In this week’s New Statesman: Brazil erupts

Isabel Hilton reports on Brazil’s biggest protests in 20 years. PLUS: Nicholas Shaxon exposes the secret world of London’s hedge funds.

Football, riches and protest: Can the World Cup host country hold it together?

For our cover story this week Isabel Hilton, the editor of chinadialogue.net and former Latin American affairs editor of the Sunday Times, reports from Brazil on the largest protests in the country since the revolt against the corrupt presidency of Fernando Collor de Mello 20 years ago. Hilton describes how demonstrations that started as a “complaint about a small hike in bus fares became a nationwide movement”, rapidly engulfing 100 cities and attracting a million people – half of them under the age of 25:

In the week leading up to the airport blockade [on 21 June], the city suffered serial heart attacks as protesters targeted its arteries, turning São Paulo’s flyovers and urban motorways into temporary protest playgrounds. But who are the protesters?

The answer, Hilton discovers, is a frustrated and angry middle class – people who are tired of corruption and resentful of an elite “cocooned by privilege”:

For the well-heeled elite, Brazil is already better. They are the beneficiaries of the past decade of high growth, wealthy enough to buy their way out of the daily inconveniences inflicted on the less well-off by chronic corruption, creaking infrastructure and high taxes.

She shows how football, the national obsession, has become a barometer of public feeling:

So deep is the discontent that the unthinkable has happened. In this most football-crazed nation, at a time when Brazil is hosting the Confederations Cup, the mood has turned against an event that the government anticipated would secure its place in the hearts of Brazilians for good: next year’s Fifa World Cup. We need schools, not more football stadiums, the marchers are chanting.

Hilton is left in little doubt that the country has experienced a political sea change over the past fortnight:

If these events signal the beginning of a Brazilian revolution, it is a revolution of rising expectations, born among people who have benefited from the PT’s [Workers’ Party’s] redistribution of wealth.

 

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE

 

Nicholas Shaxson on the zombies of Mayfair

In this week’s NS Essay the author and business journalist Nicholas Shaxson penetrates the murky world of Mayfair hedge funds. Some of the activities of the private equity industry are well known to us:

...asset-stripping, outsourcing, layoffs, busting the unions and borderline legal behaviour, not to mention their lobbying, their devious offshore tax shenanigans and their risky debt-loading.

But Shaxson argues that one crucial fact has been overlooked:

...the private equity industry is, collectively, a gigantic waste of investors’ money . . . Mayfair would be far more economically productive if it were turned into a giant waste-disposal centre. This is the trillion-dollar question: why are investors – who probably include your pension-fund manager – still pouring cash into the Mayfair money machine?

So why do investors fall for it? Shaxson suggests that some are simply attracted by the perceived glamour of the sector:

How piteous is that? The manager of your pension fund is throwing your money at these hucksters because it makes him look cool and because it’s more fun.

Should we be worried? Shaxson thinks so:

Above a certain size, financial centres turn bad and start to reduce growth. Britain passed this point long ago . . . Hedge funds and private equity are like the zombies that won’t die. The investors keep coming and getting screwed. It’s time to stop mollycoddling them with tax subsidies and invitations to Downing Street.

 

Susan Greenfield: What makes us human?

Following in the footsteps of Mary Robinson and Caitlin Moran, the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield is the latest contributor to our “What Makes Us Human?” series, in partnership with BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show. For Baroness Greenfield the key to human nature lies in our ability to create and use metaphors:

Although chimps can solve problems, use objects around them, communicate with each other in sophisticated ways and, above all, learn, they still lack our ability to see a thing in terms of something else. So, could it be this particular ability, seemingly exclusive to our species, that is the clue to the essence of human nature?

 

Rafael Behr: There is a new consensus about the economy and – believe it or not – Labour called it first

In the Politics Column this week, Rafael Behr highlights how the Conservatives and Labour are in consensus on challenges such as infrastructure investment and the duty of the state to foster growth – though neither camp dares concede it:

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives dare admit that their economic views are converging. The fortification of opposing trenches, separated by boggy no-man’s-land (aka the Lib Dems), has become a strategic necessity and a source of intellectual comfort. Yet the proximity is obvious to anyone outside the two tribes. Labour has accepted that budgets must be cut, as the Tories said all along. The Tories are borrowing to keep the economy afloat, as Labour predicted they would.

Read in full online now.

 

Paul Morley reviews “Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life”

Paul Morley, a native of Stockport and the author of The North: and Almost Everything In It, reviews the L S Lowry show opening at Tate Britain today. Morley recalls fixating as a teenager on the “new glamour” of modern developments, eschewing the Stockport Viaduct and other “mighty Victorian buildings” immortalised by Lowry:

Lowry’s paintings stopped well short of imagining the future; they were a flat, unevolved reminder of a disgraced world, studies in unglamorous endurance.

Time and age turned his dislike into reverence, for Lowry and for Lowry’s subjects. “I marvel at my childish ignorance and teenage blindness,” he begins:

The epic [Stockport] viaduct became for me a route to the unknown power of Lowry . . . It took me further and further into a northern heart of darkness, into a vital, often unsettling dreamscape, disorientating and chock-a-block with stimuli. To an artist tracing the broken contours of an antiquated labyrinth, examining the once very strange and modern on the dirty road to extinction.

