Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Dog days

The economy isn't growing fast enough and creating enough jobs before November. You give Iraq freedom two days early to avoid any trouble at the ceremony. Your poll ratings are falling against a man more wooden than Bargain Hunt's David Dickinson (minus the orange glow).

So what do you do?

Try and win the punters over with your cute pooch.

The Harlem Globetrotters of international football

Brilliant idea. Can I suggest games be organised in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo and Sudan as soon as possible?

Perhaps if the Americans gave up their obscure isolationist sports (American football and baseball spring to mind) then perhaps we might have a better chance of sorting out international crises.
Cheeky move

So they pulled a fast one on me. After days spent arguing over who sould be the next President of the European Commission, the finally they plump for the Portuguese Prime Minister.

And I haven't even had a letter back from Javier Solana explaining to me what the procedures are to apply for the job. Still, I'm looking forward to his explanation.

My two or three readers will of course be the first to know if - and when - I receive a response.
Ways to fame and fortune - or not in my case

Occasionally I feel like throwing my radio against the wall while having breakfast. I listen to the Today programme. It's understandable.

Usually it's because of John Humphreys' ego or his incessant interruptions; more often than not it's because of Jim Naughtie's waffling and failure to ask the guest a question.

But today it was something different. I'm sorry, I just get frustrated when I hear about other people's success with their books. And it's not even those in JK Rowling's league which bother me; instead, it's those whose first books get published.

Take today for example. After several months of samizdat copies of an apparently seriously funny book being enthusiastically read by and appearing in a short article in the Metro (including by a producer who wants to film it), the book in question gets published. To great success. Apparently. Or at least it will now it's received coverage.

And meanwhile I tout mine around, with increasingly realisation it's ever going to make the grade.

Why can't I have luck like that?

Then again, perhaps mine's just crap.
Looking behind the figures - what does it all mean?

I almost feel they're doing them for me. I'm becoming a bit of a poll junkie, which I hope isn't too boring. But reading between the lines they do make for interesting reading - for me at any rate!

Brazil's equivalent of the CBI, the CNI, has published its quarterly poll on Lula's government, put together by the polling company Ibope. The headline figures, as the Folha and JB show is a fall in Lula's popularity from 60% to 54% and a rise in distrust of his government from 36% to 43%.

The JB - never a friend of the president and his party - noted that the fall was most stark amongst those with those you might imagine to be his key constituency: those with the lowest income. Between March and June there was a fall of 13% in the approval/disapproval ratings by those earning up to one minimum salary and of 8% by those earning between 2 two and five minimum salaries (although interesting there was no change in the approval/disapproval ratings for those earning between one and two minimum salaries).

Lula appears to be suffering as a result of voters' lack of confidence in the government to tackle unemployment - which could well account for the concern amongst the lower-paid. And he's going to have difficulty turning that around: forecasts don't expect Brazil's economy to grow too much this year, which will have a knock-on effect of the limited number of jobs created.

Meanwhile the government is perceived as having had most success with its policies to tackle famine and poverty - although even the approval ratings for these have fallen by 20% to 34% between in the six months since December. And given that much of the problem resides in the northeast of the country, it's probably no surprise to see the government's approval/disapproval ratings have fallen by 21% between March and June.

And yet for all the doom and gloom, there appears to be one figure which seems to have been overlooked. While the focus will be on Lula's approval and disapproval ratings, those who classify the government as 'regular' has risen slightly, by 4% to 42% since June last year. And that stability appears to be reflected in the low attention given to the battering received by the government in the press; the most commonly recalled item of news has been the increase in the minimum salary in May.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

More problems in Teresina

It's reported by the Folha de Sao Paulo that the PT governor of Piaui, Wellington Dias, has sent his reform package to the state assembly to be voted on. My one or two readers will recall in previous weeks that the state was facing difficulties, being unable to pay state workers and owing the federal government millions which it's trying to renegotiate.

Dias proposes cutting 10 ministries and reducing the political appointees in the state civil service by 20% - and according to his point man, Ricardo Pontes, this won't affect the wider civil service.

However, trouble already seems to be brewing. State deputies are already grumbling about the package, on both the government and opposition sides. One PFL member is alleging there doesn't seem to be any forethought or planning to the process.

And Wellington Dias doesn't look like he can count on the support of his brethen in the PT either. As I suggested the other week, the impact of Piaui's crisis could stretch beyond the state capital, Teresina. According to the Diario do Povo in Piaui, the federal government is not pleased at the goings-on. The newspaper notes that in the Fax Brasilia column of the weekly magazine Isto E reports irritation in the Planalto that the PT candidate for mayor is getting hammered in the polls. And they're annoyed with Wellington Dias too, for increasing the size of the state and its payroll - in other words, bringing the problem onto himself.

This looks like it's going to run and run.
Raising questions

Interesting figures come out today in the two Brazilian papers I usually check, the Jornal do Brasil and the Folha de Sao Paulo. Both have prompted me to write to the polling firms involved to see if I can establish why there may be differences in the results.

In the JB the present mayor, the PFL's Cesar Maia, is reported to have fallen 11 points to 34% between May and June according to a poll done by Instituto Gerp. The second placed candidate, the PL's Marcelo Crivella, rose 3 points, to 14%. And in third place, former mayor, Luiz Paulo Conde of the PMDB has fallen two points to 6%.

Over in the Folha, both front-runners appear to be doing better: Cesar Maia is given 38% on Datafolha's most recent poll (which doesn't appear to be on its website), while Marcelo Crivella is on 20% and Conde on 9%. Even allowing for a margin of error of 3.1%, that's quite a difference.

Meanwhile in the Sao Paulo race Datafolha's most recent figures gave Jose Serra of the PSDB 30%, Paulo Maluf 24% and the PT's Marta Suplicy 20%, according to a poll taken last Friday and Saturday.

But Ibope's figures are slightly different. While they still give Serra 30% and Maluf isn't far out with 21%, Marta is presented at being on 16%. Again the claim is made that there is a margin of error of 3% - but how can Marta's figures not hold up compared to the other two?

Of the three studies, I've only found Ibope's. Maybe the clue lies in the timing of their poll, which took place a week earlier than Datafolha's. But could that account for the slump in Marta's support?

Ibope also states that the process of deciding who to interview falls in two stages: first, they established the proportion of the area to be surveyed (Sao Paulo) according to census data. They then made a sample of 1024, which reflected that data. The criteria they used included the following: gender, age range, educational level, type of employment and geographic location. They claim that their margin of error for this poll was lower than that of Datafolha's or Instituto Gerp's - at 2.8 points.

However, other than stating they did these interviews personally, they don't specify how it was done. Was it face-to-face? Or by telephone? And how many did they have to rule out, who refused to take part?

Of course, these are questions I'm sure others would like to know about the other polls too. While Ibope has at least given some details of its sampling, it would be helpful to know whether the sample has changed and whether it takes account of those likely to vote (an ongoing challenge facing pollsters in the UK).

Monday, June 28, 2004

Possible new job?

So the Portuguese PM is to be the next president of the European Commission? Sounds a bit like smoked-filled rooms to me. And exactly where was the job advertised?

But maybe it was and I missed seeing the job ad in the Economist this week.

Not to worry. I've written to Javier Solana, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, today to see how I can put myself forward. I hope to put the details up when I get a response.
Spam, spam and more spam

I use AOL and I've noticed the amount of spam which comes through to my email account has risen considerably in the last month. Last week came news that an ex-AOL employee had been flogging off details of the company's subscribers to spammers.

But have we yet had a statement sent by the company apologising for the incident?

I'm still waiting.
Lib Dem certainty

What with the two by-elections in Leicester and Birmingham next month, as well as a local council by-election in Tower Hamlets, now comes news of this Opik-Hughes fight. At least this is one where we can guarantee the winner will be a Lib Dem!
Going back

Hugely entertaining. That's the only way I can think of describing it. At first I didn't think it would be much fun. But there was always a nagging curiosity at the back of my mind: I hadn't seen these people for more than 10 years - 12 to be precise. What would they be like now.

So on Saturday I took a deep breath and returned to the scene of my less glorious times: my old school, Bedales, for the 10-year reunion. And I have to say it was more fun than I expected.

