Tuesday, May 31, 2005


As I’m attending a conference on globalising Brazilian culture at the Brazil Centre in Oxford this Friday, I had to make the difficult decision not to go to Oxford today for the Albert Fishlow seminar on Lula. Oxford twice in one week seems greedy – especially as I’m trying to save money before next week’s month long ‘research’ trip to Brazil.

I just hope Julia kept good notes…
Suitable for publication?

Spent some of yesterday morning polishing up my Liberator article grandly titled (at least by me) on ‘Where Next For the Lib Dems’ – for what it’s worth. Can you believe it won’t make it into June’s edition because it’s too short?! Mark, one of the collective members, asked me if I’d consider revising and perhaps expanding it since in its initial version it wouldn’t meet the magazine’s format.

That’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to write more! So I’ve given them more. Let’s await with baited breath the July edition. Failing that, for the solitary reader of my blog, don’t worry: it will be posted here if it isn’t.

Also was in Stanfords yesterday, marvelling at the new Brazil guidebook. My current one – dating back to 1998 – is badly out of date and I need a new one before next week’s trip. As I was leaving I came across this travel writing competition being advertised at the cashier’s. The deadline is quite soon (this Friday), but I’ll give it a stab. At the very least it’ll be another piece which can then be touted elsewhere (or posted here).

Monday, May 30, 2005

New Feminism?

Germaine Greer was on the radio this morning, talking about a film on feminism which she’s made for Channel 5. Perhaps there was a miscommunication of Ali G proportions over the word ‘feminism’ by the channel’s commissioners?

Frustratingly she wasn’t given enough airtime to expand on her views, being interrupted by the men on the programme. But what I think I gleaned from her was the following: (1) feminism as understood in the 1960s liberation sense is no more; (2) today feminism is commonly perceived as enabling women to engage in the same activities and processes of men, in other words ‘feminising patriarchal social forms’ (my term, not Greer’s); (3) today’s young women may not see themselves as feminists, but they have the education and opportunities which their mothers didn’t to struggle for greater equality; (4) that struggle for equality – however nebulous – is feminism; (5) Greer doesn’t know what a ‘feminised world’ would look like.

Which does beg the following questions: (i) can we ever reach a ‘feminised’ end goal? (ii) would we recognise a feminised world if we could reach it? (iii) given (2), (5), (i) and (ii), would a feminised world be any different to the current one?

Meanwhile I found myself worrying about some contradictions within the observations made by Greer. If women have become more confident and assertive, through education, employment and other opportunities, what does it suggest if they do not engage in a public struggle for further female emancipation?

During the interview I kept reflecting on some of the sociological work which has been done on female-headed households in Latin America, most commonly in Mexico. With the onset of free markets and economic liberalisation, vast numbers of jobs have been shed, putting men out of work and the nuclear family under strain. Extended households have become the norm, usually headed by women as the male members either self-destruct (through alcohol abuse) or leave to search for work elsewhere. In addition these women often become the target of social redistribution programs by the state, for example receiving food or school payments. They are generally seen as more reliable in this respect than men.

Yet would these women perceive themselves to be feminists? The position which they have been raised to in their interaction with the state would suggest they have the capacity to be so. Yet in some respects their situation diverges sharply from the North-based young woman in Greer’s vision. For example, the majority of these women do not have the education, pay level or life opportunities to improve their condition; and some don’t necessarily want to either. I therefore found myself wondering whether Greer may well want to approach this theme in her next film.

That’s my philosophical stint for today. Tomorrow I promise to return to matters more mundane and everyday!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The make poverty history president?

Tony Giddens asked the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, John Edwards, the question everyone wanted to ask: why did he and John Kerry lose the election and what must the Democrats do to take power again?

Edwards was at the LSE, presenting a lecture on ‘The New Egalitarianism’ which is also the title of a new book co-edited by Giddens. The Third Way rides again!

The actual content of Edwards’ speech was unimpressive. He stressed the importance of co-operation at both national and international levels resting on four pillars: a strong US-EU relationship, measures to fight poverty, dealing with the threat of nuclear weapons and promoting liberty and democracy.

Poverty seems to be the Edwards theme. Later I discussed with a friend the merits of him picking that as his specialist subject. He didn’t think it suitable since it was unlikely he could affect much in the way of change. I disagreed; as a part time lecturer at the University of North Carolina he’s associated with the creation of a research centre to analyse the causes and effects of poverty. That should give him some credibility when he next runs for national office compared to last year when he was picked as Kerry’s running mate.

