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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.