Once I'd got over the initial shock of meeting people I had quite forgotten - and others who I was once friends with, but barely recognised them - the thing that gave me most pleasure was to see the differences between the various class cliques melt away. If anyone felt shy or unsure, as many of us did all those years ago, they no longer showed it. These callow youths I knew from a decade ago, all seeking affirmation and wanting to be liked, had developed into people in their own right. And they couldn't give a damn what anyone else thought.

What was really interesting was to see how some people had followed a path I expected them to take - a few had gone into computers and other technological areas; others had made a complete volte-face from what they enjoyed doing at school. For example our star sports performers are all now employed in business, advertising, accountancy. Another, who had been so shy and quiet you could be forgiven for not noticing her at school, had blossomed and was now acting, including parts in television dramas.

But no-one seemed to have made it really big. I suppose we had that shock a few years ago when one of our number popped up in the various celebrity magazines, having built his fortune on an empire dedicated to running balls and other events. But he was a no-show, so there wasn't a chance to find out how it was all going since.

Refreshing to see some of the class bullies had clearly mellowed and where actually quite nice people. Others, who had been on the receiving end (I was lucky not to have borne it too heavily), had it out with them - and they were genuinely apologetic. Odd to see those girls who I had crushes for - and amusing to watch as some of them stumbled off into the surrounding bushes to make up for lost time! And then there were the class beauties, who had not aged as gracefully as we thought they might and the plane Janes, who had really blossomed in the intervening 10 years.

By 4am the party was still going strong and the beer had yet to run out. But I had seen all I had wanted to; and besides I'm no longer so good at pulling all-nighters.

So will I see any of them again? A few contacts were made and possibly I might meet up for a drink. But there is a gulf of difference between being 16 and 28; a catch-up might be nice with one or two of the friends I lost touch with. But chances are I won't see them again for another 15 years - when the 25-year reunion comes around.
Serra's lead rises; Marta risks missing run-off

The latest Datafolha poll shows Jose Serra and Paulo Maluf rising in Sao Paulo - and current mayor Marta Suplicy appearing to stall.

With 30% support (give or take 3%), Serra's main challenger appears to be Maluf, with 24%. If Suplicy doesn't do something soon, she could find herself out of the second round run-off in late October.

As I've said here before, Marta's difficulty is that as the incumbent she has a record to run on. But the fact must also be that her Workers Party (PT) has been reaping plenty of bad press recently, mainly from further up, in the federal government. From allegations about President Lula's drinking habits to claims of illicitly gained campaign funds and the Senate's decision last week to defeat the government over the minimum wage, Marta may well be the victim of actions beyond her control.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Buying victory

Actually maybe there's something in this euro idea. Think about it: of the 11 tournaments there have been, 8 of the winners are now members of the euro.

Perhaps that's the angle the Yes campaign should use in the euro referendum should it ever come about: "Vote yes for the euro... and Euro glory!"
Why we lost?

Before last night's game, I got the following invite:

"[S]ince a lot of you live in or around god's county of Islington, I thought I'd see if any of you fancy joining us for football later. Some friends and I are planning is to watch it at The Islington Bar and Dining House. An unusual venue you might think? But the owners have barred Nathan Barley, banned the Japanese folktronica nerds and binned their entire stock of sun-dried tomato ale in favour of a huge screen and cold lager. Best of all, it was pretty empty for the last match, as no self respecting Ingurland fan (or Portuguese for one-night-only-Scot) wants to be watching the match surrounded by square glasses wearing chin strokers. So, a win-win; cool bar, nice screen, empty."

well, it was close to Bethnal Green, I thought. Why not?

So where do I end up? Back in the Portuguese-run Costa do Estoril cafe on Lavender Hill. And to rub salt in the wounds, we found ourselves next to two Scots who were baying for English blood all the way through.

Even if we had to put up with celebrations by the wrong side, it was quite enlightening watching the media war. The Costa do Estoril shows the game on the RTP network by satellite, direct from Lisbon. And after the game commentators took to the street to report on the cheering fans.

The English were particularly instructive. Standing outside a bar, all lagered-up and bare-chested, exposing red torsos and beer bellies, an RTP correspondent tried to interview a fan. Except his word were drowned out by belligerent shouting by other fans around him. Then a particularly inebriated individual not only tried to cover the camera lens but approached the microphone and started shouting obscenities to the Portuguese nation at large.


I wonder what new vocabulary young Portuguese fans learned last night which they might find themselves using in this morning's English classes.

RTP quickly cut away from the aggressive tone of England fans 'on holiday' to the sight of joyful Portuguese dancing in the streets. One woman had a T-shirt on, with English written on it:

"If you don't want the euro (under which the currency's symbol), then you can't have the euro (under which the logo of Euro 2004)".

Which, I think, makes the point quite succintly.

The next question though: where can I get one like it? Do I have any Portuguese readers? If so, let me know and I'll send you a classy blue Cambridgeshire in Europe T-shirt with the stars around it!
An alternative match report

Of all the people I should be sitting next to during last night's Portugal-England game, it should be two beered-up Scots urging the Portuguese forward at every turn and howling at every loss of possession.

But they needn't have worried. As happened against France, England began to crumble in the last quarter, giving away the ball needlessly and finding that defending is a lot harder than going forward. And what a surprise, 10 minutes from the end up pops a Portuguese player and goal.

Still, at least it wasn't in injury time...

This has always been England's problem, fading away towards the end. The signs were there on Monday, against Croatia too, when they scored to pull it back from 3-1 to 3-2. Luckily Lampard scored a few minutes later to give England the cushion they needed.

But what ca I say about last night? Even if they were struggling, England could - and should have held out. But instead they got pulled into extra-time and then went behind in the second period. Again, Lampard to the rescue. And yes, we may bemoan the fact that the disallowed goal should have counted, but I hope that won't be used as an excuse to mask some of the failings in this team.

I'm sure Beckham thought that as captain he had to lead by example and take the first (missed) penalty. But he hasn't been playing well all tournament and wasn't in the right frame of mind to do so. And everyone was struggling with that penalty spot, so again, no excuses.

Compare the England penalties to Portugal's. While the Portuguese slotted them away in the corner, three of England's went straight down the middle. Did that reflect the level of English confidence?

Ultimately, England didn't deserve to win. But the media, the fans and the team will no doubt seize on the disallowed goal and Rooney's substitution as evidence that 'we wuz robbed'.

No we weren't. And perhaps now (but extremely unlikely), we will stop going around claiming to be the best team at this tournament and go back to basics. They could start by finding a new goalkeeper. James still looks shaky, especially when England are on the defensive.

If we were the best team at Euro 2004, second only to France, then England - not Portugal - would be in the semi-finals. It's that simple.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Lunch in a greenhouse

It's not often I manage to make my work colleagues envious. But this afternoon I went to meet a friend for lunch in the Swiss Re building around the corner. But most will probably know it better as the Gherkin.

There's a restaurant on its 34th floor (a high speed affair which makes your eyes pop). The restaurant itself is quite small, although a small swirling staircase takes you to the bar at the top, where a handful of tables fill the space. From here the top of the building takes on a glasshouse affair, with only sky above and the clouds floating along.

A rather impressive sight, especially as the building is taller than any other nearby, other than the Nat West building to the west. And from this height it's possible to look down Whitechapel Road, see the Tower of London, look to the west and notes London's landmarks. While it's tall, it's not so high that you can't make out activity going on the streets below - people can be easily made out and identified.

I wasn't sure whether we could see to the edge of London from the top floor (probably not), although it seemed like it; I could make out patches of green across the river to the south and to the north east.

Of course, the only way to get a ring side view of London this high up is to be a guest of someone who works in the building. It's not open to the wider public. Hence the green-eyed monster's visit to my colleagues this morning.

And as for the lobby in the Gherkin. Well, you can take it away quite frankly. High ceiling and cold metallic walls - all rather quasi-fascistic with no greenery to break the bleakness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

FHC in 2006?

Also in the Jornal do Brasil today is a report on the monthly Citizen Satisfaction Index, published by the National Transport Confederation (CNT). The headline is that Lula's polls have slumped since May, with 54% in support and 37.6% against. Compare it to July last year when his approval ratings were 77.6% and disapproval at 14.4%.

