traditional PE teachers.
Under their plans, experts will teach their specialist sport at a number of local schools, giving more children access to top coaching."

Not quite what Don was promising, I think. And a look at the upcoming conference motion on sport doesn't have that angle either. Nowhere does it say these 'reformed' PE teachers to PE co-ordinators need to be existing sports stars. In fact, how would an elite sports personality find the time to commit to a school on a regular basis?

But maybe that's not the point. The Lib Dems want a quick headline and if that means the media misinterpreting what is proposed, then so be it. And the likelihood of the press office asking the media for an apology for misinterpreting the story? Less than zero, methinks.
Smoke and mirrors

What are we to make of the Government’s decision to upgrade the status of the embattled Central Bank president, Henrique Meirelles, from a civil servant to a minister? He’s currently under investigation for moving his finances around and avoiding paying tax. As you might imagine, the opposition is making a meal of it, desperate to gain some political capital in election year.

Hence the decree yesterday which means Meirelles will no longer be investigated as an ordinary person, but answerable only to the Supreme Court, a privilege ministers are afforded. I suppose from one perspective it removes the sting from the political consequences of this case. But on the other it looks like favours for the boys.

What an ideal time for Lula to sign this decree though. Tonight the Brazilian football team is playing a friendly in war-torn Haiti, as a publicity stunt for Brazil’s UN mission there and bid for a UN Security Council seat. What better way to bury a story then to do it on the eve of the government’s attempt to raise the country’s international standing?
Crystalising the campaign

Last week (13 August) I recounted “What’s at stake?”, a document drafted by the political scientist Emir Sader. Today the Folha would seem to back up the importance of these elections for the PT (Workers Party). Polls indicate the left-wing PT and the centrist PSDB (Social Democrats) are the front runners in 68 of the largest cities in Brazil. These account for nearly a third of the population.

Of the 68, the PT currently runs 24 and only leads in 13. Which makes the value of Sao Paulo all the more important. Beyond the PSDB the only other challenger to them and the PT is the catch-all PMDB (Democratic Movement Party). But even they don’t stand much of a chance in either Sao Paulo or Belo Horizonte, two of the bigger cities which would offer them national projection.

And where are the neo-liberal PFL (Liberal Front Party), you may ask? Well, they needn’t bother putting up their own candidates, when they can use the PSDB as their proxies.
Gesture politics?

The Amazonas governor, Eduardo Braga (PPS) is to lodge a formal complaint against the Federal Police for the heavy handed way they carried out Operation Albatross. This involved arresting 20 people and computers and documents relating to an investigation which has seen R$500 million in public funds go missing. Braga’s grumble is a constitutional one, with the Federal Police occupying state buildings and impeding officials.

But I wonder if he doth protest too much? It’s election year and in this interview with Em Tempo, it’s made suggested that Braga is taking a contrary stance to the PT candidate in the Belem mayoral election, by supporting its rival from the PFL.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Closer to home

And now closer to home. Is there any connection with the decision to send John Prescott to North Cornwall, after his involvement in this?

Also how reassuring to finally see Charlie note the value of challenging Labour at the next General Election. For the last three years we've been listening to this gibberish that we need to out-Tory the Tories if we're to replace them as the opposition party. But after the successes of Brent East and Leicester South might we finally see a more radical alternative and strategy approach?

My guess is probably not. The story's just to fill copy and most likely a sop to those of us in the party who want to see a more robust approach taken against Labour. It's acknowledgement of the work done in Labour areas to date (and the impending by-election in Labour Hartlepool as well). But come the General election we'll be back to a more simple message of needing to beat the Tories.

Uh, hello? Who's in government at present (even if there ain't much to choose between the present chap and the last lot)?
Good poll - but wrong city

Finally something for Sao Paulo mayoral candidate, Erundina to cheer. The PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party) is doing well with a 35% showing in the latest polls according to the Estadao, making it a tie between her party and the incumbent from the Workers Party (PT). Unfortunately, it’s not in Sao Paulo where this poll took place, but in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais).

Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Last week I predicted the PSB and their coalition partners, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) could start providing us with entertainment following the candidate’s poor showing in the polls. And sure enough, the fun started, with a PMDB stalwart being brought in to squash dissenters in the campaign (see post yesterday).
On the box

Anyone who has been to Brazil and sat through the news post-novelas (soap operas) during an election year will know the sheer inanity which follows. Wall-to-wall coverage of various candidates all getting their minute of fame. And unlike British political broadcasts, you don’t just get five minutes; it can go on a full 45 minutes in some cases.

So pity the poor burghers of Sao Paulo, who are about to get it shoved in their faces. Paulo Maluf, fresh from a banking scandal, is going to air his ‘Team Maluf’ ads, with various sports personalities all expressing support for the man. Rather timely, wouldn’t you say? Expect more exploitation of the commercial sporting extravaganza in Athens before the week is out.

Meanwhile Social Democrat and former front-runner, Jose Serra, has sworn off attacking his opponents for the next two weeks. Given his fall in the polls last week, it’s probably just as well. So what’s his spot going o say? Public, meet: Serra: A man of vision’. Jose’s going to set out his plans for the city and his achievements as health minister in the previous government.

Practically, it’s about all the ad men can do with him, given the man’s gaping lack of charisma. I suppose they could do something with his wife, but she's not up for election, is she?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Bringing the boys round

Meanwhile it's all fun and games over at Erundina HQ (Brazilian Socialist Party - PSB). Former Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) governor and state party president, Orestes Quercia, has been drafted in to oversee the financial management of the coalition's campaign. He claims he won't get involved with the political direction - that's up to the candidate. But what likelihood is there that he hasn't been brought in to add some weight to the team and make sure that disaffected PSB members don't peel off and support Marta's re-election bid?

Back in March Quercia was one of those who expressed discontent at the governing PT's economic policy and advocated leaving the coalition in Congress. What better person could be brought into Erundina's floundering campaign to prevent the lefties scarpering to the exit?
Soul searching and bank rolling

So a poll shows Marta (Workers Party - PT) in the lead yet again: his time among the 16% of Sao Paulo's population which classify themselves as evangelicals. Her main opponent, Jose Serra (Social Democrat - PSDB) must be feeling as sick as a pig.

Poor Jose is even losing out to the right-wing ex-mayor, Paulo Maluf (Popular Party - PP). 72% of those saying they'll vote Maluf will stick with him whatever happens, compared to 71% loyalty to Marta and 58% for Serra himself. Serra must be starting to wonder what he can possible do.

Maluf will be especially pleased with these findings from the eponymous Datafolha poll company, since he's had some bad publicity over the weekend. He claimed to not know anything about a movement of some US$400,000 in a American bank recently. Still, if you have nearly R$6 million stuck in a French bank account, what's a few hundred thousand here and there?
Time to grow up

What is it about all things foreign? A trip to the Museu das Belas Artes (Fine Art Museum to you and me) in Rio gives it away. Brazil still maintain a sense of cultural inferiority in relation to Europe. And so it is proved again this weekend.

How many read this Folha article in which the Financial Times and the Observer have both monitored the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the current dodgy goings on in Brazil's banks? According to the Observer, "in many counties, parliamentary inquiries are a fundamental rock of a democracy. But in Brazil they run the risk of turning into a farce."

Cue mumblings and shamefacedness among Brazil's political elite.

Of course if this was an American publication, chances are the journalist in question would be deemed to be disrespectful to the nation and banned from ever entering (just like the recent example when a journalist's credentials were revoked for passing comments on President Lula's drinking habits).

Friday, August 13, 2004

Brook promo

Just come back from lunch with my interested publisher. Progress on the book has been slow, ever since her initial interest nearly six months ago.

Admittedly it's my fault. I was electioneering for much of that time and had little time to devote to finding it financial support.

But that was before I started blogging. I wonder if I some pro-active, web-based advance work might help? An installment here which - while not hitting many members of the public - could be one way, I suppose. But I'd need the right links to drive others here...

Excuse me while I go get my thinking cap on...
iPod versus the cassette

I don't care. I got my iPod last week and I'm still in love with it. I'm not going to listen to this.


(Thanks to Bloggerheads for this)
Hospital utterings

And would you believe it? The hospital isn't going to close. Shame the Jody Dunn leter writer didn't check this before sending it out (see post below).
Heard on the campaign stump #3

I could start a blog on the back of the emails that I get sent by Cowley Street. I really could.