He extolled the merits of the various anti-poverty measures in the UK, citing the baby bond scheme and various tax credits to help the family. This sounded to me as if he had already had a meeting with Gordon Brown. As if that wasn’t enough, the British goals for the EU presidency seemed to have filtered into his consciousness as well, since he also emphasised the need to address the challenges faced in Africa, and especially Sudan.

Edwards was far better on the questions than the content and delivery of his speech. Why was that? Partly it was because he was better dealing with the tangible, less with the philosophical. Both in his lecture and in the question and answer session he constantly cited moral considerations for tackling inequality and poverty; in his eyes it was the ‘right thing’ to do. As far as I could tell, he didn’t have anything more substantial in which to back up his case.

I also think he was better at the questions because of his time as a lawyer. He was sharp and quick to respond, even on the questions which seemed tricky. For instance he was asked how far he would be personally prepared to spread democracy to which he responded by saying the US shouldn’t impose it, but work with other democracies to encourage peoples in undemocratic states towards that goal. When pressed on the inconsistency between free trade and inequality, he fell back on his campaign support for US farm subsidies while pointing out that a range of different solutions would need to be pursued.

But whereas we were all starting to flag in what are extremely uncomfortable seats in the Old Theatre, he kept pointing at additional questioners. In fact Giddens had to beg him to stop as he had another meeting to go to.

Some of the questioners wanted to have a pop at the senator. One older man criticised Edwards for his rose-tinted view of American ideals (oh yes, there was a lot of that in his speech) which hardly seemed to equate with the discrimination that many had faced in the American South, even as recently as the 1950s and 1960s. Edwards was disarming and won the audience over, by pointing out in his own southern drawl that he grew up in the thick of it while he assumed the gentleman had only read about it in books. Then he took responsibility for it and argued his political life had been spent challenging those prejudices. Another challenged him on American treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. He didn’t back away from it, admitting culpability and the need to act more justly in the future.

Indeed, Edwards seems to have the air of a man who is not dwelling on the past, but thinking of the future. And this brings me back to Giddens’s original question. When confronted with why the Democrats lost in 2004, Edwards was disinclined to answer. That was for the pundits, he claimed. What he thought mattered above all was leadership. And leadership is based on principles and core values and a commitment to improve people’s lives; an idealistic tone on which to end the afternoon. But will it be enough in 2008, perhaps in a campaign headed by Edwards himself? Perhaps, but only if his gamble – becoming identified closely with this anti-poverty agenda – works and offers an effective counter-argument to Republicans’ tax cut incentives.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Economising Brazil

To Oxford where the summer is in full swing, the undergraduates are decked out in ridiculous sub fusc dress on their way to exams and my friend at Magdalen College cowers under the pile of books ahead of his own exam next week. Not ideal territory for two seminars, one on Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s economic policy, the other on PPPs in Brazil by visiting professors Albert Fishlow and Juarez Freitas respectively.

Fishlow ran through the three features of the Real Plan which helped deliver Cardoso the presidency in 1994 and 1998. But according to Fishlow, his big mistake was to opt for a fixed exchange rate rather than a floating one. Unlike the Argentines, the Real Plan was never conceived as being rigidly tied to the dollar. The consequence of fixing the exchange rate meant that when the economy and foreign reserves declined before his second election victory and into his second administration, ultimately forcing devaluation in 1999.

But it wasn’t all Cardoso’s fault. There were issues which he couldn’t control, including the apagão (blackout) after rainfall dropped, thereby reducing energy output (Brazil relies on water for 87% of its energy needs), the Argentine crisis and the US recession. Fishlow was also critical of Cardoso’s failure to seriously grapple with the social sphere, arguing that while primary education was expanded, quality issues remained. Too many students failed to pass while not enough teachers had full qualifications. As for pensions and social security, the measures passed were redundant by the time they entered the statute book while lack of economic growth meant public expenditure fell during his second term. Yet if we’re to think that this marks Cardoso as a failure, Fishlow and Leslie Bethell (the Centre for Brazilian Studies professor and chair) was keen to stress that Lula faces similar structural problems.

And so to Juarez Freitas’s seminar on PPPs at the above-mentioned Centre later in the day; unfortunately it was slightly dry, with Freitas emphasising its legal features passed in last December’s law. As a legal professor at PUC and the Federal University in Porto Alegre, that was probably understandable. Consequently, he didn’t delve too deeply into the political and economic reasons to go with PPP.