Clearly the bad press over campaign funding scandals, allegation of alcoholism and his economic plan have all contributed (indeed, the London-based PT is ablaze with debate and discussion on Lula's economic plan, not least with a recent Uberlandia Letter signed by various economists questioning the government's direction).

Lula's figures for the last month contrast with those for governors and mayors in general, whose polls haven't deviated much. But then as the only politician in his position, he is clearly going to be at a disadvantage when it comes to personal identification.

Of some interest in the findings are the pollsters' attempts to identify who might be best placed for 2006. Two lists are presented, each with different candidates for the former governing coalition of the PSDB and PFL. In both lists Lula would top the list, with 28-29% of support (the advantage of incumbency?), but it's interesting to see who would be after him. In one list, if Geraldo Alckmin, the current Sao Paulo governor, were the PSDB's candidate, then he would trail behind Ciro Gomes and Garotinho with 10.5% of the poll.

But if the PSDB were to go for the former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC), then the PSDB would rise to second place, with 16.6%. Of course it's still a good 10-12% down on Lula, but evidently voters have a charitable impression of their last president.

Could FHC mount a re-run in 2006? I'm sure the PSDB will be looking at those polling figures with interest.
Speculation starts

His body not yet even cold, already speculation has begun over what Briola's death means for the future of his Democratic Workers Party (PDT). This Folha de Sao Paulo story suggests that without him leading the charge the party may well realign itself with Lula's governing coalition in Congress. Brizola had pulled out his support from Lula back in December when one of the PDT ministers left the government.

However, several hundred PDT supporters barracked Lula when he went to pay his respects at Brizola's coffin in Rio yesterday. Whichever direction the PDT takes, it's going to leave some people unhappy.

The Jornal do Brasil has an article this morning, 'Sem Brizola, PDT perde o rumo politico' (Without Brizola, the PDT loses its political direction) in which the different routes now facing the party are presented. A political scientist, Geraldo Tadeu Monteiro, claims that the PDT can't survive without Brizola and could find itself incorporated under another banner, perhaps that of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB).

But the Sergipe senator, Almeida Lima, argues that 'His death could help strengthen the workers' movement.' He doesn't think now is the time for the PDT to start debating its future and argues that the party could invite a politician to be its presidential candidate in 2006 (which Brizola was intimating he wanted to do months before his death). Lima cites Garotinho, Ciro Gomes and Tasso Jereissati as those who could possibly be the party'scandidatee.

In my opinion - and for what it's worth - this shows up the weakness of the PDT without Brizola and the degree of fluidity within Brazilianpoliticss. It is common for politicians to join one party, get elected on that ticket and then swap for another party. Garotinho is just one example of this, having been elected Rio's governor in 1998 for the PDT, falling out with Brizola, joining the PSB and then moving to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party or PMDB (a catch-all party with no distinct ideology one way or the other).

And is it possible that Garotinho is already positioning himself for a possible return for 2006? In the Jornal do Brasil article he claims that Brizola's death 'won't destroy the PDT as some think. When I left the PSB my heart wanted to go to the PDT.'

If senior pedetistas (members of the PDT) are of the opinion that a politician can be brought in to lead the party, then the PDT will suffer. If a politician is bigger than his party then the prospect of stronger party identification by both politicians and the electorate will continue to be a distant dream. And putting the PDT up for the highest bidder risks taking the party in a different direction - and confusing the voters in the long run.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I'm staggered. I really am. As if it wasn't enough for the Bush administration to have one poet in the guide of Donald Rumsfeld, here's another, previously overlooked individual.

Step forward, press officer Scott McClellan. Truly, this man deserves his own anthology too. Observe the subtle interplay between a White House correspondent and McClellan over the difference between what are facts and what are not.

Admittedly, it isn't all his own work. I must concede the nameless journalist does bring him forward towards sheer brilliance:

"MR. McCLELLAN: David, you're just ignoring the facts. You're not looking at what Director Tenet said. You're not looking at what Secretary Powell said before the United Nations.

Q Scott, do you really think people buy this?

MR. McCLELLAN: And I think that you can seek to drive a wedge, but there is no wedge there between what the September 11th Commission said and what the facts --

Q Between what the facts are and what the reality is.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and what the facts are. You're talking about impressions; I'm talking about facts."

And the following:

"MR. McCLELLAN: What do you want to dispute that Secretary Powell said and Director Tenet said? I mean, let's talk about the facts, because those were the facts that we outlined before making the decision to go in and remove that regime from power. And so let's talk about those facts.

Q Have they been borne out by these --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's nice to talk about these impressions and the way people are trying to spin certain things, but let's talk about the facts.

Q I'm looking for facts.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's not ignore those facts. Well, the facts were before the United Nations, through Secretary Powell's statement, and they were before Congress, through Director Tenet's testimony.

Q What have we learned since then, from all this intelligence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously you learn more post the decision to go into Iraq, and you learn more as you get information from those detainees. And I'm sure that Director Tenet can talk to you about those issues and give you a read on that. That's a very general question you're asking me right here, right now.

Q Is there anything else that goes to the notion of an al Qaeda-Iraq alliance?

MR. McCLELLAN: But if you go back and look at what we outlined, and the facts, we stand by that."

Alternately, I suppose another way of tackling this heady material is to perform it the theatre in the same way as Nicholas Kent put on the Hutton inquiry.

Good result, but still a way to go

One thing you can always be sure of: the longer England wait for international footballing success, the more exaggerated the praise and adulation becomes.

Am I the only one to think statements like this aren't particularly helpful? I almost want to show at the team and its manager to shut up and get on with the job in hand - and win the bloody thing.

Then - and only then - will I start to listen to comments like these.

One drawback though: with England to play Portugal in the quarters, there's clearly no way I'm going to be able to pop down to the Costa do Estoril for this one...
Death of a Statesman

Lionel Brizola passed away last night, at the age of 82. He was still the leader of his Democratic Workers Party (PDT) when he went into hospital.

Brizola was one of the last Brazilian politicians with a particular political position prior to the military coup in 1964. He was governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where like me, he was born. He was associated with the deposed left-wing president, Jango Goulart (1961-63), which encouraged him to go into exile.

On his return to Brazil he played a leading role in the 'Direitas Ja!' campaign for civilian government and direct elections. He became governor of Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s and stood for president. In 1989 Brizola was expected to be the main left-wing challenger for that position, until Lula and the Workers Party (PT) came from nowhere to force Fernando Collor in the run-off.

Brizola, seeing the way the wind was blowing, threw his support behind Lula and was his running mate in the 1994 elections. But he never gave up on his own presidential ambitions and was thinking of running in the 2006 elections.

It's a comfort to know that the Brazil he leaves is a more democratic - if not yet more equal - place.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Getting tighter?

According to the Folha de Sao Paulo, the polling company Ibope reports that the incumbent, Marta Suplicy now almost level-pegging with Jose Serra in the race for Sao Paulo mayor. Serra is on 22% and Marta on 21%, a slump in Serra's case since a May poll showed him well in front.

However, and perhaps of greater importance, is the proportion of the electorate who would reject him. He currently generates lower level of apathy, with only 42% of the polled saying they wouldn't vote for him. This compares to 62% for Marta. Of course she has a record to run on, while Serra hasn't been health minister for two years now.
Novel Bethnal Green

I finished reading Brick Lane by Monica Ali this weekend. It's been sitting on my book shelf for almost a year, so it was time to get a move on.

Initially I found her style jarring, but that disappeared as I got into the story. The fact that Ali writes about Bangladeshi life in London and more pertinently, that it is from the woman's point of view, is probably what generated attention to its publication.

I remember reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles at school and then visiting the locations which Thomas Hardy portrayed in the novel. But although that brought the story to life, it still felt based in another time and place (not least because I don't walk around Dorset like I do Tower Hamlets).

But I see women like Ali's protagonist, Nazneen, on a daily basis, walking along Bethnal Green Road, Vallance Road and Brick Lane. But that's as far as it goes. I've never seen into their lives, beyond the kitchen door of the Bengali homes which I visited during my recent election campaign. Their lives, their world, is like this book was before I picked it up: a closed book.

But even though the story revolves around Nazneen's struggle to make sense of her life in London, her affair with the charismatic Karim, her worries about her sister trying to make her way in Dhaka, it is the underlying theme of culture clash in the novel which drove me onwards.

