Friday, May 28, 2004

Brazilian book that's already come out

Finished reading John Malathronas's Brazil: Life, Blood and Soul last night. Having been published nearly a year ago, I had to wait until Christmas to get it - and only now have I finally got through it!

It was a little shaky to start with - a couple of inaccuracies in the first 100 pages and I was slightly concerned he would slip into cliche about Brazilian culture and society. But I persisted and am pleased I did. From Rio to the Amazon, to the North East and the South, before ending up interviewing cult members just outside of Brasilia, Malathronas eventually does justice to the complexity of life in Brazil. Throughout there are observations on its politics, history and the nature of inequality which makes Brazil the country it is today.

At times the book began to grate. Malathronas has clearly done his research and wants to share it. Personally, I really appreciate the detail he goes into, although as a general reader I would probably be frustrated by the lengths he goes to, especially if I want a light read. And light - both in terms of content and size (over 430 pages) - this book ain't!

Occasionally the subject matter is confusing: in some of the chapters he brings together two different experiences and places them alongside, splitting them throughout. Initially this can be quite jarring, as you may be following the threat of one tale, only for another to be presented. Similarly, the realisation halfway through that the book is not the result of one journey to Brazil, but the sum of several, does shake you. I spent much of the rest of the book trying to work out whether he was offering an experience from his first, second or third visit to the country.

I would have liked to have read more about his personal experiences, both in his exploration of Brazilian nightlife and the gay scene. The book starts off in this manner through Rio and the North East, including an honest account of his relationships along the way. Initially I was perturbed by this approach, fearing that I would be subjected to more than 400 pages of light dalliances with Brazilian stereotypes. I'm glad to say I was wrong on this score and am pleased he managed to mix it up (although I'm aware that some readers who warmed to the book's beginnings might find some of the description of baroque art of less interest - and maybe even heavy going).

Malathronas even manages to bring some of his own observations about what it is like to be gay and the challenge of coming out - which in parts of Brazil is still difficult. He notes the highly liberal and include nature of Brazilian law, but quite rightly points out that the reality doesn't always match the theory. So with being gay in Brazil. Compared to most other South American countries, Brazil is remarkably liberal when it comes to homosexuality; but in parts of the country, particularly the conservative areas, it can almost be a death sentence. Indeed, Malathronas recounts the tragic tale of a Northeastern councillor who was abused and murdered on account of being gay.

Anti-discriminatory legislation abounds, but rarely is it enforced. Brazil remains one of the most economically unequal societies in the world, with vigilante groups composed of off-duty policemen murdering street children in a bid to 'clean' the streets. Malathronas recounts seeing a screaming adolescent hauled away by policemen to a soundproofed booth in the Praca de Sa in Sao Paulo, where information would no doubt be extracted from him. And in Belo Horizonte, he comes face to face with a tramp living in the rubbish - a ghost that reflects the underclass of Brazilian society.

Ultimately, Malathronas's book is a foreign observer's take on Brazil - albeit a well-researched one at that. He hits many of the right buttons with his observations on the nature of the country and its people. But I was waiting, and willing him on, to offer the reader an explanation of the jeito - a particularly Brazilian social trait which enables people to bypass certain legislative, bureaucratic and social constraints.

There is no simple English translation for the jeito, partly because it is almost indefinable, although recognisable. It can be understood as bending the rules, cutting red tape - finding a way around an obstacle. For many outside observers, making sense of the jeito and how it is used, is difficult; even people like me, born in Brazil, but brought up outside, can find it hard to understand.

Perhaps it's unfair to expect Malathronas to offer a comprehensive analysis of the jeito in what is after all a travel book. But to really understand Brazil, the sense of its people's inequality, the disappointment and dashed hopes throughout history tell only one side; knowing how that society - on both sides of the economic and social divide - deal with these challenges through social constraints such as the jeito, offers another level of understanding.
On the campaign trail today...

In an hour's time I'm off to support Simon in his second visit to my area this week. We're going to be outside the East London Mosque on Whitechapel for a couple of hours after prayers. Should be useful to get some more feedback from the community regarding the campaign as well as their concerns.
Staying in or out (and no, we're not talking Europe here)

And so to the Stop the War public meeting in Oxford House last night. I think most people expected it to be in the theatre, but it was held in an upstairs room. There was a good turn out, with people having to stand at the sides.

John Biggs got his words in first and took a first batch of questions before running off to another event, leaving Oliur Rahman, the Respect candidate, and I to face the crowd.

Quite a few questioners were frustrated with Biggs' departure, not least because they wanted him to address many of their concerns. Just as well for him that he escaped, eh?

So it was left to me to take the brunt of a lot of disaffection, not least by the Lib Dems' stance to stay the course in Iraq with our and American troops to be put under a UN mandate and stay only until a truly sovereign Iraqi authority decides to dispense with us. The logic behind this is clear: we marched in and broke the place; whether we like it or not, we have a duty to make things right and provide security - although the Americans haven't really helped with their heavy-handed activities in Fallujah and the torture photos at Abu Ghraib.

But many at the meeting took issue with that stance; they want us to leave immediately. But as a friend so eloquently put it after the meeting came to a close, that's effectively what we've done in Afghanistan, leaving a token force in Kabul. As a result the Taliban is regrouping and warlords are vying for position elsewhere in the country. The seeds are being sown for civil war. Can we have that on our conscience if an early exit from Iraq delivered the same?

Another friend offered the suggestion that exit now would mean Islamic extremists using the opportunity to fill the vacuum and introduce something similar to the Iranian regime. A woman responded to that by saying if that was the will of the Iraqis then we should respect that. But is it? Do militias like al-Sadr or any of the Islamic extremists really represent Iraqi public opinion?

There were a number of out-and-out Respect supporters at the meeting, although I was informed that a few Labour voters were present - but probably didn't want to come out and say it.

All in all, it was a good experience - and a novel one too. As Lib Dems we're used to being ignored or put down by Labour and the Tories; but last night I was being lumped with them as the 'three big parties' who don't listen to people! Perhaps I should invite them along on our surveying and leafletting exercises!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Lolly - and lots of it

Since I've just discovered how to do tables I thought I would share the following figures which I analysed and adapted from a response to a Tory MP's Parliamentary Question a few weeks ago.

Interesting how enthusiastic the London Development Agency is to spend taxpayers' money on staffing and administration costs isn't it? And I always thought this was cash for economic development!