Nevertheless, Leslie persuaded him to say a few things about the political and economic background surrounding PPPs. At present they are concentrated on infrastructural and sanitation projects, mainly because these areas are the ones most in need of investment. Railways and ports are the main targets; the logic being that building up these areas will assist economic development and export potential. Furthermore, Freitas pointed out that following the privatisations of the 1990s (which Fishlow had earlier pointed out had been attained at premium value compared to their current values), there was nothing left to sell; PPPs are therefore the next logical step. In addition, PPPs are being implemented not only in Britain, but in Spain, Portugal and Croatia, which suggests it is a global phenomenon.

Freitas is at the start of his research into PPPs, much of which will concentrate on comparing the Brazilian model with that in Britain. Between the two he noted that while the Brazilian model needs bolstering in the regulatory sector, it was legally stricter in tone than that in the UK. In the subsequent question and answer session I asked why it was the case: was it to do with the nature of the Brazilian left currently in government? To what extent had it been modified in its passage through Congress? And how had the private sector responded to this interpretation? Unfortunately though, the questions were never answered, as Freitas took others over mine. And there wasn’t even a chance to ask him afterwards, as I had to make the long walk from Summertown to Magdalen to meet a friend for dinner.

Still, got to see the deer in the College’s park. And I made a useful contact whose work I’ve read on Cardoso and his relationship to social democracy.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Brazilian beats and rhythms

Couple of bits of Braziliana at the weekend. We made the last hour at Batmacumba at the ICA on Saturday night. Compared to the first session back in March, my companions were much more enthusiastic about the music, with some old drum ‘n bass classics being cranked out amid more eclectic offerings, including some Middle Eastern/North African sounds and a range of Brazilian musical contributions, from baile funk to Chico Science.

Good to see DJ Cliffy and his collaborators back on form. It’s just a shame it finished so early.

Sunday afternoon made it to Union Chapel in Islington for the end of Mestre Cobra Mansa’s workshop and joined in the roda, playing the agogo (bell). As for playing the game, there were too many people and I didn’t mind; just watching the mestre at work was enough. Not only is he a great player, he’s living history too. According to Matthias’s book (see post below), he was one of the few who brought capoeira Angola back into vogue in the 1980s.
The most important question

Undoubtedly best moment of the Barroso lecture? One student who asked him whether Chelsea manager, José Mourinho, was a typical Portuguese. Barroso’s answer? Definitely not; most Portuguese are modest and after the season we’ve just seen, he’s anything but.

Personally, I really like the guy. But give me a few more years, once the novelty has worn off and I’ll probably feel as cold towards him as I do Alex Ferguson.

Although oddly I felt the same way about Wenger a few years ago as I do Mourinho – and I still feel quite warm towards the Frenchman.
Aiding Africa - or helping ourselves?

The Portuguese pepperpot, José Manuel Barroso, was at the LSE on Friday. I had to go along, especially to ask him if he felt happy with his position given that it was unelected. Long time readers of my blog will know of my one-man – OK, one-letter – campaign to democratise the European Commission. But would you believe it, with a full lecture theatre I never got called to speak.

So what did the European Commission president talk about instead? His brief was to cover the EU’s role in aid and development. And since that is supposed to be the theme of Britain’s presidency for the EU for the second half of the year, he played a blinder. I fact, I started to wonder whether he was Blair’s new mouthpiece, so close to the script he was.

We got about 45 minutes from Barroso about the importance of concentrating on Africa, not just because of the humanitarian crisis of AIDS and conflict in individual countries, but also because it’s in our own self-interest. In essence an EU-funded Africa is a happier Africa and an Africa which won’t let its citizens invade our shores. Oh yes, and a more peaceful Africa provides a more secure market for European exports. As Barroso so clearly put it himself, self-interest indeed.

Barroso noted the steps being taken by Africans to improve their situation including the creation of the African Union and aid funds through Nepad. He said he wanted to push EU aid towards the 0.7% of GDP target from the 0.56% it currently is. But aid can’t only be more, but better targeted and relevant too.