Nazneen's husband, Chanu, is initially portrayed as the most stereotypical Bengali man you might expect to meet. He's obsessed with being a Big Man, with making himself a success. He's determined to maintain a sense of Bengali decorum and respect by his children, but he struggles to achieve it.

Indeed, Chanu's dashed hopes and dreams, his confusion about what he and his people's role is in Tower Hamlets present the main challenge which faces the community. Can they hold onto their heritage, their way of life in a society which is different to their own?

Ultimately, it is a peripheral character, Mrs Azad, who best sums up the situation facing the Bengali community: 'Assimilation this, assimilation that! Let me tell you a few simple facts. Fact: we live in a Western society. Fact: our children will act more and more like Westerners. Fact: that's no bad thing. My daughter is free to come and go. Do I wish I had enjoyed myself like her when I was young? Yes!'

East London has always been the home of immigrants. From the French Huguenots to the east European Jews to the Chinese in the nineteenth century, Tower Hamlets has been the first port of call for many. As they settle down and make London and Britain their home they cease to be identified as French, Jewish or Chinese. They have become British. And that is what is happening today, with the second and now third generation of Bangladeshis living and growing up in Bethnal Green.

An interesting first book by Monica Ali. The question must be, how will she follow it up? But she probably doesn't need to worry about it at the moment. Maybe I haven't yet heard, but the streets of Bethnal Green, the sights and sounds portrayed in Ali's novel lend themselves to the camera and the small screen. I suspect we may well see an adaptation appearing on our TVs soon.
"I think I'm turning Japanese... or Portuguese... I really think so"

Yesterday I saw Lost in Translation, the film which was up for so many awards at the Oscars earlier this year. We saw it down at the Prince Charles, which although it used to be relatively cheap, seems to be getting more expensive.

So what to say about this Bill Murray/Scarlett Johansson vehicle? The soundtrack was good, especially Air's atmospheric contribution at the beginning and end - really suitable for emphasising the sense of bewilderment and confusion which anyone arriving in a strange place feeling jetlagged will recognise.

Some nice shots of Tokyo's urban landscape, its contrast with the idyllic rural locations of Kyoto and Mount Fuji and the flashing neon signs from the back seat of a car - or even reflected in its windows.

But it could have done with being half an hour shorter. And I trembled with anticipation all the way through - not because of the developing love story between Murray and Johansson , but rather against it.

There were some good observations on a long term marriage going stale and frustration and confusion about not knowing what to do in life. And I wish the director, Sofia Coppola, had left it there. But it veered dangerously close to boy (but actually man-old-enough-to-be-her-father) meets young girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Live happily ever after. The end.

The tension was just about right initially - Johansson was sharp and Murray's equal, but then Coppola bottled it, giving us the Hollywood treatment. We're supposed to forget Murray's haggard look, Johansson ceases to be intelligent and a woman with her own mind. She starts to cast longing looks and simpering, laughing at everything he says. How many Hollywood producers - many of them around Murray's age - would have felt their egos stroked at that portrayal?

A profound film? Perhaps in Hollywood circles it is. No wonder the backslapping at the Oscars earlier this year. But was it really? Well, not really. Coppola could have made it more so, but she decided to turn what was an interesting subject into a conventional love story about half way through.

On a more positive note though, the Portugal-Spain game was a pleasure to watch. Not so much for the scrappy first half, where there seemed to be a lack of openings. Rather, it was the setting we were in. There are a number of Portuguese cafes down in Battersea and Lambeth.

But surely it can't get better than the Costa do Estoril cafe on Lavender Hill, where over a few beers, a steak, egg and chips, we watched the Portuguese triumph over the Spanish 1-0, following it all on Portuguese TV. If that's how they celebrate reaching the quarter-finals, God knows what it will be like if they actually win the thing!
The PT in Piaui

It might be cheating a little, but I've tidied up and updated the posts I did last week on the situation facing the PT in Piaui and had it published online at Brazzil magazine. At least there it should pick up more traffic and attention.

It can be accessed here.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Every cloud has a silver lining

This was forwarded to me by a friend just now. At least it makes the pain of last Sunday more bearable:

Q. Why are Englishmen the best lovers?
A. Because they stay on top for an hour and a half and still come second.
It's not over until the final whistle

I don't know about you, but I found myself concentrating mostly on the last two minutes of this particular game. Would those infuriating neutrals pull it off or not?

As it happened, no, with our boys shoring up an emmental cheese of a defence compared to last Sunday.
They 'Said' next week

So after a series of emails sent back and forth between us, it now looks like we've settled on Tuesday next week for a bit of Edward Said. His last interview, recorded shortly before his death is playing at the ICA.

I imagine it will be a barrel of laughs.

Actually, probably not.
Ongoings in Piaui

Since I've now got the bit between my teeth on the 'Oh-my-God-what-are-we-going-to-do about-this-financial-crisis?' in Piaui and the way it might affect the standing of the PT both there and nationally (assuming the media draw attention to it), here's a little update since my post yesterday, having looked through that helpful publication, the Diario do Povo.

The PFL leader in the state assembly is trying to get Lula to write off the state's debt of R$2.7 billion to the federal government, citing its recent decision to forgive Bolivia R$300 million it owed Brazil. This is likely to be gesture politics, to show up the national PT government's failure to come to the aid of one of its own state governors. It's not likely to get far.

Also of worry to the PT administration will be the stance that the local party appears to be taking. Yesterday two of the senior police officers involved in the strike were sacked, prompting a spirited defence on their behalf by a PT councillor. Meanwhile the police today decide whether to go back on strike next week.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Shameless publicity

Nothing surprises me anymore. Nothing. Any event is used to exploit a product nowadays. How else to explain this new fitness class at the 'Football Goal Celebration' workout at High Holborn's Gymbox?

If you don't believe me, here's the blurb from Urban Junkies:

"From the standard moves of punching the air, double high fives with fellow team mates and group hugs, to the more 'individual' post goal shenanigans of wild cards such as Robbie Keane, Julius Aghahowa and Lomana LuaLua are all incorporated into the 45 minute workout.

"Performed to a mega mix of football anthems the class claims to burn twice as many calories as two step aerobics sessions done back to back. Which is useful considering all that beer you'll neck watching the real matches."
Not again?

You have to wonder whether the PT administration in the north eastern state of Piaui is set to suffer the same problems that Governor Vitor Buaiz faced in Espirito Santo in 1996.

Since 8 June there have been strikes by the police and prison officers over pay. According to this Folha de Sao Paulo article, the Piaui governor, Wellington Dias, claims the state doesn't have the money, since much of its receipts from the federal government bypass the state to the municipalities.

To this is the added problem which the local Diario do Povo notes, that inactive workers on the state's books cost Piaui around R$27 million and a debt to the federal government of around 22% of the budget. And Piaui's governor is limited in what he can do, especially since he can't take the easy option of meeting the demands of the strikers and passing it off to the federal government as used to be the norm; the Fiscal Responsibility Law, which was passed four years ago, limits states and municipalities budgets which can be spent on the payroll. Indeed, 52% of the current state budget is spent on its workforce. The Fiscal responsibility Law only allows for 49%.

According to the latest news, the governor has gone to Brasilia to challenge the federal government over its debt. But that probably won't change much. Of far more interest are the possible proposals outlined in the Diario do Povo article today, where the finance minister, Antonio Neto has proposed a series of measures. These would involve making cuts and redundancies and will be outlined in a report to the Legislative Assembly by the end of the week.

Here could lie several problems which observers of the ill-fated Vitor Buaiz will recognise. Although I don't know what the working arrangement is like between the governor and the assembly, a quick look at the figures indicate that of the 30 state deputies, only three are members of the governor's own party.

Assuming an alliance with Lionel Brizola's left-wing PDT and the right-wing Partido Liberal (assuming a similar arrangement as that between the national PT and Partido Liberal (Lula's vice-president is from the Partido Liberal), then the most this coalition would muster is 7. This contrasts with the PFL on 9 and both the PSDB and PPB on 4 each. Of course state alliances may differ from those at the national level, but the PSDB and PFL were a coalition under the former President Fernando Henrique and the PPB is a right-wing party which would find common cause with PFL. These three parties together would bring together 17 - more than half the assembly.