Well, I suppose it helps some people economically, doesn't it?

Development Agency 2000/01 (£m) 2003/04 (£m) Percentage Change 2001-04
Advantage West Midlands 12 18 +50%
East of England Development Agency 5 10 +100%
East Midlands Development Agency 8 13 +62.5%
London Development Agency 9 30 +233.3%
North West Development Agency 16 26 +62.5%
One North East 16 21 +31.3%
South East England Development Agency 9 16 +77.8%
South West of England Development Agency 11 18 +63.6%
Yorkshire Forward 15 19 +26.7%

Source: Hansard, 11 May 2004, cols. 246-7w
Rather taxing

In my quest to extol the benefits of Europe - and the fact that the UK doesn't have it all bad - have a look at the top rates of tax and the levels of income at which they apply. It comes from a Parliamentary Answer in the Lords yesterday. I've rejigged it to show how many countries besides Britain have higher top tax rates - we're about in the middle, although undoubtedly, fewer Greeks and Portuguese are likely to pay 40%.

But at least Britain's isn't like Denmark or Belgium - where we would be paying higher tax rates at lower levels of income. Perhaps instead of grumbling UKIP activists could emigrate to other parts of the EU and see how good we've got it (in terms of tax, if not in public services).

Rank Country Top rate of national income tax (%) Level of taxable income above which top rates apply (£)
1 Denmark 59 £27,597
2 Sweden 57 £32,453
3 Belgium 53.63 £20,352
4= Finland 52 £37,591
4= Netherlands 52 £34,123
6= Austria 50 £34,270
6= Slovenia 50 £23,756
8 France 48.09 £32,390
9 Germany 47.48 £35,133
10 Italy 45.63 £47,157
11 Spain 45 £30,315
12 Ireland 42 £18,863
13= UK 40 £31,400
13= Greece 40 £15,764
13= Portugal 40 £35,922
13= Poland 40 £10,480
17 Luxembourg 38.95 £23,242
18 Hungary 38 £3,942
19 Malta 35 £10,399
20 Lithuania 33 £0
21 Czech Republic 32 £6,985
22 Cyprus 30 £22,999
23 Estonia 26 £0
24 Latvia 25 £0
25 Slovakia 19 £0

Source: Hansard, 25 May 2004 : Column WA126
Acting as postman

Last night I thought I was about to have a quiet night in - a rarity in the month before election day.

But no. Just as I was planning on making a visit to Selfridges to check out the Brazil exhibition (I haven't been yet and it's coming to an end this weekend), my campaign organiser in Newham phoned up. Could I help ferry our recently printed campaign newspaper from Bow to Stratford and Barking?

Nearly 50,000 had arrived at one of our councillors' home in the morning. A huge pile was waiting for us when we arrived. We loaded up my little Nissan Micra (which doesn't get much of a runaround) and saw the weight it was putting on the rear wheels and tyres.

A necessarily slow journey through the East End subsequently ensued.

Still, at least the relevant contacts have them and they can all start going out from today. But while some of my colleagues will be out delivering tomorrow evening, I will be at the Stop the War hustings in Tower Hamlets (Oxford House, Derbyshire Street), from 6.30pm. Might be fun.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Gone, but not forgotten

Sadly Brazil lost their final match of the Pan-American hockey tournament, to Uruguay, finishing 10th overall. But at least Hugo comes home as the country's top scorer, having scored two goals overall.

Not bad for a first time international!
Traffic problems

And you thought transport was bad in London. Interesting story about how Rio is the worst place for public transport in Brazil in the Jornal do Brasil here; it's an hour and a half to work and back everyday and it affects not only quality of life, but productivity too.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Last Friday I went to see Troy. Well, what can I say? I already knew it wasn't going to be like The Iliad, having read news stories from Cannes prior to going. And while on some levels it worked, I was left frustrated.

OK, the spirit of the story is still there - Paris and Helen run away, upsetting Menelaus and causing war between the Trojans and Greeks. But as I already knew, the gods have been written out, so what we're left with is a secular version of Homer's epic. And it's not hard to see on whose side the film makers feel they belong. Throughout Hector's secular skepticism is contrasted with the religious faith of Priam's priests - and continually the old Trojan plumps for his advisors over his son, with disastrous results.

Brad Pitt makes a rather dull Achilles, trying to give him gravitas and moodiness. But what really doesn't work is the way they try to change his character half way through. Achilles is personified belligerence, but the film makers in their wisdom decided to introduce a love interest (a woman!) who encourages Achilles to reconsider his life. And I won't spoil the ending other than to say he begins to go soft. I suppose they though that with Brad Pitt they had to make a play for the women in the audience...

Having given Achilles a female love interest, it's rather hard to take his anger with Hector too much to heart when Patroclus is killed. In The Iliad you get the sense that Patroclus is more than a friend to Achilles, which brings out his rage outside the city walls. And it's exacerbated by the fact that Achilles knows he is responsible for his death, having sent him into battle wearing his armour. But in Troy Patroclus is a rather callow youth, rather peripheral and undeveloped. And he comes up with the wheeze of wearing Achilles's gear without his knowledge.

Being Hollywood, the signposts in this film couldn't be more obvious. Agamemnon is your archetypal baddie - wearing a capital 'B' over his head couldn't have made it more apparent. Eric Bana's Hector couldn't be more noble if he tried - but this isn't his best film, especially not having seen him play a fantastic psychopath in Chopper, which set him on his way.

All in all it was OK and if it encourages a new generation to find out more about ancient Greece, then that's all to the good. But the complexity of the original, the realisation that war is about honour and glory, but hard toil and desolation, is lost. As it was suggested to me yesterday, "They didn't know what they wanted to do with the film. Whether it was a Lord of the Rings-type spectacular or another Gladiator."

And because they didn't know, it falls between two stools.
More from the campaign trail

Just spent part of the morning in Watney Market with Simon Hughes on his Tower Hamlets leg of his tour around London. This week the theme's about transport and so in an echo of Martin bell (white suit), Simon, his minders and I forewent the Hughesmobile for the DLR line.

Some very positive activity in Watney Market. A few interested members of the public who all wanted to join and everyone was taking our leaflets. Lots of face time for local residents with not only Simon and myself, but the councillors who were in attendance as well. We've even got some case work out of it, including fixing some broken pavements, checking into services for young autistic people and the ongoing problems with post and pensions.