In the subsequent question and answer session, a man who had worked in east Africa since the 1960s asked him the question which I’m sure was nagging many minds, but there didn’t seem to be a politically correct way of asking it. I don’t think he cared too much about such niceties and asked it anyway. Given the record of many African leaders, how could we be sure that the money would be used properly? He responded by saying that compared to 20 years ago the African leaders he was dealing with seemed more prepared to address the problem of corruption. But unfortunately Barroso had nothing more to offer than a form of modified conditionality, proposing mechanisms to ensure good governance. As any student of Latin America knows, ‘good governance’ has often been a veil to pressure structural adjustment, open up markets and economic liberalisation along a set of common policy subscriptions endorsed by the international financial institutions.

And we’re supposed to believe that all this has changed. Barroso was taken to task over the extent to which there was political will to make a difference in Africa, especially when the EU had shown its unwillingness to compete on a level playing field in the past. The president argued that the EC had announced an end to export subsidies, unlike other developed countries. He claimed the EC was ‘generous’ in this respect and that at the WTO ministerial in December the EC would press the US and Japan to produce a similar commitment. Furthermore, he emphasised ‘fair’ trade over that of free trade, but he rather spoiled his copybook by pointing out that the G20 (the middle-income countries like China and Brazil) would have to open up their markets too.

Personally, I’ll believe the EC is committed to free and fair competition across the board when it finally bites the bullet on the CAP. And the last time I checked (around two years ago), they had kicked discussion about its future cost into touch for a further decade.

There were questions from BBC journalists about the French referendum which elicited much hissing from the audience – I suspect you won’t find too many eurosceptics at an institution like the LSE. Barroso said once again there was no Plan B and that no matter how much he was pressed, he wouldn’t say anymore; that would seem like interference in a national election from Brussels. Personally, it seems to me that notwithstanding the political sensitivities, they really have no idea what happens if the referenda in France, Holland and Britain are lost. But as the companion to my right said, it will probably carry on as before. It’ll make little difference whether the constitution is approved or not. As for me, I think it’s rather poor when it appears to be all things to all men; what does it stand for? If the French think it’s too Anglo-Saxon, and the British think it’s designed to create the French dream of a super-state, then who’s right?

I’m almost tempted to vote no, just to force them into a Plan B; and perhaps to get them to think once again about fixing the democratic deficit at the heart of the Commission. Me for EC president? Who knows?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Reinterpreting the past

I may have written about last weekend’s capoeira event a few days ago. But here’s yet more capoeira material published yesterday at Brazzil, this time after attending Matthias’s lecture on its historical context.

I’ve started reading his book too. It’s very good even if it might seem a little academically daunting at first.
You can run, but you can't hide

So Pinochet and his supporters are citing ill health to avoid scrutiny of his allegedly dodgy financial dealings? Where have I seen that ruse used before? Oh yes, when Spain was trying to extradite him for human rights abuses.

Personally, I want to see him in court. And not just him; I want to see George Bush there as well. But before anyone thinks I have a pathological aversion to only those two individuals, I also want to see those who wilfully flout the law put on trial: Saddam, Mugabe, those responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre and Tony Blair.

And you can add the Uzbek president to my list this week as well.

After Pinochet’s arrest plenty of leaders began to worry, realising they couldn’t claim immunity for conduct which would land an ordinary citizen in court. Time is now catching up with Pinochet; I’m waiting for justice against the rest.
Tedious politicians

I’m either becoming jaded or more cynical. Listening to Today this morning I’ve become convinced that Charles Falconer is a Humpty Dumpty figure in government. But with a difference. He keeps falling off that wall but someone (who has a lot to answer for) keeps putting his back together – and inflicting his blundering approach upon the nation once again.

And what is it with Ruth Kelly? She talked about the need for ‘learning support units’ in schools. Excuse me? Aren’t schools already those by definition? Where does she get this jargon?

Also, maybe it’s just me, but does anyone else listening to her on the radio keep thinking of Barbara the pre-op taxi-driving transsexual from The League of Gentlemen?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Putting together a flatpack cabinet

Since I occasionally get readers of the Lib Dem persuasion, I’ll venture to comment on the reshuffle – but just the once. And unlike Sandra Gidley, I have no ‘collective responsibility’ to adhere to!

Overall it seems to signify a shift to the right of the party. That is if you accept the fine gradations of difference which exist within a Parliamentary party as small as the Lib Dems. Keeping Vince Cable at Treasury and Mark Oaten at Home Affairs while promoting David Laws to Work and Pensions and Ed Davey to Education are all pointers of the rightward shift. Elsewhere Menzies Campbell keeps Foreign Affairs – obvious really, can you imagine anyone else doing it?