As well as the figures in the assembly is the risk that making drastic cuts would have on the governor's electoral support. The PT being the party of the unions and workers, slashing jobs, making redundancies and cutting the size of the state are not popular actions. Wellington Dias may well bare the brunt of far wider protests and strikes than just the police and prison service if he makes sweeping cuts throughout the state.

This is why a look at Vitor Buaiz's own unfortunate time in Espirito Santo is worth watching. He faced exactly the same problems: a bloated state machine which needed pruning. In 1996 his administration put forward a range of emergency measures. But not only did he upset his constituency and ultimately split the local PT, he was a hostage to a legislative assembly where the right held the balance of power. While they passed the proposals, they made sure he was stuck with the blame for it, letting him hang.

The worry must be the extent to which Wellington Dias and the national PT have learned from that experience. If the situation gets worse and the strikes spread and the administration grinds to a halt, then this will be shown as yet another example of the PT being unable to introduce reform. And that could - and probably will - be used by its opponents in October's local elections. Will the national PT let Wellington go hang? For the sake of Lula and the national PT they can't. The PT gets a pretty bum rap from the national media, dominated as it is by the Globo empire. They need to keep on top of this if they're to have any chance of demonstrating the PT's ability to change the old way of doing things.

PS If you're really, really interested in Vitor's story, check out Fiona Macauley's and my chapter in Radicals in Power. Available at all good book shops. Hint, hint!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Big up for Brazil?

Brazil was discussed at foreign office questions in Parliament yesterday:

"Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): There has been a lot of talk about reforming the United Nations. Does the Minister envisage a time when countries such as Brazil, or indeed India, will become members of the Security Council, or is it Her Majesty's Government's line that there can be any reform of the UN provided that the existing Security Council membership stays static?

"Mr. Rammell: I think that the hon. Gentleman is aware of our current policy, which is to be in favour of expansion of the permanent membership of the Security Council. Brazil is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council. Nevertheless, we believe that in an expanded permanent membership, Brazil is the pre-eminent country from Latin America, and we would be content with that position."

Hansard, 15 Jun 2004 : Column 629-30

Will they be dancing the streets of Rio or Sao Paulo to that faint endorsement?

Somehow I think not.

Wonder what the Argentines will make of it as well...
Fly, dammit, fly!

You really couldn't make it up. Never work with children or animals, they say.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Some are more equal than others

I despair. I really do. Talk about excluding people.

Could someone explain to me, when a country has 14.6 million illiterate and 32.1 million functionally illiterate people, it makes sense to exclude these people from becoming election candidates?

Who knows how standing for election might not be the making of these people?

Monday, June 14, 2004

Normal service will be resumed

Now that I've no longer got an election to campaign for, I can return to my writing. Here's the latest which has just gone up on the Brazzil website.

Shame that only afterwards did I find out that the Whistlestop newsagents has closed...
Throwing it away

What can you say? 90 minutes and England looked to be about to achieve a hard fought 1-0 win over France. Then a foul on the edge of the penalty area, a Zidane free-kick and it's 1-1. Then a sloppy backpass, a foul by David James and a penalty. Zidane steps up and - unlike England's captain earlier in the game - puts it away.

2-1 France.

England have spent most of my life building up expectations in a tournament only to dash them come the semi-final. Usually against the Germans.

Looks like they're trying to start earlier this time.
Further thoughts post-Euros

With the European results now in, it's become increasingly clear that it's Labour and the Tories which have the most to worry about. Their share of the vote was affected most by the surge in UKIP support, the rise in the number of votes compared to 1999 going to them. For the Lib Dems it's frustrating we didn't get a second seat in London, especially after the hard work done by my fellow East London resident, Jonathan Fryer, but given the Eurosceptic tendency across the country we did well to maintain our number of seats.

The European results reflect a similar situation in the locals and London Assembly elections: the two bigger parties suffered substantially more than the Lib Dems and other parties.

Although I finished fourth in the London Assembly election, I am convinced it was a good result. Given the relative strength of the party across the three boroughs, we had to target our efforts, so it wasn't a comprehensive campaign on all front. Nevertheless, as the election drew closer we found more supporters in areas we had never considered before. Ultimately we managed to poll almost exactly the same number of votes as last time, which indicates we have a good solid base in the areas we targeted.

We were only 1000 votes or so behind Respect and almost 100 ahead of UKIP. Both these parties benefited from the rise in the number of people who voted this time. But heartening for us, Labour's share fell and the Tories didn't substantially increase their vote, which makes me think we really are the effective challengers to Labour.

Respect's vote was larger in East London than anywhere else in London. They got their votes by encouraging Muslims to vote for them and claiming that the Lib Dems were for the war in Iraq. Nothing could be further from the truth: we marched against the war in February 2003, Charles Kennedy spoke at the rally and all 53 Lib Dem MPs voted against in the Parliamentary debate a month later.

I said it last week, but I will say it again: Respect doesn't offer East Londoners anything other than a protest vote. They are little more than the Socialist Workers' Party which has tried to co-opt the Muslim vote. Their only high-profile figure was George Galloway, who failed to win a Euro seat in London. That and their failure to gain a top-up seat in the GLA and failed to win a seat in the European Parliament in London shows that they are not a viable opposition in our part of the city.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Initial thoughts

OK, so the results for London are all in. Tories stay on 9, Labour down 2, Lib Dems up 1 (Dee Doocey), Greens down 1 and UKIP with their first 2. Of the constituencies, only 1 of the 14 changed hands, in Brent and Harrow.

Looking at my result, a couple of things to note: John Biggs' majority fell considerably, but the two other main parties broadly held their share of the vote. As far as I'm concerned, I'm reasonably happy we maintained the same number of votes as last time. The turnout was up by around 50,000 this time around, but these voters weren't voting for the three parties. Rather it was Respect and UKIP which benefited from these voters.

Respect unsurprisingly did well in East London, which has a large Muslim community; they didn't do as well elsewhere and they failed to grab sufficient support for a top-up seat. Without that - and if they don't get too many seats at the European results tomorrow - they will be a spent force. Indeed, the only reason they picked up so many votes in East London was to focus on the anti-war message. Nowhere else did they get anything like the same amount.

But I wonder how many of their voters are aware of the rest of their policies? And given the number of votes we received, it's good to see Respect didn't make inroads into our 'core' vote.

However, what does frustrate me is what I foresaw before this contest. Respect competed with us for anti-war votes - and had the cheek to call us pro-war which I find ridiculous - and ended up splitting the vote. Had they not been so divisive perhaps we could have got a more stark message to Labour, perhaps by turfing Biggs out.

But that's the problem with the hard left. They spend their whole time bickering and arguing with each other and being sectarian. What the left never seems to realise is that they individually think they can win and fail to build coalitions as a result. And by doing that, they will always end up losing; the big picture is always sacrificed for the smaller, purer image.

As for UKIP, that has to be bad news for the Tories. They have a blunt message which they can easily communicate. And for the Tories to not take these votes - which I suspect had never previously voted - cannot be good for them.

Depressing was my view on the number of spoilt ballots - I'm sure a lot of them were due to people whose first language wasn't English finding the system confusing. Even I was struggling to put the crosses in the right boxes when I was in the polling station.

As for the count, I found the whole thing rather irksome. Arriving at the entrance I was stopped by the police before walking along a bleak and lonely road to the leisure centre in Newham. They were in the process of verifying questionable ballots and Labour and the Tories showed how they work together to the detriment of other parties. If one disputed a ballot the other would demand that they concede the next one against them. In other words, horse trading. Nice. Pleasingly, most of the questionable ballots didn't involve me, which I hope meant the blurb we put on the leaflets got through to our supporters.

After the count it was off to a late night's drinking. Whatever the result, it's been an interesting experience and one that I've gained a lot out of. I'm sure there will be more to write about on the results, but I think I might hold off until the European ones are through.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Poll result

London Assembly election for City and London East constituency, 2004

Name Party Votes Percentage
John Biggs Labour 38,085 29.1
Shafi Choudhury Conservative 23,749 18.1
Oliur Rahman Respect 19,675 15.0
Guy Burton Liberal Democrat 18,255 13.9
Christopher Pratt UKIP 17,997 13.8
Terry McGrenera Green 8,687 6.6
Christopher Gill Christian Peoples Alliance 4,461 4.5

So Labour wins 14,000 - a fall in their majority of around 11,000. There were 15, 287 spoilt ballots - 10.5% of the total cast. We had almost exactly the same number of votes as last time.