From Shadwell we made the journey over to Broadgate in the City, where I left Simon campaigning amongst City workers with John Stevens and a few other key Lib Dem activists.

Yesterday we were out leafletting the Malmsbury Estate near Mile End and on Saturday I was in Newham with my local organiser, meeting a group of potential supporters. That visit went well and may result in a public meeting this Saturday with members of the local community in Manor Park. One woman I spoke to in Watney Market today asked my views on Iraq and asked if I would be willing to attend an event in the local Muslim community centre there. So my Bank Holiday weekend looks like it's becoming busier!

Friday, May 21, 2004

Unwarranted abuse

How dare he? Just how dare Jack Straw tell Muslims not to vote Lib Dem, calling us 'fairweather friends' who only just discovered them?

If he bothered to come down to Tower Hamlets, he would see a growing party, with many in the Bangladeshi community not only joining the Lib Dems, but also being candidates and councillors for the area.

During this campaign I've found that perhaps the most pertinent issue has been British foreign policy, and especially in relation to Iraq. People are angry that Blair has allied himself so closely with a reactionary, right-wing administration such as Bush's, to the extent that we have almost given up any distance between them.

Blair is the one causing harm to the Labour party by his refusal to countenance dissent from his and his clique's view. And as for Mr Straw - well, if he really listened to his constituents last year, he would have known that they were unhappy about going to war before the UN route was complete. One of his Government's most loyal supporters, Oona King, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, was nearly deselected this year for her stance over the war.

But then, maybe Jack Straw's just scared - and preparing his party for electoral meltdown next month.
Hustings action

Last night I attended the business hustings for the mayoral election, with Simon Hughes, Steve Norris and Ken Livingstone all able to talk about their platforms. But contrary to what Frank Maloney says, representatives from some of the smaller parties were present: Jenny Jones, the Green Deputy Mayor, and the Christian Alliance candidate also said a few words, though they didn't take part in the debate.

Quite a range of subjects were covered, from policing and anti-social behaviour, through to the congestion charge, bus and underground contracts and the role of the mayor and GLA in dealing with business. There was even time for a final question on the European constitution and euro.

Clear differences opened up on transport and it was at time bad-tempered between Norris and Livingstone; Simon, sitting between the two, came across as the usual Lib Dem - acting as a balanced, moderate voice. Livingstone had to defend a record and knew he wasn't among his usual supporters, while Norris tended to dominate the responses and answers - and also tried to ignore Simon by painting it as a Tory-Livingstone contest.

Alastair Stewart was quite a harsh moderator, threatening to cut off a questioner who was close to making a speech. But I never realised how short he was - perhaps because I've only ever seen him behind desk on TV.

Thursday, May 20, 2004


It seems they're all at it. Tony Blair being hit by a protestor yesterday, a woman being sentenced for - wait for it - six months for disrupting the Senate in Brasilia.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Toilet affairs

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government: How many integrated continence services have been established to date in line with the Older People's National Service Framework.[HL2783]

Lord Warner: The responsibility for implementing this milestone and monitoring progress is the responsibility of strategic health authorities. Monitoring information on progress with this milestone is not collected centrally.
(Hansard, 18 May 2004, col. WA81-2)

Sometimes there are things that I'm thankful the Government doesn't measure...
Look out behind you!

So Mr Tony got hit on the back in the Commons today? Just as well it wasn't anthrax or ricin some will say.

If anything this shows putting up that glass screen at a cost of nearly £3m is utterly futile; especially since the men arrested were guests of a Labour peer and were therefore sitting in the section reserved for Parliamentarians' guests - and which isn't separated by a glass screen.

I predict the usual hysteria and outcry will ensure with the authorities will draw the conclusion that glass screens should be rolled out to cover all sections above the Chamber.

But if security was beefed up at the entrance, where X-ray machines and body searches abound, then presumably such an incident would be less likely.

Of course, that would be the obvious solution. But as with identity cards (see below) I doubt that will happen...
Identifying the problem

I am sure most of the public who support identity cards believe its ability to help reduce the threat of terrorism. But hidden in Hansard on Monday comes the following response:

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what contribution identity cards are intended to make to combating terrorism. [169442]

Mr. Browne: We know that about 35 per cent. of terrorists use false or multiple identities. An identity cards scheme which made it far more difficult to establish multiple identities would help to disrupt terrorist support networks.

As the Home Secretary has always made clear—going back to 2001—an identity card scheme would not guarantee to protect the UK against a terrorist attack. However, the Government have a duty to take all reasonable measures which will contribute to preventing and disrupting terrorist activity.

(Hansard, 17 May 2004, col. 773w)

Sounds to me like a case of the Government covering its own back in case something should happen. But if it won't do this, why the hell are we bothering with this hare-brained scheme? David Blunkett should be honest, own up and admit identity cards won't make people safer. Then we can tear up this stupid policy and all go home.

But I doubt they will...
A win at last

Well hurrah! Brazil's hockey team finally wins a game at the Pan-American championship, beating Venezuela, the whipping boys of the group, 3-0.

Shame Hugo didn't score, but he'll have a chance in their final game, to decide 9th and 10th place.
Stratford train station... Again

Outside Stratford train station yesterday evening with our London MEP, Sarah Ludford. Same purpose as we did with Simon Hughes the other week - introduce him to local people on their way home from work, on in last night's case, on their way to the West Ham-Ipswich game. At least we had an angle for those coming from East Anglia: there are European elections going on their too, so Sarah was able to get the message across to them.

The experience was slightly marred by a drunk in an Arsenal shirt heckling us and only offering slogans. "Don't vote," he shouted and "Burn it," when someone took one of our leaflets.

I tried to reason with him. "You don't like the present lot?" I asked.

"You're all the same," he retorted.

"Will you vote?" I tried.

"No, it's a waste of time. You're all the same."

"Then you can hardly complain if you don't vote and then things are done which you disapprove of."

He wandered off soon after. I'd like to think I forced him to reconsider his views. But I suspect the alcohol had finally done for him.

But at least I managed to engage with one or two people during the few hours we spent. One man seemed very keen to see the present lot out, while another, a Canadian teacher in Tower Hamlets, was interested in our recycling policies.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Speaking with the enemy

I had a phone call last night.