But most of these appointments are established figures; there’s relatively little new blood. With the exception of Sarah Teather, it’s very much the same faces making up the Shadow Cabinet. Although I know at least two of the new intake, Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg, are being prepared for the fast track. During the last Parliament Chris was given the responsibility of leading the working group on public service delivery (which may need rethinking now since it relied on regional government – and that’s taken a body blow after the referendum defeat for a North East Assembly last year) while Nick was often seen in leading circles.

Meanwhile I wait to see what my contemporaries, elected the other week, will get (see post below). No doubt wiser heads than I will be cautioning them to focus on establishing themselves in their constituencies before dealing with the peripheral (to Lib Dem) activities of political posturing in Parliament.

Then there’s the lower-order appointments in the Shadow Cabinet which intrigue me and obscure those who don’t have a direct interest. In particular I’m pleased to see that they have squared the circle at DEFRA. Organising Lib Dem responsibility there seemed a bit ad hoc over the last few years; when I went to work there after the last election I think it owed to the party’s need for a rural affairs researcher, especially in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

But the Government had decided to merge its rural affairs department with that for the environment. The result was a headache for the Lib Dems, with out first shadow cabinet member, Malcolm Bruce, dividing the work between me and a colleague, who covered the environment. But the team – despite being middle-ranking – was larger than most others in the party and a separation of responsibilities occurred after Malcolm’s reshuffle a year later. Then we had a dyarchy of Andrew George (rural affairs) and Norman Baker (environment) running separate operations under one roof. Now the party has seen fit to bring it under Norman, which seems sensible, putting the other half of the duo at International Development – which will no doubt assist him in his tanning opportunities.

I’m also pleased to see Simon Hughes given a brief which is more than just London. Will he be able to stand in for Kennedy when Blair isn’t around and his place is taken by John Prescott? There’s also Don Foster kept at what I feel is too underrated a post: Culture, Media and Sport. But he enjoys the job and has done as much as he can with it. Unfortunately it’s not high profile enough to get much media attention, even though it does important work.

That’s my take. But does it really matter who gets what? Taking my parents (both apolitical) as a weathervane, my sense is that for the majority of voters the Lib Dems are Charles Kennedy – and maybe Ming when asked to talk about Iraq, etc. That doesn’t mean the appointments aren’t important for the MPs themselves; shadow cabinet status improves their chances of future leadership challenges. But as long as the party tries to be all things to all men – as it has done at the last two elections – it will cease to make much inroad.

Finally, if the individuals associated with the senior posts are really intending to push the party rightwards, I remain unconvinced that strategy will work. I’ve outlined why in an article I wrote for Liberator last week – I just hope they use it otherwise I’ll have to post it here!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

When is ‘modern’ not ‘modern’ at all?

Have Latin America’s indigenous peoples broken with the past in their search for identity politics? According to Goldsmith College’s Olivia Harris in the weekly LSE seminar, the record appears ambiguous. Certainly there are communities in places like the Bolivian highlands who are claiming a national identity which harks back to a time prior to the emergence of ‘modern’ Latin America, but it is also ahistorical.

Harris argues that the actual reconstitution of the past – through the reconstitution of past tradition and rituals – is a very modern process. It’s not an exact fit with the original version, but a modified variation on it; an ‘invention of tradition’ if you will. As an example she cited a community which was prepared to accept a family’s claims of royal blood and even organised a celebration to mark it. But when the family tried to claim royal rights and tribute, the community interceded; it would allow title but not actual practice, thereby highlighting the way in which contemporary acceptance of democracy has worked its way into an understanding of the past.

‘Modernity’ in Latin America is especially confusing given the ambiguity with which the term has been used. Today modern understanding of the state assumes acceptance of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society; by contrast, during the 19th century when many of the Latin American states were in the process of nation-building, modernity meant a homogenous, preferably white society styled on those of Europe.

Even more confusing though is that 19th century assumption of modernity was linked to colonial values which dominated official thinking in the region during the previous three centuries. And from the 16th to 20th centuries the indigenous were commonly seem as un-modern and inferior, a symbol of Latin America’s inability to catch up with the North.

Yet what is really interesting is that just as the ‘modern’ state became more accommodating and accepting of cultural and ethnic difference during the 1990s, indigenous peoples indicated their desire to turn their back on that modernity.
Gormless Wars

Walked past the Odeon on Picadilly yesterday to find Darth Vader and several storm troopers had taken control of the entrance.