Will come back to this later.
Principle or pragmatism?

So UKIP have won at least two councillors, in Derby and Hull?

I hope they will conduct themselves on the principle on which they were elected: to get out of Europe.

Of course I will be interested to see what they will do over EU funding projects in their local areas: £6.8m in Derby and £35m in Hull to 2006.

Would it be too much for them to demand that filthy foreign money be sent back to Brussels? I reckon their first council meetings should be extremely fun to watch!
Waiting for the result

I'm a bundle of nervous energy this morning. Couldn't sleep last night and felt restless. The day has finally arrived, when we'll see whether all the work we've done has made any difference.

I got a call late last night from one of our Tower Hamlets councillors and a colleague, eager to know whether I was at the count and when the result was expected. They were just about to go out the door until I told them that it won't be till this afternoon. So a few hours' work and then off to Newham Leisure Centre to see how it all went. I've got a few supporters down at the count this morning, to monitor the verification of ballots. Unless something out of the ordinary happens, I won't hear from them until I see them

Woke up to the news on the radio though that Labour have done badly in those local elections which declared last night. The BBC calculates a 40% turnout with the Tories on 38%, us on 30% and Labour on 26%. Who know how this will translate in the capital; one of the toughest things about this election has been the range of competing issues which mean that it's unlikely we'll be able to draw a single message from the different polls.

Just for reference, here was the City and London East result last time, in 2000:

London Assembly election for City and London East constituency, 2000

Name Party Votes Percentage
John Biggs Labour 45,387 45.9
Syed Kamall Conservative 19,266 19.5
Janet Ludlow Liberal Democrat 18,300 18.5
Peter Howell Green 11,939 12.1
Kambiz Boomla London Socialist Alliance 3,908 4.0
Total votes %
Majority 26,121 26.4
Turnout 98,800 24.7

Source: BBC
Knocking up antics

Polling day brings with it its own share of frustrations. For weeks you glide effortlessly around estates, from one door to the neck, either pushing leaflets through letterboxes or knocking on doors to talk to people. There's no prior thought needed: all you know is that this is a block, house or door to get to, one after the other, street after street.

But come polling day it all changes. Now you're trying to get out the vote, to make sure those who have expressed support in the past will go out the door and make the short journey to the local primary school to put a mark next to your name on the ballot. This calls for a different kind of operation. Ideally, in the weeks before you've identified potential supporters (although this year we were using canvass data from last time). So you're given a number of 'knocking up' sheets, with names and addresses listed on them. Armed with that and a bundle of 'get out and vote' leaflets, your task is to go to those addresses and make sure the residents receive that message.

Which seems fine in theory. But in practice it's a hell of a lot more difficult. First you need to find the road. Then the building. Then the door number. And there doesn't seem to by any order to it. Despite weeks of walking around the same estates, suddenly you realise you don't know what that last building was called, or the street's name.

And there doesn't seem to be any order to the addresses on the 'knocking up' sheets: one street at one end of the ward can follow another at the other end; door numbers for a building can go from 5 to 10 and then suddenly from 1 to 4.

And if that isn't bad enough, for some reason, our declared supporters always seem to be on the top floor of a block...

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Most popular PMs

It being polling day, anything to avoid thinking about it. So what did I do during my lunch break? See which Prime Ministers in the twentieth century have received the most mentions in Hansard since June 2001.

Using this great new site, it's possible to do this quite easily - no surprise for guessing that those in the recent past tend to have a greater pull on the memories and utterances of our elected representatives.

But surprising that Major is so close behind Blair and ahead of Thatcher. Also that Churchill isn't more often mentioned; or Eden for the debacle that was Suez, particular in the run-up to last year's Iraq war. And spare a thought for poor Herbert Asquith, propping up the rear with 1 mention only.

Prime Ministerial Mentions in Hansard

Rank Name Mentions
1 Tony Blair 144
2 John Major 143
3 Margaret Thatcher 87
4 Winston Churchill 63
5 Harold Wilson 38
6 Edward Heath 33
7 Harold Macmillan 20
8= Neville Chamberlain 12
8= Arthur James Balfour 12
10 Clement Attlee 10
11 David Lloyd George 9
12= Jim Callaghan 7
12= Ramsay MacDonald 7
14 Alec Douglas Home 5
15 Stanley Baldwin 4
16= Anthony Eden 2
16= Andrew Bonar Law 2
16= Henry Campbell-Bannerman 2
19 Herbert Asquith 1


NB The names were searched putting in only the Prime Minister's first and family names. Therefore references to 'Blair's government', 'Macmillan's administration' are excluded. The only exception is Balfour, who elicited no response; putting in his last name yielded references to the 'Balfour Declaration' and 'Balfour's poodle' (who I think was Lloyd George).
Finally the day arrives

And so to today. Polling Day. I've already voted. Have you?

Weird feeling seeing my name and address on the ballot. I wanted to tell everyone in the polling station (the Hague Primary School on Wilmot Street) that was my name on the sheet. But I reckon they've seen it all before.

As I try and get through the day with work, out in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham are all these people campaigning on the party's behalf, encouraging them to put a cross by my and Simon Hughes' name.

Makes me feel rather humble really.
Fame of a kind

In my quest to drum up votes I was on Bangla TV, a subscription-only channel, near Stratford yesterday afternoon. Along with Azizur Rahman Khan, one of our Tower Hamlets councillors, we were on a live TV phone in for about an hour.

First time I've done anything like that before. Don't fidget, sit up straight, talk to the presenter, don't cover your head with your hands, use your hands to emphasise points: all little details which I'd been told about before I went on air. On TV what you look like counts for more than what you say, so I chose a conservative light blue shirt and dark blue tie (no lines, which would do squiggly on TV) and prepared for the worst questions which might come up - and luckily they didn't!

The presenter was pleasant, although there wasn't any small talk until after the programme finished. And she had an initially quite fierce demeanour. Mr Khan and I sat on the sofa in an increasingly hot room as they planted earpieces and microphones on each of us - it was a slightly odd thing to talk to the person next to you and have their words magnified through the ear furthest from them.

As for the session, I think we got the main points across: Iraq, Lib Dems on tuition fees, police numbers, housing (a big issue for the Bangladeshi community), free personal care for the elderly and Respect. Mr Khan spoke a little about the Lib Dem administration in Tower Hamlets before 1994, including what it had achieved. But almost everything was in Sylheti, with the exception of the questions the presenter put to me. We had a few callers, who had to be translated for me, while one chap went on a rant about Iraq. I wasn't sure what was being said for most of the time, so I decided against smiling on TV. I can't think of anything worse than doing so when a caller is on about torture in Iraq.

What was slightly distracting though was the presenter looking over to the TV controllers while I was talking. I would be speaking to her and she would be looking away. I almost found myself stopping and waiting for her to look back - death on TV!

All in all, an interesting experience and another bow to my string.

Then in the evening I went over to one of our activist's house in East Ham. Almost didn't make it as the car decided to go mad on me: flashing light indicating the oil needed hecking, so to the petrol station where it finished off more than half a litre.

My contact had invited a bunch of Asian volunteers over for food and a motivational talk by me. They were going to be trudging the streets on polling day, so I gave them the things to remember: polling is until 10pm, people don't need their polling card - and if they ask about Respect to remember they're a one-trick pony with Iraq as their only line. Where will they be after Friday? In fact, will anyone still remember them in a year's time?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

How much is that doggy house in the window?

Sometimes I think people have more money than sense.

I'm sure it's all the rage with certain media types and luvvies in Shoreditch and Hoxton...
And here is the news...

So I'm going on Bangla TV later this afternoon. Not sure when exactly my slot is, having looked through the TV listings. One of our Tower Hamlets councillors arranged it for me to appear on the eve of poll, after the Tories and Labour also had their say.

Wherever and whenever I appear, I know my parents will be scouring their digital box looking for me. I expect Dad to call me afterwards and tell me where I went wrong!
On the stump - and nearly coming to blows with a voter

The start of the day and I'm already feeling exhausted! Just been in Whitechapel with Simon Hughes and some of our councillors, handing out eve of poll leaflets claiming he's neck and neck with Ken (YouGov, for once I thank you!).

