Leader: Brazil says no to Fifa’s jamboree

In a country that loves football, not even the great Pelé was able to appease the protesters.

Brazil is one of the world’s emerging powers, a nation of nearly 200 million people that is blessed with vast mineral wealth and abundant natural resources. It has oil, the Amazon rainforest, more renewable water than any other country and a quarter of the world’s arable land. It has become one of the world’s great bread - baskets. And it is excelling at soft power: Brazil will host both the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Yet all is not well in this land of searing inequalities. It is not just the multitudes in the favelas who are restive but the educated middle classes. In recent days, to coincide with Brazil hosting the Fifa Confederations Cup, a warm-up for the World Cup, more than one million people have taken to the streets to protest. Their ostensible motivation was a rise in bus fares but their grievances range from political corruption to resentment at a decadent elite.

In a country that loves football, not even the great Pelé was able to appease the protesters. His appeals for calm were received with derision.

President Dilma Rousseff has shown little leadership so far in the crisis. She has hastily promised to hold a referendum on reform – but to decide what, exactly? And, as Isabel Hilton writes on page 22, the protests seem “like just the beginning” of something long-lasting. Could it be that the people do not want the World Cup in Brazil, after all? Or, at least, not on these terms?

Photograph: Getty Images

This article first appeared in the 01 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Brazil erupts

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.