 

PLUS

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett on Generation Rent: “I don’t want to die in an attic”

Jane Shilling explores the new English nature writing

Sophie Elmhirst reviews two new political memoirs – This Boy: a Memoir of a Childhood by Alan Johnson and Strictly Ann: the Autobiography by Ann Widdecombe

Ryan Gilbey reviews three contemporary documentaries – The Act of Killing, Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer and Stories We Tell

Will Self slimes his way down to the Slug & Lettuce

 

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Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders no longer sounds so outlandish

Both men have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack.

Unlike many of us, Bernie Sanders never doubted Jeremy Corbyn. The week before the general election, the independent US senator from Vermont was addressing a crowd of progressive voters in Brighton during a whirlwind tour of the UK. An audience member asked him what advice he might have for the leader of the Labour Party. “I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn needs my advice,” Sanders replied. “I think he’s doing quite well.”

The week after the election, a delighted Sanders invoked Corbyn’s election performance in a New York Times op-ed. “The British elections should be a lesson for the Democratic Party,” he wrote, urging the Democrats to stop holding on to an “overly cautious, centrist ideology” and explaining how “momentum shifted to Labour after it released a very progressive manifesto that generated much enthusiasm among young people and workers”.

Sanders and his growing movement in the United States offered more than mere rhetorical support for Corbyn.

With the help of former members of the senator’s presidential campaign team, Momentum – the grass-roots organisation set up to support and defend Corbyn in 2015 – ran 33 training sessions across the UK, preparing thousands of Labour activists.

Momentum’s national organiser Emma Rees says that the Sanders people made a “significant contribution” to the Labour campaign with their emphasis “on having empathetic conversations that focused on the issues the voter cared about, and actually trying to persuade voters on the doorstep rather than just collecting data”.

“In the final stage, I recruited a bunch of former Bernie volunteers from around [the United States] to . . . help get out a last [get out the vote] texting assignment,” recalls Claire Sandberg, who was the digital organising director for Sanders and spent the 2017 election campaign working with Momentum in the UK. “It was an amazing thing to see them volunteering . . . while we were all asleep the night before election day.”

Is it really surprising that Sanders supporters, thousands of miles away, would want to volunteer for Corbyn? Both men are mavericks; both have a certain authenticity and unpretentiousness that their rivals lack; both, in the words of Emma Rees, “have inspired tens of thousands of people to participate in the political process and to realise their collective power” and they want “to transform society in the interests of ordinary people”. Perhaps above all else, both men have proved that left populism can win millions of votes.

According to the latest polls, if another election were held in the UK tomorrow, Corbyn would be the winner. Sanders, however, has a much higher mountain to climb in the US and faces at least three obstacles that the “British Bernie” does not.

First, Sanders leads a growing grass-roots movement but does not have the support of a party machine and infrastructure.

Corbyn may have been a backbench rebel who voted against his party whip more than 500 times before becoming party leader, but he is a lifelong Labour member.

Sanders, on the other hand, is the longest-serving independent politician in US congressional history. He declared himself a Democrat in 2015 only in order to seek the party’s presidential nomination and promptly declared himself an independent again after he was defeated by Hillary Clinton last summer.

Such behaviour has allowed establishment Democrats to portray him (wrongly) as an opportunist, an interloper who is using the Democratic Party as a vehicle for his own benefit in a country where third-party candidacies cannot succeed.

Second, Sanders has to confront an even more hostile and sceptical media than Corbyn must. Under US law, Fox News is under no obligation to be “fair and balanced” towards Sanders – nor is CNN, for that matter.

Thanks to the UK rules on broadcaster impartiality, however, Corbyn was “able to speak directly to the voters who still get their news from TV instead of the internet”, Sandberg notes. “In contrast, Bernie was completely and totally shut out by broadcast media in the US, which considered his campaign totally irrelevant.”

Third, Sanders failed to connect with minority groups, and especially with African Americans, whereas black and Asian British voters flocked to Corbyn – a veteran campaigner for the anti-racism movement.

Two out of every three ethnic-minority voters voted Labour on 8 June. “Bernie would’ve won [the Democratic nomination] if he’d had a message that resonated with 50 per cent – just 50 per cent – of black voters, because Hillary got upwards of 90 per cent in many states,” the activist and journalist Naomi Klein, who is a supporter of both Sanders and Corbyn, told me in a recent interview for my al-Jazeera English show, UpFront, which will air later this month.

Nevertheless, she is confident that Sanders can learn lessons from his own campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and “build a winning coalition” next time which ties together the narratives of financial, racial and gender inequality.

Just as it was a mistake to write off Jeremy Corbyn, it would be wrong to dismiss Bernie Sanders.

Despite media bias, and even though he doesn’t have a party machine behind him, Sanders today is still the most popular politician in the United States. And so this may be only the beginning of a new, transatlantic partnership between the two self-declared socialists. Those of us on the left who grew up watching Reagan and Thatcher, then Clinton and Blair, then Bush and Blair, may wish to pinch ourselves to check we’re not dreaming.

“I think by 2021,” Sandberg says, “we may see Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn sitting down with President Bernie Sanders.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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