The usual kind of crowd: people running to work, a homeless man who was fidgeting and talking to himself (he positioned himself near us, making people avoid us) and quite a few voters saying they had already voted with postal ballots. One trader outside the station was from Essex and wondered if he could vote for mayor (he can't), but I think I persuaded him to consider us in the East of England region. Send a message to Labour.

Compared to yesterday I shifted a lot of leaflets - it also helped not having those awful newspapers which we've been trying to deliver. Not only are they cumbersome and large (and you need something small around a tube station), the ink runs off them easily. Quite a few people did a double-take on seeing Simon - I don't think they expect to see him in their local area.

Meanwhile last night a few of us were on the Cranbrook Estate, north of Roman Road. I nearly got thumped by a voter, which would have been a first for a candidate.

Almost the first building I walked into I had an altercation with a voter. "What is this?" he asked, "Don't put this through my letterbox again."

"But sir," I replied, "You don't have a note saying no post. How should I know?"

Stumped he thought for awhile.

"Well, what have they ever done for us? They do nothing, these politicians."

"Did you vote last time?"


"Well, you can hardly complain then, can you?" I was quite sour, rude even. But if he couldn't be bothered, then why should I? Besides, he was becoming aggressive and started advancing on me. At which point a friend of his appeared at the door.

"You're lucky this time," he said. "Next time, you won't be."

Which is why while I'm understand Zoe Williams' argument in yesterday's Guardian about abstaining, to equate it with not voting can't be right. Fine, don't vote if you find yourself unable to support any of the candidates. But be active in your abstention: turn up at the polling station and register it by spoiling your ballot. But if you can't be bothered - and then grumble about the choice presented to you - then like the gentleman in Cranbrook Estate, expect short shrift from me.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Bringing in the voters?

I've seen this on Tom Watson's blog (still the best MP's blog, despite his hatred for Lib Dems) and was going to mention it at some point. But since a friend, who is behind it, has copied me into an email commenting on it, I might as well plug it.

What it does is scour Hansard and make it a lot more accessible to people than the current set-up on the Parliament website.

So by looking through it I ca tell my local MP, Oona King has only spoken in Parliament 29 times last year and replies to less than 10% of faxes sent to her within two weeks. Even though she's attended nearly 70% of votes, she is a Labour lackey, since she 'hardly ever rebels' against her party - as we all know from the Iraq debate last year.
Buying votes


And illegal too.

Someone is trying to sell their vote for Thursday's elections.

And would you believe that it's in Tower Hamlets - part of the Assembly constituency I'm standing in?

I'm sure it'll be stopped. But it shows one of the abuses possible under the postal ballot system.
Dwelling on mortality

Finished reading A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb at the weekend. I wrote a review for the Liberator magazine which I need to send to them. As soon as I do I hope to post it here as well.
Up and coming

A number of events are coming up, not all of which I can make sadly.

My friend Anita is putting together a big charity music and fashion show on Saturday 19 June which will raise much needed funds and awareness of Alzheimer's disease in the Asian community. I'll definitely be going along to that, which will be at Imperial Great Hall in South Kensington (starting 7pm, tickets £15 in advance). Not only will she and her band be playing, but some mates of mates, The Voices, will also be performing. After several years of thinking about it, they've finally decided to go full time. Could be good.

Then Heidi emails to remind me about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, which is on at the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, Holborn tomorrow (9 June). A little bit of anti-globalisation and anti-consumerism is probably just the tonic before an election day where fringe candidates and parties might do well (if you believe the polls).

The Museum of Immigration and Diversity has sent me its occasional email newsletter, reminding me that next week it will be open for Refugee Week. From 13 to 20 June visitors can see how refugees and asylum seekers have contributed to British society. It's at 19 Princelet Street, around the corner from Spitalfields and off Brick Lane.

And finally there's the Dialogo Brasil meeting at the School of Technology and Management & London School of Commerce in Chaucer House, White Hart Yard next Wednesday evening (16 June). I'm not sure if it's invitation only - I suspect so - but it should prove interesting, since the focus will be on ways to improve services and access to resources for the Brazilian community in Britain.
Report from the street

Out on the streets of Bethnal Green North last night. We were there a few weeks ago, leafletting some of the estates. This time we went to finish up, covering the Minerva Estate on the north side of Old Bethnal Green Road (with buildings named after Paris, Ajax, Achilles, Nestor and others I'm surprised the council didn't try and cash in when the film Troy opened last month) and then Nelson Gardens a little further along.

On what was the warmest day of the year so far (although I gather today should be the hottest), I also did a quick three-minute interview with a local radio station. And that will probably be cropped down to 20 seconds or so between the jingles.

Then this morning I was out with colleagues handing out leaflets at Bethnal Green tube station. I stayed at one of the entrances until the Respect people arrived. There didn't seem to be any point swamping the public with leaflets and the impact of ours would have been lost. But I do wonder about the merits of early morning leafletting. As if it isn't hard enough to rouse oneself in the morning, you then have to deal with commuters, who like yourself, feel tired and don't want to be bothered.

And that's not even saying anything about the leaflets, which were colourful but too big and full of ink which runs off far too easily.

As you can probably tell, mornings aren't my favourite time.

Monday, June 07, 2004

The world's a stage

Last night to the Bartok bar in Chalk Farm Road in Camden, to watch some short films. Apparently this is a common monthly event and ranges from home made films, to those just starting out in the business, to BAFTA winners. An interesting array of talent was on show, from comedy to animation to gritty drama in the Garry Oldman, Nil by Mouth mould.

Spoke to one or two of the actors in the films shown. Would like to have picked their brains about the trade and especially the things they look out for. Politics, as everyone knows, is film for ugly people and the most accomplished can turn it on, whether they feel like it or not (e.g. Mr Tony and Bill Clinton).

Beyond my own little world, I'm not hooked on the short film thing - and so I've signed up for information when it come along. Worth going along to? I think so.
Back in the Market

So Saturday morning there we were again, back at Queens Market, handing out leaflets and talking to the public. After Friday's quite successful event, one of the traders pointed out the weekend was a good time to get the Lib Dem message across. So armed with 1000 leaflets and nursing a hangover and suffering from too little sleep (the result of a late night's clubbing on Friday evening), a group of us went back.

It was a very productive session. Within an hour and a half almost all the leaflets had gone, helped in no small part by a friendly trader putting copies of the leaflets in the bags of fruit and veg he sold his customers. Chris, our campaign organiser in Newham, also excelled himself by putting an eye-catching message on the front: 'Simon Hughes - winning for Green St.'

We finished up by delivering the remainders through nearby letterboxes. At least this way Simon's message of support for the market should get through. And as for me, well, I picked up another piece of casework, again about housing.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Modern campaigning

Out at Upton Park tube station and Queens Market with our mayoral candidate, Simon Hughes, this morning. An hour spent handling out leaflets to commuters, most of whom looked bleary eyed and unenthusiastic. But to be honest, would you want your morning ruined by a bunch of aspiring politicos ramming policies down your neck at 8 in the morning?!

Then we made the short hop to the market, a promise Simon and I kept to after being there a few weeks ago. One of the traders had told us the whole area was up for re-development, so we aimed to lend some support to their efforts to keep the place open. One of the market's campaigners showed me the preferred options by the council and the timetable they were working towards. Interestingly, the preferred option of the two was supposed to have been made by January - but as far as they were aware, none had been taken.

A case of councillors and the Newham mayor keeping quiet and hoping things will blow over?

Simon walked up and down the market in the best manner of a salesman, hooked up to a wireless microphone. With him talking it was easier to shift leaflets.

I got a piece of casework, which I must knuckle down to - and our trader friend offered to distribute some leaflets about our involvement with their campaign tomorrow, when the market will be heaving. Thank goodness I have an effective campaign organiser whose taken the day off and will be able to knock out a bunch later this afternoon.

And with the wonders of modern technology, a photo of Simon and I taken on a digital camera should grace the leaflet as well.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Where's the loot?

Finally USAID (US Agency for International Development) has got back to me. Back in April when Honduras decided to pull its troops out of Iraq, I looked for the list of coalition partners and was struck how many of them came from the Third World. I wondered how much the US was giving in aid money to its coalition partners. I suspected promises of more financial aid might be on the cards, because it might 'buy' the presence of other nations to stand alongside the US.