Yesterday I was being lobbied (along with everyone else signed up to the party's email account) to vote Lembit 4 Prez once again. I'm assured that

'as the party's vice-President for the last four years, Lembit has already shown tremendous energy, throwing himself into doing the things he will need to do as President: visiting local parties, motivating and training members, and recruiting new ones.'

'And for those of a less active bent, there this: 'he is already very well known outside political circles. His high media profile will help him to use the post of
President to reach out to ordinary people who don't watch Question Time or
listen to the Today programme.'

So if I vote for Lembit I'll be expected to attend various training sessions? Or perhaps despatched to Hartlepool, where according to his last missive, he will be spending much of his time.

Also a letter from Jody Dunn, our candidate up there. Everything, including the kitchen sink has been thrown in. But to the uninitiated in Lib Dem letters, here's a dissection of what it really means:

'I've now learnt (the hard way) about the need for ultra comfortable shoes at all times during a by-election campaign - the frenetic pace doesn't give your feet much time to recover.'

Ah, yes. Remind everyone how much walking you're doing.

'The future of our local hospital is shaping up to be one of the major
issues in the town. Dr Evan Harris MP has come up from Oxford (thanks Evan!) to
help campaign and his health expertise has been extremely useful.'

Hospital? But so soon! How can this be? Third paragraph in and already the standard campaign material. With a senior name dropped in for good measure.

'Most embarrassing moment of the campaign so far: being asked to wear a
Stetson and line dance in the middle of the town square on The

Self-deprecation added in. We don't all want boring candidates do we?

'It never stops in our HQ. The supply of donuts is constant and
occasionally we get a pie and flan from Sheila Tumilty (a great local party
member). People arrive from eight in the morning and there are usually still
people here at midnight - and they come from everywhere.'

Translation: where are you? Why are you not campaigning?

'Luxembourg is the furthest yet (if you discount Charles flying in
the Democrat convention in the States).'

Name dropper!

'I hear by-election regular Erlene Watson is going to visit - so
will need to check if Orkney is closer than Luxembourg. Might also be able to
practise my Finnish on him - sceptical he can actually speak it - I reckon it's
a myth.'

What and who is she talking about?

All in all, a rather odd letter.
Psst... Need a flatmate?

Bloody typical isn't it? For some reason my Urban Junkies email is arriving late. So I missed this offer: speed flatmating. Exactly what I need.

I'm looking for a new flatmate (now why didn't I post this on the web before? Perhaps because my three readers either have homes already or having read my constant posts on Brazilian politics would rather live with their parents and have their nails pulled out) and this could have helped. Sit down with some potential people and see whether we got on.

But no. I took the boring route of posting on the web. Yawn.
Journal for junkies

Ohmigod. I've come across this online academic publication from Brazil which begs to be read. Just the thing that stirs me up (and puts most others to sleep). I may never leave home (or blog) again.

If so, you know where I've gone!
What's at stake

Interesting piece here by the left-wing academic, Emir Sader regarding the risks for the governing Workers Party (PT) in the upcoming elections (and what a relief to escape the vacuous comments being made by the candidates!).

The Sao Paulo mayoral election is important to the party because of its national projection. The contest is between the PT and the Social Democrats (PSDB), who had control of the national government until two years ago. A good showing here would help towards boosting the PT's image in the presidential and congressional elections two years from now.

The other important election is that in Porto Alegre. The poll figures which I analysed there a few weeks ago are good for the PT. And the role that Porto Alegre has played in the development of the party cannot be over-estimated. It is was here that the idea for which the party became distinctive came into being: the participatory budget. Porto Alegre is also the centre of the movements which spawned the World Social Forum, the anti-globalisation network, and the militant Landless Peasants Movement (MST).

But whereas Sao Paulo offers a moderate, soft-left image of the PT, that in Porto Alegre has tended to be associated with a stronger, more radical version. If the PT were to lose Sao Paulo, but keep Porto Alegre, then the mayor of the latter city would become the second most important PT office holder after Lula himself. It would give the left of the party a greater voice than it's previously had. And it may well make the party more distinctive than it is now.