"Hello, I'm calling on behalf of your local Labour party. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

I had half a mind to say no and tell her who I was. But then I thought I'd see what she was going to say.

"Who will you vote for?"

"Liberal Democrat."

"Will you vote Simon Hughes for mayor?"


"What about for European Parliament?"

"Liberal Democrat?"

"And London Assembly?"

"Liberal Democrat."

"What about your second preference?"

"Liberal Democrat."

"Do you always vote?"


"Thank you."

"Just one more thing before you go," I said. "Thank you for canvassing me - I'm your local Liberal Democrat Assembly candidate."


I can imagine how she felt. I remember trying to canvass one of John Major's Cabinet Ministers, Douglas Hogg, during the 1997 election in Southwark. "But I can't vote," he said. "What about your wife and daughter?" I asked. "No, they can't either."

"Well, if you'd like, we can try and get them on the electoral register next time."

"No, I don't think so. Thanks for offering though. But I think they'll probably want to vote for me up north."

Only then did I look at the name on my board - and the penny dropped.
Uncontrolled arms

I followed this a few weeks ago and see it's in the papers today. Good. I'm glad the MPs decided to hang the Government out to dry on this. One of the 'strictest regimes' in the world? I don't think so.

To think that getting another government to sign a form saying they won't use weapons bought in Britain against their own people - especially when history shows they are likely to.

What do our political masters think we are? Dim?
Stop the War hustings

OK, it's now official. It's set for 6.30pm, next Thursday, 27 May at Oxford House, Derbyshire Street in Bethnal Green.

And apparently someone called Guy Barton is speaking...
Reaching a decision

I'm surprised to read that Sir Robin Butler is 'shocked' at the way decisions are reached in Downing Street - not least because he was Cabinet Secretary in the Labour Government's first year.

But it doesn't surprise me - you only have to read Thirty Days by Peter Stothard to see that.

But it also reminded me of a seminar which I attended at Oxford five years ago with Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff. During the course of the discussion several academics asked how decision-making had changed. Powell outlined the informal nature, including the use of telephone and email to reach them.

"But that's awful!" chorused the assembled great and good of Oxford academia. "How are we to research Government decisions in the future if there are no memos and minutes taken?"

Powell settled back and cast a cool stare over them. "The Government isn't in the business of making future historians' work easier. We have a country to run."

Or something like that.

Monday, May 17, 2004

And they fail to score...

Finally he scores!

More hockey news from Canada. Brazil draw against Puerto Rico but Hugo managed a goal against Chile. Shame they then went on to lose 12-1.

Still, at least I know of two supporters wearing their Brazil football shirts and waving the flag for my brother. My parents...
Tilting left

I finished my copy of Clement Davies: Liberal Leader by Alun Wyburn-Powell this weekend (Politicos, 2003). It was an enjoyable read and the author didn't do too badly, especially given it was his first book. Alright, there were a few stylistic issues I had here and there, but not enough to detract from the content of the book. And I liked how he brought it to an end by going full circle and ending where he started.

The man who emerge in this biography was more engaging than I thought he would be: a successful barrister with a varied social life and a happy marriage and children - until three of the four were cruelly robbed from him and his wife, Jano, all at the same age of 24. I suppose I imagined Clem Davies to be a dour man, not least by the photos which exist of him and those in the book.

Clem entered Parliament late, in 1929 aged 45, after a successful career at the bar. He managed to combine his Parliamentary work with being on the board of Unilever during the mornings - one of the first aspects of life in a different Parliamentary age which I can't imagine being allowed today.

He sat on the backbenches, as a Liberal National for most of the period in the run-up to war in 1939. Wyburn-Powell does a good job trying to explain the different factions and cleavages within the Liberal Party during this time, of which there were a bewildering amount, with each MP or faction calling themselves something different and allying with either the Tories or Labour. Some were Liberal Nationals, others National Liberals, and other Independent Liberals. If nothing else united them, only their individuality did, making them, like cats, notoriously difficult to control.

It was in 1939-40 which Clem shot to prominence, being one of the instigators and Parliamentary rebels who managed to kick Neville Chamberlain out of the premiership and replace him with Winston Churchill.

He probably never expected to become leader of the Liberals, which occurred in 1945. But with a party reduced to just 12 MPs and the leader, Archie Sinclair, out of Parliament, there were few alternatives and Clem had been one of the longest-serving by that point.

For the next 11 years Clem steered the Liberals through a difficult and tricky time. The party was not only tiny and inconsequential, it was also split evenly between left and right.

Although Clem was an interesting chap, at time I felt Wyburn-Powell was padding it out a bit. Perhaps there just wasn't enough to go on; Clem never kept a diary and although he had access to the family archives, much of the book's content deals with the history of the Liberal Party from the end of the First World War to the late 1950s. Nevertheless, for students of Liberals and liberalism during this period, it's an engaging study and personalising it in the figure of Clem makes it easy to follow.

One thing more though: having now read Clem's biography, I have a serious concern for the sense of history shown by both Mr Tony and the Lib Dems' former leader, Paddy Ashdown. Both men argued that the twentieth century belonged to the Conservatives, because of the split between Labour and the Liberals in 1900. Their ambition was to achieve a rapprochement of these two progressive forces and reverse that trend in the twenty-first century. So far, so simple.

But the reality wasn't as neat. Some Liberal MPs clearly belonged in the centre-left camp, like Megan Lloyd George, who eventually joined that party during Clem's tenure as party leader. But there were others who had more in common with the Conservatives, like Megan's brother Gwilym, who joined them, or who owed their seats to the Tories' decision to not stand against them, including Donald Wade in Huddersfield West. Indeed, even Clem didn't fight several elections in his Montgomeryshire constituency in Wales during the 1930s on account of the local Tory association's approval of him.

Indeed, an argument could be made that on some level, the Liberals had more in common with the Conservatives than they did with Labour. And it was Clem's misfortune that he had to lead the party when it was reduced from 30 seats to 12 and later six. Only when he handed over to Jo Grimond in 1956 did the shift towards the Labour-Liberal rapprochement once again begin in earnest. This is documented in Grimond's own biography, and subsequently resulted in coalition between the two parties in the late 1970s, alliance with the SDP in the 1980s, culminating in Paddy's and Mr Tony's mutual admiration society in the 1990s.
Stopped debate starts again

So it looks like the Stop the War public meeting in Tower Hamlets will be going ahead now. I see John Biggs, the Labour candidate, and myself will be there - and presumably the candidate from Respect (George Galloway's lot).