Anyway, USAID have finally sent me details of the agency's financial commitments for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004. Of the 48 countries in the US coalition, 21 are recipients of American aid. By looking through the data, I have managed to compile the table below, showing how much each received in the year before the Iraqi war (2002) and last year, when they were committed to providing military or (mostly) moral support to the US war effort.

At first glance the money given to these 21 countries increased at a much higher rate than the overall agency budget, by 13% compared to 0.1% - confirming my suspicions (call me cynical if you will!). This equates to a rise in the proportion of the budget spent on these 21 countries from 19.8% in 2002 to 23.3% in 2004.

But if you look more closely, more than half the 2004 budget to these 21 countries is taken up by aid to Afghanistan. Indeed, the figure is so high as to distort the rest of the table. But then Afghanistan has been the recent recipient of American bombing and military presence and so therefore may be deemed a special case.

However, if we take Afghanistan out of the equation then we can see that aid to the remaining countries actually fell by more than 40%, with most of the countries in the coalition seeing their aid contributions declining. In fact, apart from Afghanistan, only the Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Honduras saw an increase.

Which begs the question, what do the other members of this coalition really get out of it all? Indeed, Honduras, who decided to leave Iraq, only saw its share of the US aid budget rise by 4% - not nearly enough to take the flak from world opinion.

I don't know whether the countries involved got involved because they were promised much needed money by the Americans. But the reality seems to indicate that there's not much to be gained from joining Bush's 'coalition of the willing'. Can we therefore expect more countries to pull their troops out before the US-British deadline next year as they realise the road to Baghdad is not paved with gold?

US Aid to Iraqi Coalition Partners

Country 2002 ($'000) 2004 ($'000) Percentage Change 2002-04
Afghanistan 191,423 1,070,558 +459.3%
Albania 35,213 27,835 -21%
Angola 89,182 37,502 -57.9%
Azerbaijan 46,538 40,933 -12%
Bulgaria 33,993 27,835 -18.1%
Dominican Republic 18,282 26,664 +45.8%
El Salvador 86,493 35,755 -58.7%
Eritrea 16,472 18,322 +11.2%
Ethiopia 105,792 132,219 +25%
Georgia 91,310 73,657 -19.3%
Honduras 36,043 37,550 +4.2%
Mongolia 12,000 9941 -17.2%
Nicaragua 43,008 40,673 -5.4%
Panama 8705 8304 -4.6%
Philippines 83,058 69,063 -16.8%
Romania 35,992 27,835 -22.7%
Rwanda 35,500 21,592 -39.2%
Turkey 400,000 99,410 -75.1%
Uganda 87,182 84,222 -3.4%
Ukraine 156,540 94,339 -39.7%
Uzbekistan 104,944 35,688 -66%
Coalition Total 1,717,670 1,950,903 +13.6%
Excluding Afghanistan 1,526,247 880,345 -42.3%
USAID Total 8,673,520 8,682,224 +0.1%

Source: USAID Country Allocation Summary - Appropriated Levels, Tables 4B, 4C and 4D

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Including Brazil watchers about what's on

Got an email from my former supervisor and co-author, Fiona Macauley (see our chapter in Radicals in Power). She's helping organise a conference on 22 June about social exclusion in Brazil. Sounds promising, although I doubt I'll be able to make it as it's a Tuesday.


To be held at St. Antony’s College, Oxford

There is no conference fee but advanced registration is required.
Please register with name and affiliation to


8.45 Registration

9.15-9.30 Opening
Professor Leslie Bethell, Director, Centre for Brazilian Studies
Dr Louise Haagh, Conference Co-ordinator

9.30- 11.00 Session 1: Identity and entitlements of the poor

Chair: Dr Louise Haagh


Dr Ricardo Paes de Barros (Director of Social Policy and Research, Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada - IPEA, Ministry of Planning, Rio de Janeiro)
The design of proxy means testing systems in Brazil

Dr Marcelo Medeiros (IPEA, Brasília and United Nations Development Programme, Brasília)
The problems of using income poverty lines and proxy means testing to target policies in Brazil.

Discussant Professor Sir Tony Atkinson (Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford)

11.15-13.00 Session 2: Active labour market policies

Chair: Mr Alan Angell, University Lecturer in Politics and Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford. To be confirmed


Dr Márcio Pochmann (Secretary of State for Employment, São Paulo Municipality)
The poor and work. Active labour market policies in Brazil

Dr Lauro Ramos (IPEA, Rio de Janeiro)
A description of the Brazilian metropolitan labour market

Dr Luciana Mendes Servo ( IPEA, Brasilia)
Recent labour market policies in Brazil

14.00-15.30 Session 3: Coordinating social policy

Chair: Dr Fiona Macaulay


Dr Ana Maria Fonseca (Executive Secretary, Ministry of Social Development, Brasília)
Coordinating social policies in Brazil

Dr Marcelo Cortes Neri (Director, Centre for Social Policy, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro)
Designing a system of social targets and social credit in Brazil

Discussant: Professor Peter Townsend (Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics)

16.00-18.00 Session 4: Income security in comparative perspective

Chair: Professor Leslie Bethell


Dr Guy Standing (Director, InFocus Programme on Socio-Economic Security, International Labour Organisation, Geneva)
Promoting income security as a right

Dr Armando Barrientos (Senior Lecturer, Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester) and
Dr Peter Lloyd-Sherlock (Senior Lecturer in Social Development, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia)
The role of non-contributory pension programmes in reducing poverty: experiences from Brazil and South Africa

Dr Louise Haagh
Re-writing the social contract in emergent economies: Flexicurity models in Chile, Brazil and Korea.

Senator Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy (Senator, PT, São Paulo and Professor of Economics, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, São Paulo)
Approval of the Citizen’s Basic Income Bill in Brazil
PSDB to roar back in Sao Paulo?

Probably the most important election result which will be watched with interest in Brazil this year will be that for mayor of Sao Paulo. Despite having been mayor for two years the Workers Party's Marta Suplicy may feel aggrieved that she is bobbing along at around 20% in the polls according to Datafolha. But it is a crowded field at the moment.

Even taking out some of the other candidates doesn't really seem to make much difference, except when the right-wing Paulo Maluf is excluded - and then his support all goes to the front-runner, former presidential candidate and Social Democrat (PSDB) and heath minister, Jose Serra, who has just over a quarter share of the vote.

Generally the figures seem relatively static - voters don't seem to have changed their attitudes much when it comes to which candidates they reject outright, other than former mayor, Paulo Maluf. His rejection ratings have risen by 6 points to half the electorate in the two months to May. If he was to drop out of the race the only beneficiary would be Jose Serra. Whether the two can work out a deal remains to be seen. But with the election still fur months away, I doubt there will be much attention given by voters until August at least.

Good news for Marta and the Workers Party though: despite the scandals and problems which have been hitting Lula's government over the last few months, more than 60% of Paulistas say that their perception of the administration in Brasilia won't influence the way they vote in October.
Keeping the peace?

It may be little noticed here in London, but in Haiti a Brazilian general has been put in charge of the UN peace keeping mission. Augusto Ribeiro Pereira will be in charge of troops from 23 countries, including the US and other South American countries, including Uruguay, Argentina and Peru.

Given the perception America has at present, it's probably just as well hemispheric security was given over to another country. But it also raises questions about the Brazilian leadership in this mission. For the first time (as far as I can recall), Brazil's military will be doing something humanitarian and worthy - as opposed to plotting coups and running dictatorships.

It also shows the influence that Brazil potentially can play regionally and on the world stage, where it is a temporary member of the UN Security Council. Time will tell whether Brazil's command will be a success, but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it feels like the start of a new chapter in Brazilian foreign and defence policy.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

What country are you?

You're Brazil!

You're athletic, charming, and probably a good dancer.
 unfortunately, you don't really mind chopping down the rain forest, and you probably
consider homeless people expendable in certain circumstances.  Of course, your
personality is so diverse that it's hard to track down exactly what you're like.  You
definitely like Pele, the World Cup, and shouting "gooooal" at the
top of your lungs.

the Country Quiz at the href="">Blue Pyramid

Okaaay. So I take the country quiz and it turns out I am what I write about. And I even answered the questions honestly!