But instead of running away in terror, passers by were doing exactly what I would expect them to do if ever there was an alien invasion: stopping to gawp and pose for photographs.

I wonder if the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has anything to say about this human tendency?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Aching to be read?

My hard earned literary endeavours have once again born fruit. While I nurse aching limbs from the two days spent training and (incompetently) playing capoeira, you can check out my observation of the event here.

Already I've received two compliments, which is extremely gratifying. That will make up for the rants which I usually get!

For those who missed it and are interested in capoeira's history, there’s a lecture and book launch of a new book at Canning House tomorrow. Some of the participants from the event will be there, putting on an demonstration too. The details can be found at the end of the article.
Grim reading

It’s nearly a month since I wrote this piece, but Travelmag has posted the last of the three articles I’ve written from my Lisbon sojourn, this time on the Pena Palace. It’s not my best, being both shorter than the others and less thoughtful. But at least it’s out, ready to be pulled to pieces.

I just wish I had invested in a digital camera – then readers could see quite how repulsive the whole place is…
A change of direction?

Was anybody else disorientated by the new graphics used by the BBC weather forecast team yesterday? I get what they’re trying to do, using 3-D graphics so they can ‘zoom’ in to different parts of the country. It did need an update, especially since weather forecasting until yesterday was still broadly the same as it was when Michael Fish and his awful burgundy suit (it was burgundy, wasn’t it?) failed to predict the hurricane which wreaked havoc in southeast England in 1987.

But there was one aspect of the whole presentation I couldn’t get. Where were the clouds and rain? Then I realised – it was those dark patches, ON THE GROUND. And the rain? It was raining upwards!

Do the weather forecasters know something about climate change that we don’t?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Spent a little time on an analysis of Lib Dem election strategy and how the party should approach the next Parliament. Hopefully Liberator will take it in their post-election issue but I'm hardly going to be presume that I have any influence in how these things are decided.

However, I've got another piece up. Following on from the Chile theme yesterday (see post below), Hackwriters has taken my review on Andres Wood's film about the 1973 coup, Machuca. I did post about it here on the blog last month, but I've tweaked and added to it.

So I reuse and re-cycle my own work! Is that a crime?!
One-sided agreement?

‘Democratic consensus’ during the Chilean transition (1985-89) was the topic under discussion at Sara Motta-Mera’s presentation on her research at LSE yesterday. Once again I walked in late, but caught what I think was the gist of her work. Whether we can talk of a transition prior to Pinochet’s defeat in the plebiscite before 1988 is a matter for debate (some might argue the transition only began after 1989 and isn’t yet complete until Pinochet’s legacy is dealt with), but Motta-Mera believes there were already shifts between the different regime, external and opposition actors prior to then.

Motta-Mera took a path dependency interpretation of Chile in the 1980s (i.e. the choices made at a given moment shape and determine their eventual outcome); the regime was prepared to negotiate as long as its neo-liberal legacy was retained and the pre-1973 political and economic models de-legitimated. The Church was also keen to depoliticise itself if it meant retaining a role in society and favoured a conservative form of democracy. Washington, perhaps influenced by the instability and potential pitfalls of authoritarian governments (e.g. Salazar, Franco, Iran), favoured a transition and leaned on the regime to deliver it – again without a severe challenge to capital. As for the opposition, the Christian Democrats sought to project themselves as its main hegemonic force. In this it was helped by the split in the Socialists, one side which eschewed ideology and plumped with the Christian Democrats, leaving the unreconstructed section adrift.

The challenge faced by Socialists raised questions about the extent to which this might be seen as a ‘consensus’ at all. While the Renovated Socialists and Christian Democrats saw the Marxist Left as their rivals, to what extent were the moderate Socialists pressured into accepting the transition model? As another participant noted, the use of the term ‘consensus’ assumes that all parties agreed and there was no one agent on the outside. But wasn’t that a contradiction if part of the Socialist party was left outside while its moderate wing was forced into accepting a neo-liberal model (and let’s not forget, the period in question – 1985-89 – was one in which the Soviet socialist model was still in existence)? Wasn’t the use of the term ‘consensus’ just a ploy to grab the moral high ground in the negotiation towards a final outcome?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Guilty as charged

Did I mention that the Mercedes in question (see post further down) was once again causing a disturbance, both in its position parked outside the LSE library on Sunday afternoon and distracting some of the younger, more impressionable male students?
At a loss?