But whatever the result in Sao Paulo, if Porto Alegre is (inconceivably) lost, that could end its experience of innovative governance and the symbolism of the various ideals and projects attached to the party within the city.
Heard on the stump #2

On it rumbles. The fall out from the latest Datafolha poll for Sao Paulo mayor, which puts the incumbent, the Workers Party’s (PT) Marta Suplicy, on top, continues to attract comment.

The Socialist Party/Democratic Movement Party (PSB/PMDB) candidate, Erundina, is feeling especially sour. Having made little headway, with a poll of less than 10%, Erundina commented:

‘Since the beginning my candidacy has been contested by some in my party because they are being agitated by the PT. They are being helped to do it. They are a group that have no means or resources… [and] they are organising a team to support another candidate. Where is this money coming from?’

Meanwhile the Liberal Front Party (PFL), who are in coalition with the Social Democrats (PSDB) are showing support for their man, the Social Democrat Jose Serra. Senator Jorge Bornhausen, the PFL president, has tried to kill Marta’s chances. ‘She only has a maximum of 30% of the votes and it’s not going to rise any further. It’s a death spasm, which passes quickly.’

Nice choice of words? Comes across as a slightly unhealthy preoccupation, methinks.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Upsetting people

Think of Brazil and what do you usually picture? Football? Beaches? Music? Definitely the latter. And there was something romantic at the beginning of last year when Lula appointed as his minister of culture the singer Gilberto Gil.

Gil was one of the influential Bahian artists of the 1960s who steered the tropicalismo movement. But the military didn't like it or him too much and he ended up in exile in London for awhile. Taking up his ministerial post seemed to encapsulate something about the 'new' Brazil under Lula: the formerly persecuted had taken over the shop. And adding a famous artist to the mix of dour trade unionists sweetened the imagination somewhat.

Fast forward a year and the honeymoon seems well and truly over with Gil as a politician. Even allowing for the radical views of those in the IndyMedia, Gil has deeply upset a number of potential former supporters with his comments in Galicia, Spain at the end of last month. He addressed the audience in Castillian Spanish and stressed the importance of being more international and less nationalistic. Given that the Galicians were denied from speaking their own language in favour of Castillian by the dictator Franco for decades, those over at IndyMedia feel Gil's remarks were insensitive.

Around the same time that happened, I was talking to another Brazilian, from a different startum of society. A diplomat, that person was unhappy with the lack of direction coming out of the culture ministry. 'Sure having Gil at the centre is good for our profile. But he's got to decide whether he wants to be a minister or a musician. He can't do both.'
Campaign utterings

One thing about polls is the heat they generate. And the recent Datafolha poll is no exception. Here in brief is a quick and easy guide to everything that's been said over the last day according to the Folha.

Workers Party (PT) - They've got the most to crow about. Their candidate, the current mayor, Marta Suplicy, has just gone into the lead. But whereas her colleague, Joao Paulo Cunha, a state deputy and president of the lower house of Congress, is excitable in tone, seeing this as the first step towards winning the presidency again in 2006, Marta is almost serene and Buddha-like in her response. 'I'm very satisfied with the poll.' The party president, Jose Genoino, also injects a degree of moderation, saying 'It's important we be prudent with these polls because our rivals are going to attack Marta as they did in [last week's] debate.'

Social Democrats (PSDB) - The former front runner, is putting a brave face on his fall in the polls. Jose Serra is taking the route favoured by those who aren't doing as well as they would like: 'The poll numbers doesn't alter our strategy one bit. It's going as normal. Polls are a snapshot and are very volatile. What is important is the poll on election day. We're going to continue with our strategy.' The former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, also took time out of a possible bid for the 2006 election by lending support to his former health minister. What's interesting, according to FHC, is the likely second round contest between Marta and Serra, which according to the poll, Serra would win by 52% to 38%.

Socialist Party/Democratic Movement Party coalition (PSB/PMDB) - It's all fun and games down at the campaign HQ for Erundina, a former mayor herself. Her decline in the polls, from 9% to 7% over the last month, is causing some problems. A section of the coalition want to pack away their ways and back Marta. But this could be a problem, since some of the coalition see the PT as deliberately exploiting differences within the camp. A bonfire waiting to happen? You bet. Stay tuned on this one.

