John Harris

Journalist & Author

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For the first time ever I am defending banks. Here’s why | John Harris

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

What have the City fat cats who caused the crash and got away scot free ever done for us? We’ll find out when Brexit forces them – and their taxes – abroad

The reasons why 17.4 million British people trooped to the polling stations last summer and put their crosses in the leave box have been endlessly analysed, and often crudely carved in half – as if some Brexit supporters were angry about immigration and others fixated on questions of sovereignty, and that was pretty much that.

But 10 years after the French bank BNP Paribas heralded the coming financial crisis by suspending two hedge funds that had effectively proved worthless, it’s worth reprising a pretty basic point: among the furies that exploded on 23 June last year were lingering grievances about the financial crash of 2007-8. The years since the cashpoints almost ran out had seen simmering anger about the endless billions pumped into the big banks and the lack of any obvious reckoning – not to mention exasperation with politicians chained to the demands of high finance, and not nearly interested enough in the millions of people whose only acquaintance with the City lay in the mess it had made.

To the delight of Irish estate agents, tailors and wine merchants, more than a dozen banks will shift business to Dublin

Related: We let the 2007 financial crisis go to waste | Torsten Bell

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Strange fascination: The best David Bowie books

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

There are surprisingly few good books about the late star – but, as a new collection of reminiscences by friends is published, we pick out the heroes of the Bowieography

Alongside the supremely well-read Bob Dylan, David Bowie was probably popular music’s most bookish star. Christopher Isherwood was an obvious influence on his so-called Berlin period; George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four inspired much of his classic album Diamond Dogs. Judging by a much-circulated list of his favourite 100 books released in 2013, he was also a fan of such literary touchstones as William Faulkner, Albert Camus and F Scott Fitzgerald, as well as a range of modern works, from Martin Amis’s Money to the ribald British comic-cum-institution Viz.

It’s a little strange, then, that whereas good books about Dylan and the Beatles extend into the distance, the range of decent texts about Bowie remains relatively small. Such coffee table works as Mick Rock’s The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973 (Taschen, 2016) handsomely showcase the visual aspects of his legend; if you want a forensic guide to his songs, dramatic roles, videos and more, you should start with the pretty authoritative A-Z dossier, The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg (Titan), first published in 2000 and most recently updated after its subject’s death. But when it comes to in-depth career histories, there are not many to choose from.

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They say after Brexit there’ll be food rotting in the fields. It’s already started | John Harris

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Farms in the UK rely on fruit and vegetable pickers from the European Union. But this summer they’re staying away, and the harvest will be hit

In the wake of an ocean of writing linking Brexit to the zeitgeisty Dunkirk spirit, here’s one more martial metaphor. Self-evidently, this is the phoney war stage of the process. Negotiations have barely started; the prime minister is on holiday. Most importantly, the fragile tangle of threads that defines what passes for Britain’s economic wellbeing – that mixture of affordable essentials, freely available credit and dependable house prices which ensures no one gets too uppity about stagnating wages – just about remains intact. Meanwhile, ministers – and Labour politicians – talk about the fundamentals of leaving the European Union as if we can push Brussels in any direction we fancy and freely choose no end of measures to ease our passage out.

Related: Farms hit by labour shortage as migrant workers shun ‘racist’ UK

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Meet Me in the Bathroom review – were the Strokes the last real rock stars?

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Lizzy Goodman’s oral history beautifully captures the guitar rock scene in New York from 2001 to 2011, a flashbulb moment before everything changed

In the opening two years of the 21st century, guitar-based rock enjoyed a late burst of creativity. The music industry was still thriving, yet to be laid waste by the internet. Meanwhile, New York, a city that had long been a byword for rock and its associated romance, was on the brink of a musical renaissance – and an awful trauma – before property mania transformed even its most disreputable neighbourhoods, after which affluent incomers could happily live out some dream or other, but the conditions for any kind of exciting culture were too often snuffed out.

This is the backdrop of Meet Me in the Bathroom, an oral history by Lizzy Goodman, who arrived in New York from her native New Mexico in 1999 and was evidently immersed in everything that happened. Her interviewees – there are 161 – beautifully capture the era, and illustrate its tensions and contradictions, many of which swirl around the band whose tale forms the book’s core. The Strokes were a quintet of affluent young men who had met at exclusive schools, led by a singer whose father had founded the Elite model agency. On the face of it, they were gentrification incarnate. But in the flesh, and on their first two albums, they convincingly celebrated the aspects of New York that were under threat – bohemian squalor, loose living, the idea of the metropolis as a place where twentysomethings discover who they are – and became a potent signifier for the city.

We just want to tell you, we want to do this for the rest of our lives

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Brexit has already split the UK. Now it risks tearing Labour apart | John Harris

Friday, July 28th, 2017

In ignoring the party’s remainers and embracing hard Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell risk inviting economic doom for the sake of ideology

• John Harris is a Guardian columnist

In advance of Brexit negotiations really getting down to the nitty-gritty, British politics currently resembles an unruly works outing to a restaurant. Philip Hammond seemingly wants the vegetarian option. Liam Fox fancies coq au chlorine. David Davis keeps asking the waiter for another five minutes, while Boris Johnson insists on cake. Theresa May, meanwhile, is away, enjoying the pleasures of authentic Italian cuisine and presumably readying herself for the dread moment when the 27 remaining countries of the EU decisively begin kicking Britain around, and the inevitable becomes obvious: either it’s the set menu, or we’re out.

Related: Labour softens stance on staying in single market after Brexit

Whither state aid for industry when there may be barely any industry left?

Related: Labour should exploit the Tories’ disarray on Europe, not copy it | Polly Toynbee

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