The date's been set for next Thursday, 27 May. I'm waiting to hear about the venue. It's going to be a day after the mayoral candidates' own meeting on this issue, which confused a friend of mine at the weekend.

Should be interesting - as long as no-one turns up, expecting me to get Simon Hughes and Ken Livingstone.
On the campaign trail

It's just as well the weather's getting warmer. Saturday and Sunday I was outside, on the campaign trail. Saturday morning I made it at the unearthly time of 9.30am to Barking where we took our London MEP, Sarah Ludford, around the market. We were there before anyone else was.

Slightly awkward moment during the walkabout, which generated mixed responses. One woman said she would give us a go, only to turn around and say that she thought there were too many foreigners in the country. Sarah's minder leapt in and argued in favour of immigration and the benefits it brings.

A man in the burger van said he wasn't sure whether he would vote and seemed skeptical about the euro - although he wasn't able to say why. But several traders and members of the public gave us a thumbs up on our stance over Iraq. If there was one unifying theme, it was a sense of dissatisfaction with the Government.

Later on a few of us went out to leaflet the estates between Cambridge Heath Road, Roman Road and Globe Town. I came across my first Labour leaflets, both the glossy Ken Livingstone ones which go on about police and transport, and the local John Biggs ones (the current Assembly member for the constituency), which pay no-one other than the BNP any attention.

There was also a fundraiser later in the evening, hosted by our Parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green, Fiyaz Mughal, with Jenny Tonge the main speaker. I couldn't make it, but I was on the streets again yesterday afternoon - this time we leafletted the Cranbrook estate and worked on the north side of Roman Road from the canal to Victoria Park Square, behind the Bethnal Green Museum.

Good exercise and it certainly helped me work off my hangover from the night before!

Tomorrow we have Sarah Ludford again in East London - this time we're going to be introducing her around Stratford train station at rush hour.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Hockey in Canada

News arrives today of the exploits of my youngest brother, Hugo, and the rest of the Brazilian hockey team in Canada. Two games in and they've been beaten by the US and Argentina.

Still it's a learning experience and when else are you ever going to get to play for your country?

Tomorrow they'll be playing Puerto Rico, by which time my parents will be there to cheer him and the rest of the team on to a win.
Eating and drinking for Britain

While Adrian's been asking about fish, David Laws has been going on about entertainment expenses. I've been following his line of questioning over the last few weeks. It seems Ministers are having a ripping good time at our expense.

I await the cross-Government analysis with bated breath.

"Mr. Laws: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what his latest estimate is of the amount spent by his Department on official entertainment in each year from 1996–97 to 2004–05. [169000]

"Mr. Lammy: Expenditure by both Officials and Ministers on entertainment for the financial year 2003–04 was £79,050 (£64,718—covers costs related to Ministers and the Lord Chancellor, and £14,332—costs related to Officials), in 2002–03 was £43,378, in 2001–02 was £44,730, in 2000–01 was £60,768, in 1999–2000 was £71,166 and in 1998–99 was £45,087.

"Information on previous years and the current year is not readily available."
(Hansard, 12 May 2004 : Column 382W)
Top Secret

My, aren't Parliamentary Questions interesting in today's Hansard? How could disclosing the origin of where your crockery and cutlery comes from be a matter of national security? Someone? Please?

"Michael Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what percentage of the (a) crockery, (b) cutlery and (c) glassware procured by her Department over the last five years is of British manufacture. [170811]

"Ms Hewitt: All crockery is of UK manufacture. Any cutlery and glassware purchased has been through UK suppliers and manufactured outside the UK.

"As a Government department we ensure that EU procurement rules are followed and these rules do not allow the specification of a particular country of origin except in very specific circumstances (such as for reasons of national security). Responsibility for procuring and maintaining stocks of crockery, cutlery and glassware for the DTI HQ restaurants and hospitality services lies with the catering contractor."
(Hansard, 11 May 2004, col. 249w)
A new place to demonstrate?

I hear the Central Lobby is as good a place as any. And if it rains they won't get wet.

"Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to offer alternative locations to demonstrators in Parliament Square. [169254]

"Caroline Flint: None. It is open to demonstrators in Parliament Square to move to another location to continue their demonstration, provided they do so within the law."

(Hansard, 11 May, col. 230w)
Ministry of Dozing

Does no-one in the MOD read anything? Adam Ingram's been in the media lately for failing to see a report on torture in Iraq. Once might be considered careless. But twice?

This week he was asked the following question:

"Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on reports that the US Army has been firing on ambulances in Falluja. [171251]

"Mr. Ingram: We are not aware of any incidents of Coalition Forces firing on ambulances."

(Hansard, 11 May 2004 : Column 213W

But as long as three weeks ago, Jo Wilding reported in Open Democracy that:

"We load the ambulance with disinfectant, needles, bandages, food and water and set off, equipped this time with loudspeakers, pull up to a street corner and get out. The hospital is to the right, quite a way off; the marines are to the left. Four of us in blue paper smocks walk out, hands up, calling out that we’re a relief team, trying to deliver supplies to the hospital.

"There’s no response and we walk slowly towards the hospital. We need the ambulance with us because there’s more stuff than we can carry, so we call out that we’re going to bring an ambulance with us, that we’ll walk and the ambulance will follow. The nose of the ambulance edges out into the street, shiny and new, brought in to replace the ones destroyed by sniper fire.

"Shots rip down the street, two bangs and a zipping noise uncomfortably close. The ambulance springs back into the side road like it’s on a piece of elastic and we dart into the yard of the corner house, out through the side gate so we’re back beside the vehicle.

"This time we walk away from the hospital towards the marines, just us and the loudspeaker, no ambulance, to try and talk to them properly. Slowly, slowly, we take steps, shouting that we’re unarmed, that we’re a relief team, that we’re trying to get supplies to the hospital.

"Another two shots dissuade us. I’m furious. From behind the wall I inform them that their actions are in breach of the Geneva Conventions. “How would you feel if it was your sister in that hospital unable to get treated because some man with a gun wouldn’t let the medical supplies through?” David takes me away as I’m about to call down a plague of warts on their trigger fingers."
Fish on the menu
I see Adrian's been asking this question of each department. I just wonder where he's going with it. One for Bass Times, you reckon?

"Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his Department's policy to source sea bass used in catering outlets (a) in the armed services and (b) for which his Department is responsible from hand-line fishermen rather than pair trawlers. [167543]

"Mr. Ingram: All food for use by the armed forces is sourced through a central food supply contract with a bespoke price list. Sea bass is not currently listed and is not supplied under the contract.

"Defra supports the sourcing of sea bass from sustainable fisheries and handlining, as an relatively low impact method of fishing, can play a part in ensuring fisheries remain sustainable. However, the last report in 2003 by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas on sea bass advised that the level of exploitation of the stock at that time was sustainable and did not recommend closure of the offshore pair trawl fishery. There are currently no restrictions at a United Kingdom or Community level on the method of fishing that can be used to target bass. In addition, to address the dolphin bycatch problem associated with the pair trawl fisher, Defra-funded trials of a separate grid device to reduce dolphin bycatch are currently taking place, with the co-operation of the fishing industry.

"In these circumstances, I do not believe that recommending a specific source of supply for bass could be justified at this stage."
(Hansard, 11 May 2004 : Column 217-8W)
On the stump

I mentioned I'd been out surveying last night. We took advantage of the warm early summer evening to do a spot of campaign work around the back of Roman Road, between St Stephens and Libra Roads. We got back quite a few surveys, but it was occasionally a tough crowd:

"Hello, I'm calling on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. We're doing a residents' survey..."

Cue hard stare. Frown. "Not interested." Door closes.

Oh well.

Tomorrow I have to be in Barking at the evil time of 9 in the morning to accompany Sarah Ludford, our top European Parliament candidate, around the market. Bang goes my thoughts of a late Friday session then.

And then it will be over to Bethnal Green where we'll be doing some leafletting from 2pm outside the tube station (just in case anyone wants to join us).

Four weeks to go...
A missed opportunity?

Another piece of news which had me choking on my cornflakes (if I still ate them, but saying it about yoghurt doesn't quite sound right) was the plotline to the new film Troy.

I am really keen to see the film, not least because I spent a summer several years ago backpacking around the Mediterranean and visited Troy. In the flush of youth I pretentiously sat upon a rock overlooking the plain below and pulled out my copy of The Iliad, where I read a few verses until it started to rain - or until I felt queasy (it's not exactly light reading).

The whole point of Achilles's wrath is the death of his friend (lover?) Patroclus at the hands of Homer. But what do I learn on the radio? That they've changed the plot so that Achilles is angry for having his girlfriend taken away from him.

Apparently this is to make the material more "accessible" to a younger generation.


Why is Hollywood so scared about having an ambiguous gay icon avenging his dead lover? Can anyone explain this to me?
The real problem with alcohol

Honestly, can no-one enjoy a drink now and then? Hot on the heels of the controversy in Brazil about President Lula's fondness for a drink or two, comes an article about another Workers Party politician: Zeca do PT. He and the president "love to drink until they fall over". Allegedly.

Personally, I fancy a drink or two as well, but I'm no worse the wear for it. After surveying around Roman Road last night a friend and I caroused in a Bishopsgate bar until past midnight - but all that happened was I missed the bus home and he was charged a fortune to get back to his hotel.

Needless to say, our pride feels more sour than our heads.
I said... he said... And still no-one's the wiser

Anyone listen to the sports news on Today this morning? What was going on there? Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp laying into his chairman at 7.30, followed by the chairman himself an hour later.

I'm still not entirely clear what the issue is. But what is obvious is the amount of dirty laundry being aired in public. It was like being in a private meeting which somehow got recorded. Redknapp just kept going and going; I half wondered if the interviewer would cut Redknapp off just to save him digging any deeper.

But as someone who has a part-time interest in the goings-on at Fratton Park (they are after all the closest Premiership team to where I grew up), it's a shame that what has been a great season has been reduced to this. Redknapp has made almost Herculean efforts to keep the club up this year. And whereas the club and fans should be patting themselves on the back and preparing for next year's graft, this very public fallout has happened.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Off the list?

One of the dubious consequences of getting up early at the weekend (as I did last week) is children's TV. But at least there was a saving grace this time around: Tintin was on.

It's a sign of growing older when you begin to realise the dodgy cultural assumptions which influences Tintin's creator, Herge, when he first began the cartoons - just read Tintin in the Congo or in America to see what I mean. And there's also the almost legendary tale of Tintin in the Hitler Youth which no-one seems able to get hold of these days.

But even after discovering that my childhood hero wasn't as squeaky clean as he made out, it never occurred to me that he might also be gay, as suggested by Urban Junkies:

"Three quarters of a century without getting laid, or even reaching second base, have long had rumour mills buzzing about which team our adventurous reporter friend was batting for.

"He hasn't exactly done himself any favours either, surrounding himself with all-male housemates Professor Calculus and Captain Haddock, lapdog Snowy and jailbait protege Chang, yet, the closest he has come to polishing his rocket was going on a trip to the moon."

And with the Tintin Adventure opening at the Institut Francais today, does this mean Kensington and Chelsea will also be off the campaign trail for UKIP mayoral candidate, Frank Maloney?
Stop the debate?

So "Gorgeous" George Galloway's lot and myself have agreed to take part in a Stop the War public meeting in Tower Hamlets - but the Tories and Labour have failed to respond to the invite. No surprise there.

But more strange is that the Greens are refusing to take part. But they were against the war, weren't they? But perhaps its got less to do with that than an issue which deals with East London.

A few months ago I was at a meeting with Green MEP Jean Lambert where she said her party was opposed to the London Olympic bid - which would not only include Newham and Hackney, but also Tower Hamlets.

So far as I can tell, bringing the Olympics to East London would be fantastic for everyone. Sure there are problems, including for businesses in the affected area who are unable to make long term plans between now and the decision. But those can - and should - be dealt with.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Race for City Hall

Come across a new blog which deals with the GLA elections. It's designed to be impartial and report all the news between now and 10 June. Should be worth following for those of us involved in the elections.
Department of Social Scrutiny

If only all Government websites were like this I'd start my day in a better mood.

Economics, economics, economics

Last night I attended the launch of London Higher's new report on the impact of London's higher education sector on the regional and national economy. And before I go any further, I should say it was a work-related event.

The main draw was the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, who uttered some warm words of praise along with the chaps from KPMG and the London Development Agency who were on the platform.