Popular Party (PP) - the main right wing candidate in this election, Paulo Maluf, whose figures have fallen from 24% to 19%, appears to have taken a strange turn. Just as Eric Cantona started talking about ships and seagulls the day after he launched himself at a fan during a game, so is Maluf talking gibberish. 'I'm very happy,' he says. 'We are maintaining our position. We haven't fallen. Evidently there's an increase for the current mayor, but that doesn't need explaining. Walk the streets to see the PT's campaign. A party that entered government in sandals and now walks in gold shoes...'

Sorry? I think there we must leave it. But roll on the next poll and the inevitable rubbish which will spout.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Yoof news

Just got my weekly edition of e-LDYS news (the newsletter for 'young' Lib Dems). Makes me feel youthful once again (even though I'm 28 years old)!

Pleasing to note that according to Opinion Poll which conducted a survey of students that 'support for the Liberal Democrats is currently running at 47%, with the Conservatives on 23% and Labour on 20%.'

Of course they haven't yet worked for the Lib Dem party yet. In the newsletter is a job ad for an adviser to the party on education matters. By my estimate that means there will have been five such people in that post by the end of this Parliament (assuming the next one doesn't resign as well).

What does Phil Willis, the party's education spokesman, do to these people?!
Raising awareness

It's all happening here, isn't it? I posted on an apparent lesbian tryst excluding a candidate from the election yesterday. And today what makes the news today? Folha's running an article on Maria Augusta Silveira, who's running for council in São José do Rio Preto in the interior of Sao Paulo.

What makes Guta (as she's known) different, is that she's a transexual, having had the snip in 1998. Reassuringly there's a statement that there's no constraint on her candidacy. Well that's alright then.

Do I detect a fashion developing here? Nadia wins UK's Big Brother at the weekend. Perhaps Guta wins a seat in October? It's all go for the community!
Pride in the country

One other interesting point in the CNT Poll. People were asked what they felt made them most proud to be Brazilian. The top two, with 26% and 22% respectively, were an absence of war and solidarity in being Brazilian.

Worryingly - for this blog at any rate - is the low esteem in which politics is held by the people. Only 0.6% of Brazilians expressed pride in politics. Which does make me wonder whether I picked the right horse in choosing this subject to blog on!

For most foreigners Brazil is football and beaches (both received 6%) and music and culture (4%).

It's probably just as well that pollsters don't determine how to market the country abroad. How would you go about it? 'Come to Brazil: not a war zone' doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
Good news for PT in the polls

The latest Datafolha poll puts Marta Suplicy, the present Workers Party (PT) mayor for Sao Paulo, in the lead in her bid to be re-elected. This is the first it's happened, with her passing the former leader, Social Democrat (PSDB) Jose Serra. Her share of the vote has risen by 10 points to 30% between the end of June and this week, compared to Serra's dip by 5 to 25%.

And further good news for the PT camp: Marta's rejection ratings are down, from 42% to 34%. But it's not as low as Serra's, who has the lowest rejection level of any candidate, at 11%. Should the contest go to a second round run-off this should give him some comfort. However, it must be frustrating for his campaign team, with the poll findings overshadowing the launch of his election website which can be found here.

According to the Datafolha's director, Mauro Paulino, the change in the PT fortunes is probably due to a more visible presence on the street as the campaign proper kicks off.

There must also be satisfaction in the Planalto (seat of national government) too. The latest CNT poll shows that people are feeling good about themselves and it's rubbing off on the administration. Lula's ratings have risen, from 29% to 38% who deem his work good while those who say it's bad have fallen 6 points to 18%.

On all the everyday issues, health, education, poverty, violence and economic well-being the figures are up, with those polled claiming things have improved since the last time they were asked, in June.

But there is a sting in the tail. Those who believe the promises made by Lula in his presidential campaign two years are not being fully completed has risen in the last year from 34% to 55%. His advisers will have to watch these figures if they're not to be caught out at some later stage. And the poll was taken just before the weekend and before the recent scandals over tax evasion at the Central Bank have made their way beyond the chattering classes. The question must be asked whether it will eventually break out beyond that section of the population and engage the public like the Waldomir scandal (accepting illegal campaign contributions) which broke at the beginning of this year.
Praise indeed

Yet another example of President Lula's apparent lack of political ideology this morning. Another statement on military service and his 'frustration' as a young man that he never got to serve. And he was young when? Oh, that's right, during the 1960s when the military dictatorship was in power and persecuting his colleagues in the trade union movement.

