Mark Steel: Will Gordon send in troops to seize city bonuses?

Everything about the Venezuela result confounds the thinking of mainstream politicians
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The Independent Online

The whole point of New Labour, apparently, was to do whatever was necessary to win elections, even if this meant abandoning long-term principles. So they must be fascinated by this week's election in Venezuela, where the radical president Hugo Chavez, who described George Bush as "the devil", won for a fourth time, by 58 per cent to 31 per cent, causing mass celebrations in the poorest areas of the country.

This is a far bigger margin than Blair ever won by, so they're sure to copy Chavez's tactics. The next time Gordon Brown makes a speech at some City of London banquet, he'll begin: "My lords, ladies and gentlemen. In the modern world it is essential that we respond rapidly to global challenges, which is why I've instructed five divisions of the army to seize your bonuses and distribute them amongst the landless peoples of the tower blocks."

The next day he'll appear on the White House lawn next to George Bush and say: "The President has assured me he will endeavour to achieve peace in Lebanon, whatever the obstacles - though I don't know what good that will do, seeing as he's a whore of Satan." Then he'll rush round to headquarters to check how these speeches have been received according to polls in the key marginals.

Everything about the result in Venezuela confounds the thinking of modern mainstream politicians. Alastair Campbell probably thinks Chavez's speech about the President was the result of a focus group in which a cluster of Venezuelans were handed coffee and biscuits in an office and asked: "Which of these figures do you feel most accurately depicts George Bush?" Then they all discussed it, muttering "Hmm, it's either Bugs Bunny or Satan."

An alternative explanation for his popularity may be his success in reducing adult illiteracy by more than one million. Or his support for landless farmers who've squatted land owned by private sugar mills, under the protection of the National Guard. Or his use of oil profits to provide money for single mothers, subsidised food for the poor and six extra universities. It's a sign of our world that these measures are seen as "extremist", whereas a "moderate" approach is to cut taxes so that shareholders can fund projects such as buying a lake for the weekends or getting their coy carp manicured.

The rich hate him for all this, although it should be pointed out that, even under Chavez, the rich are still rich. From the way the rich complain whenever a bit of their wealth is distributed to the poor, you get the impression that the rich have become poorer than the poor. And they sit at the roadside begging with a crystal decanter and a pedigree pekinese on a bit of string.

But the most impressive change may not be the increase in the poor's land or money, but that they now feel they're worth something as human beings. People feel they're part of shaping history, to the extent that the best-selling book in the country recently was the new constitution. Whereas here you can't imagine such a document would even be published, unless it could somehow be packaged as a fitness video by Carol Vorderman, with Carol gasping: "And keep a straight back, all the way down, say slowly 'Section 14, clause 1: rights of indigenous people' and - up again slowly."

The American government hasn't been quite so enthusiastic about the election result. John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence declared with great comic phrasing that Chavez was "guilty of meddling in the domestic affairs of other states". Wahoo! Surely he didn't say that with a straight face? What else are the Americans going to accuse Venezuelans of - eating pancakes and syrup for breakfast then wondering why they're so fat?

A report in one US paper, the Herald Tribune, said Chavez's time in office had been plagued with "turmoil". Which is true, but could be connected to the fact that Bush's government funded and supported an attempted coup against him, which was defeated by a general strike. So that's like going into a restaurant, stabbing the waiters, then complaining to the manager that you can't enjoy your meal because of all the screaming.

For New Labour it must be bewildering, especially for those among them that once espoused similar principles but gave them up to be practical. Because they try to claim they're still true to their beliefs, making statements such as: "Although I was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, that in no way contradicts my support for spending £20bn on more nuclear arms. Because it's impossible to disarm if you've not got any arms in the first place, but the more nuclear arms there are, the more potential disarming there'll be. You'll see."

There are many reasons for the majority of the world's rulers and businessmen to be outraged at the popularity of Chavez across South America, but one of the most powerful may be traditional basic snobbery. The disdain amongst the wealthy for a state in which landless farmers and slum-dwellers feel at the heart of a regime can not be overstated.

White House officials entertained themselves recently with a puppet show in which Chavez was portrayed as a monkey. But the monkey has won - a victory which, if repeated across the continent and most of the world, would go some way towards making up for the depression caused by the sodding cricket.