The only theme which Clarke kept banging on about was the need for universities to develop partnerships and relationships with business and other sectors - and stop being dependent on Government for largesse. Usual New Labour mantra.

But the fact that business and universities cosying up might compromise HE by focusing on particular areas and neglecting others was ignored - even though like an elephant in the room it was hard to do so.

And the image of the London Eye on the front of one of the pamphlets encouraging students to study here couldn't have been more unfortunate. Today reported this morning a turf war between some of the major shareholders behind the Eye as each tries to gain control of it. Is this a metaphor for the future of HE in London?
Luta por paz

Odd concept, but I recall reading about it in the Independent a few weeks ago and it's now come through my daily update from Urban Junkies. It's a charity which offers deprived people in Rio sporting and work opportunities.

Now it has come to London, just around the corner from my flat. There's a white-collar boxing competition this evening at York Hall, with the proceeds going to charity.

But I'll be going to capoeira - where the fighting doesn't result in a blow being landed.

I'm sure I've heard about fighting for peace in another context too. Now where was it? Ah yes... Iraq...

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

An excuse to leave?

Interesting interview with an Iraqi researcher, Yahia Said, in Baghdad for Open Democracy which I forgot to post last week. Of the ongoing scandal about the torture photos, Said said:

"compared to what people have been talking about here the pictures are quite benign. There’s nothing unexpected. In fact what most people are asking is: why did they come up now? People in Iraq are always suspecting that there’s some scheming going on, some agenda in releasing the pictures at this particular point."

Later on he also said that "Two or three months ago people were saying if the Americans leave either Saddam Hussein will come back or there will be chaos and civil war. Now very few people I’ve met would say that. People are so fed up with the Americans and feeling they are only causing trouble. This is not something I would agree with, but that’s how people feel."

Does that mean the photo scandal might be the precursor to a softening up exercise for the Americans to withdraw troops in favour of other countries' - but to still keep overall political control.

Or maybe I'm just being cynical?
Cool, but at a price?

I'm hoping to pop into Selfridges's later this evening, to check out the month-long Brazilian events there - and to see if the cost of a pair of Havaiana flip flops really is around £40 (they were going at Sunday's capoeira roda for about a fiver).

I've got to be in central London, so it'll be an ideal time to see if it's worth the hype. But even if it isn't, there's comfort elsewhere this week - although it may cost.

Starting later this week, The Other Cinema is about to host a week-long festival of Brazilian films, many of which haven't yet been seen in the UK. I plan to go to at least one, although it depends how far my bank balance will allow me.

And on Saturday the monthly Brazilian Love Affair club night will be on at the Notting Hill Arts Club. Again, one to go to, as long as I get there early. The question though is whether anyone else is up for it.
Eyes wide shut

As if chasing Simon Hughes around Newham wasn't tiring enough, there's also been the small matter of capoeira this weekend.

Marrom, our teacher's teacher, is in town and led a workshop on Sunday, which ended in a big roda during which many old faces made an appearance - and Ben took the cake for diving head first during a game.

But his last class has to rank up there with one of the more original ones that I've been too. As if playing against two others wasn't difficult enough - you needed eyes in the back of your head to react to moves - we also had to play each other in pairs, with our eyes closed.

Imagine my surprise then, when opening them, I found I was still playing the same person and not someone else!

Monday, May 10, 2004

Campaigning in Newham

What an exhausting weekend. On Saturday Simon Hughes came down to press the flesh and talk to everybody (it seemed) in Newham. I met him down Green Street near Upton Park, where some local activists were distributing leaflets and inviting local residents to meet the mayoral candidate.

It being Upton Park we had our picture taken outside the West Ham United football ground - given the team's fortunes over the last few seasons is it any wonder there is a funeral parlour, church and medical centre all clustered around the stadium? - and then we made our way to Queens Market which appears to be threatened with closure.

We leapt into the Hughesmobile - his big, yellow, decommissioned cab - and made our way to Stratford where more leafletting and petition-signing took place outside the train station. We chatted to the local flower seller outside and then hurried Simon onto the Azhar Academy, a secondary school with an emphasis on Muslim education for girls in Forest Gate. It's an impressively designed faith school with a modern interior housed by a listed Victorian church.

After being shown around by the local imam and school dignitaries, we sat in the large public space at the top of the building for a public meeting and where Simon was the main speaker. He spoke well on faith issues and dealt with some well-researched questions on Jenny Tonge's sacking and the question of the headscarf ban in France.

All in all, a good - but long - campaign day.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Cleaning up London - or at least Bishopsgate

Just got back from the launch of Simon Hughes's campaign. Lucky for me I work in the City (which is part of the constituency I am campaigning in) and so was able to pop along to Fleur-de-Lis Street near Bishopsgate to see the PR stunt he pulled.

Decked out in a white builder's suit, he picked up a high-powered water gun and started cleaning the graffiti off the side of the wall. But instead of all the paint coming off, only that which spelled out 'Simon says: Actions speak louder than words' was removed. It reminded me of those photos taken of Margaret Thatcher running around St James's Park, collecting rubbish which had been deliberately left there.

And I also wondered whether he would be willing to deploy his new skills cleaning the wall opposite my flat. Well I can dream, can't I?

We then went across the street to the Light Bar for the press conference, where Chris Rennard, the party chief exec and master campaign tactician, Sarah Ludford and Lynne Featherstone joined him for questions.

Most of the questions seemed to deal with the mathematical possibility of Simon winning; explaining why this isn't a normal first-past-the-post election must be getting tedious.

Ken Livingstone won't win more than 50% of the first preferences and therefore be elected outright. Chances are the second preferences for both him and Steve Norris will favour Simon, which is where he could come through. And Simon refused to be drawn on who his first preference voters should place their second choice.

Why is it the media always obsess about the election prospects of Lib Dems and tactical voting? Perhaps that's why we over-compensate with bags of policies in our manifestos...

Useful for me, before I went back to work we managed to click off a few photos of me with both Lynne and Simon - those should be helpful in later literature.

No doubt I'll get more this weekend: tomorrow Simon and I will be in Barking and Newham, pressing the flesh and attending some meetings. Oh, the joys of being a candidate!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Lula in the White House?

I suspect an automatic news filter filed this report into the daily Latin American newsletter which I receive.