Sometimes I wish he would stop eulogising the army. That's what we've got the right-wingers for. But maybe it's part of this Faustian pact which means he can't upset the balance of the Brazilian body politic.

And meanwhile I still haven't made the trip down to the consulate here in London to exempt myself from service this year...

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Gay exclusion?

I am at a complete loss in understanding this. Apparently an action has been successfully brought against a federal deputy and candidate for mayor of Viseu, a town in the northeastern state of Para. It's claimed that she has a 'stable union' with the current mayor, who happens to be a woman as well.

It's alleged there is a lesbian affair going on between the two, which they both deny. But the decision against the federal deputy's candidacy stems from the closeness of her relationship with the mayor. Perhaps she's getting a headstart over her rivals?

Whatever it is, being gay isn't grounds for exclusion from an election. The local gay movement in the state capital, Belem, makes this point and is offering its support to the two women if they want it.

Yet another strike in favour of equality before the law and Northeastern tolerance, I don't think.
Weakening the argument

I've usually commented on domestic subjects in Brazil. But Lula's given me an opportunity to note what's going on in the world of Brazilian diplomacy. Not quite sure what to make of it though.

Apparently he's going to propose to the UN that a team be sent to Haiti (where Brazil runs the peacekeeping operation) to assess and report upon the economic situation. So far, so good.

And he also proposes a global fund to combat hunger, which Brazil won't be a recipient of, but rather a contributor. Again, a good idea.

But some of his comments aren't too helpful. To condemn Haiti's 'colonisers' for the state the country's in and to blame Britain for the situation in Sudan is a bit much. Indeed, he argues that Britain was in Sudan for 300 years and what did they ever do for the people there.

Excuse me? 300 years? Where is his foreign policy adviser when he needs one? Last time I checked, the British took over Sudan in the 1890s, and only because they wanted to secure control of the Nile.

But history isn't the point here. He's playing if for public consumption. And I doubt the British will get too upset. I can just imagine what they're thinking in diplomatic circles: 'Oh it's just another populist South American mouthing off again.' Which is really unhelpful since they may well overshadow his other, good points.
Seeking relief from the bank

I'm not really mentioned it to date, because the story is so readily available elsewhere, but finally I can make reference to the investigation into the apparent tax evasion of the Central Bank president, Henrique Meirelles. Although it won't be quite what you expect.

The point of this blog - at least as I presently see it - is to look at the political news overlooked by English language coverage and in the run up to the October elections. And besides, there's so much going on in Brazil that just deserves a mention. So I've avoided this particular story. Until now.

I was wondering how long it would take before it made the move from parliamentary investigation into outright political debate. And sure enough, it's happened. The Workers Party's (PT) president, Jose Genoino, has criticised the investigation for 'emptying' information about the investigation at its centre for clear political purposes.

Clearly there are concerns within the PT over this story. Chances are this ongoing saga will probably register among the electorate in the next polls, which linked with the alleged illegal contributions scandal earlier this year, may cause some damage to the government and its candidates in the mayoral races - not least in the economic powerhouse, Sao Paulo.

Could this then be part of the reason for bringing together both President Lula and Sao Paulo's mayor, Marta Suplicy, yesterday, to talk about her successes during her mandate? These apparently include improvements in education, support to low income workers and small businesses. Nothing like getting back to your roots when seeking support.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Just in case you've forgotten...

Slightly curious article in the Jornal do Brasil today. There's a piece on the action being taken against a Workers Party (PT) governor, Zeca do PT, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. He's accused of 'administrative impropriety' (that catch-all phrase it seems) and not directing some R$80m of tax received from the state oil company, Petrobras, to the state's cities, as is required by law.

What's odd about the story is not the investigation, but the fact that it took place at the end of March. As far as I can tell in the piece, there have been no developments since then, with no decision taken whether to continue with proceedings or not.

Which begs the question, why write it? Of course the JB is no fan of the PT and the Lula administration in Brasilia. Is this just an attempt to helpfully 'remind' readers about the PT?