What to do? No exam to revise for after the last yesterday and acres of time stretches ahead of me. But that's a mirage. Time to be getting on with travel details for research and organising interviews.

It never ends...

Monday, May 09, 2005


Finished my last exam, on society and development.

Today I will be mostly in the pub.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Feeling my age?

Just been looking through the election results and seeing lots of familiar names which conjures back memories of undergraduate-dom. I see two Lib Dems I knew at LSE – one in the year above, the other in the year below – got elected, while a former work colleague who shared an office with me and several others also ot elected. As if that wasn’t enough, there was also someone else who was in my year at LSE (assuming its the same person) standing in the same seat as one of those who got elected. And one of the women I worked with last year improved the Tory swing in Leicestershire North West.

It rather worries me when MPs start being people like me. I might have to grow up now...
An apt choice?

Yup, I missed the election night results. Was tucked up in bed at midnight ahead of my exam this morning. Still watched enough to see that for my local contest, Bethnal Green & Bow, they had dispatched Rageh Omar, the BBC war correspondent down to our part of the world.

Given the vitriloic nature of the campaign and passions on both sides, perhaps the Beeb was trying to say something?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Capoeira plug

Was at capoeira last night. More people coming out of the woodwork ahead of next weekend’s annual meeting which will see our group’s Brazilian master, associates and other schools descend upon East London for three days of training and rodas. Everyone’s gearing up to build their stamina and technique.

Should be a good occasion. It may be a little costly – especially with my current student status – but I’ll certainly be making an attendance for some of the time. Information is available on the capoeira group’s website under the news link if anyone’s interested.
Obligatory election statement

Yes, yes, I know I should post something deep and meaningful about the General Election today. But other than to say to get out and vote, I won’t.

Oh wait, there is one more thing: make sure you’re eligible to do so! A couple of Latin American friends received polling cards the other week. Last time I checked all none of those countries had made an application to join the Commonwealth.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The masses are revolting

Back to the LSE yesterday afternoon for a presentation about the pattern of social protest in Bolivia by Oxford University’s John Crabtree. In contrast to last October’s workshop on that country in Cambridge, I was more assured of the subject matter and content of the discussion. Crabtree’s presentation was designed to promote his new book on the matter, which can be found here. For those who are interested, LAB is giving away three free copies here.

Although I walked in late, I think I got the gist of Crabtree’s argument. Protest has increasingly become a way of doing politics in Bolivia, aided both by the relative weakness of the state and the social volatility unleashed by economic reform. For example, the closure of the tin mines in 1985 resulted in the dispersal of workers with formal union experience to other parts of the country, which has assisted organisation of protests in those parts. One example is the coca growers under Evo Morales, who have become increasingly organised. Other cases include protests against water privatisation which quick-started the whole process in 2000, demand for land reform through the sin tierra (a virtual remake of the MST in Brazil) and the so-called Gas War which forced the president from office in October 2003.

But there are differences within these different forms of protest. There’s no unity connecting them all. And in response to a question from me – whether he viewed the developing form of social resistance in Bolivia as analogous to that of Venezuela both before and after to the Carazco (when a proposed neo-liberal reform package unleashed mass protest and violence in 1989) and a subsequent split between political and civil society – he argued against.

There were big differences between the two, not least in the contrast between Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, and Morales. Chavez has a whole system of patronage at his disposal and the support of part of the army. Morales, meanwhile, can’t claim the same. Even though he gas formed a party which sits as the second largest in Congress and he acts as kingmaker, sections of the military distrust him while he has proved unable to bring together all these disparate social protest movements.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Come in number 7, your time is up...

I supposed the fact that one exam is now out of the way is small consolation for a gorgeous sunny and warm Bank Holiday spent in the library. Notwithstanding awaking at 5 this morning in a cold sweat from a nightmare which consisted of 16 pages of closely-typed questions, none of which had any relation to the subject examined today (Comparative Latin American Politics).

But can someone explain to me how it is that on Bank Holiday the entire LSE library was packed to the rafters? I had to stand and wait until someone moved from one of the tables.

Most amusing moment of the day though came when the librarian announced that the owner of the Mercedes parked outside move it as it was blocking access to the library.

And meanwhile the politicians are all feverishly campaigning about ending tuition fees come Election Day this Thursday. Judging by the LSE experience, that's one place whose students don't need to worry unduly.