At first I couldn't believe that Brazil might actually be making a bid to take over Washington - and perhaps drive out Bush.

But it turns out to be more mundane than that: a Democrat is stepping aside from challenging another Democrat, Harold Brazil, for a seat on the city council.

It just goes to show that you can't rely on technology...
A Tale for Today?

Last night I also finished Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. I'm not sure what to think.

On the one hand it was quite a good read, but it wasn't exactly gripping. That may have had to do with the characters which were both weakly drawn and failed to make me care about them; only Doctor Manette seemed to have been fleshed out, while his daughter and her husband were blank canvasses as far as I could see. Even as important a character as Sydney Carton I felt I didn't know - indeed, after his appearance at the beginning of the book, he seems to disappear until the end. And Madame Defarge would have been more sinister if she had been built up prior to her meeting with the low-life Barsad in the middle of the novel.

But I also think it was slightly too melodramatic in places. I found the dialogue too overblown, too exaggerated; it jarred. And the numerous coincidences between the various characters was too excessive to be believable. I won't go into them, suffice to say that the the idea that the switch at the end could have happened without anyone noticing the difference seems unlikely to say the least.

However, now that I've read it I wish people who keep using the title of the novel would think twice before they say it. Usually they say it in the context of a wealthy and poor part of a city or region. But what Dickens was getting across wasn't the inequality but the result of that poverty: while the Newgate riot described in the first half of the book and set in London is eventually dissolved by force and lessening mob interest, in Paris it takes another turn, resulting in the storming of the Bastille, the Revolution and the subsequent Terror.

In other words, A Tale of Two Cities is not about rich and poor (although that does play a role), but about how two societies deal with it: in social upheaval and violence.

One lesson I do draw from my reading of the novel is the danger that violence begets violence. While the initial uprising stems from a sense of social injustice, it soon gains a momentum of its own and overwhelms everything in its path. By standing up to injustice, the perpetrators of the Revolution end up handling out the same type of rough justice as their predecessors, condemning the innocent among the guilty.

All this is ironic as our airwaves continually to stream out evidence that the American forces who entered Iraq last year, are now succumbing to the same kinds of abuses against prisoners that Saddam's regime would have been proud of.

I wonder what Dickens would have had to say about that if he were alive today.
Que vem la foi ele

Last night the capoeira class was larger than usual - something to do with Marrom's visit.

As well as Marrom and the two students he brought with him from Rio, a couple of masters also turned up - Marcello and Pancheco - along with another friend of the group, another Marcello.

Not everyone played, but for the newer members of the group, they got to see some more impressive moves (which they won't get from me, one of the more senior members there) and music and singing as it should be - loud but controlled.

I was lucky enough to play for five minutes in the roda, against the younger Marcello, who's been in London for more than a year now. But he's impossible to play against; he never lets you get too close before putting out a foot, in a kick or trip.

The real event kicks off this weekend in Brick Lane, where Marrom will take a two-day workshop.

But I will be trudging the streets of Newham with Simon Hughes, visiting young offenders and checking out the development in Stratford. Ah, the sacrifices a candidate has to make!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

How to answer by not answering

Masterful. Simply masterful. Worthy of Sir Humphrey.

"Mr. Howard: To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to his statement on Europe, of 20 April 2004, Official Report, columns 155–57, what factors he took into account in reaching his decision on whether to hold a referendum.

"The Prime Minister: The factors leading to the Government's decision to hold a referendum were set out in my statement of 20 April 2004, Official Report, columns 155–57."
(Hansard, 4 May)
Where's the flag?

Oh for goodness sake!

I wish they would put their handbags away. Roll on the republic!

"Miss McIntosh: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what reason the Union Flag was not flown above the Treasury on the Queen's Birthday on 21 April.

"Ruth Kelly: The Union Flag was raised above the Treasury on the Queen's Birthday on 21 April."
Flip flopping through May

For those in London, Brasil 40 Grau kicks off from today until the end of the month. Selfridges is bringing Brazilian fashion, style and events throughout the month of May.

I might try and pop along - and see how much they sell Havaianas for (last time I checked these ordinary flip-flops had become this season's must have) while seeing if I can order a feijoada in the food court.
Communicating with the electorate

While Charles Kennedy was preparing to launch the party's European campaign, I was out last night with campaign workers surveying near the Whitechapel Road, on an estate with a dense Bangladeshi population.

I was met with strange looks at many of the doors I knocked on - asking people for their opinion about the local council, state of the roads and transport and policing got a great deal of blank looks. In many cases this was because the older residents didn't speak a lot of English; and trying to ask their children to translate for me and explain my politics... Well, I was lucky this time since I had one of our Bangladeshi councillors who could speak Sylheti to them.

But I do wish I converse directly with my would-be constituents. And maybe some surveys written in Bangladeshi wouldn't go amiss. I left our councillor trying to help a resident fill out the form by translating it with him by his door.

Perhaps next time I should go campaigning down in Lambeth, where there is a large Portuguese community. At least there I could converse in two languages!
For the English to see

My latest article is up on the Brazzil website, which explains why I gave this blog its name.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

On the up?

Aldershot is through to the play-off final for the second promotion spot to the football league! I can't believe it. Twelve years after they went out of the old Division Four half way through the season (and did I suffer from my school mates), they are the verge of returning.

If they can beat Shrewsbury Town later this week.

I can't think what's worse: to lose in the semi-final or in the final when my hopes are up.
Remaining in murky water

We had an 'Audience with Alastair Campbell' last night. And as much as it pains me to say it, I actually found I quite liked him. Other members of the government had better not start these road shows, or I'll end up with no bete noires left.

At least I had one over him though: my first ever football match was Aldershot against his team, Burnley - which we won 2-0. But it's been downhill ever since.

OK, he began to rant towards the end of his presentation on the nature of the media and he kept going over the same mantra of Labour successes - minimum wage, more money for schools, hospitals, etc - but then he said it himself, he dealt with the presentation, not policy.

He was best at taking questions in the second half: the one about how he dealt with Robin Cook's affair, Mr Tony's call to Charlie Whelan outside the Red Lion and when he told the PM about his decision to go on Channel 4 news last year was considered among the best.

And I nearly got the last question, but he over-ruled the presenter, Kirsty Young. So the ongoing Guardian Diary investigation into whether the swimming pool in the holiday villa in France was poisoned or not will have to go unanswered.