John Harris

Journalist & Author

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Here’s what the people’s vote campaign needs to do | John Harris

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Ditch the celebs and faded politicians. Instead visit areas that voted for Brexit – and listen to what’s being said

The music, apparently swelling towards a climax that never arrives, sounds like a Coldplay outtake, and most of the faces suggest an entertaining Saturday night in front of the TV. On and on they go: the singer Jamelia, the actor Dominic West, Philip Pullman, Stephen Mangan, Josh Widdicombe, Tracey Ullman, Natascha McElhone, the musician Nitin Sawhney, Gary Lineker, Matt Lucas and good old Dan Snow. Non-famous people seem to be few and far between, with the exception of an unnamed man in front of a football crowd and someone whose caption merely says “a farmer from Scotland”.

This is the latest, somewhat rough-edged, promotional video chucked online by the people behind the people’s vote demonstration that will happen in London on 20 October. Millions – including me – will instantly agree with what its cast have to say, from comedian Tim Minchin’s insistence that “neither government nor the people had very much information about the implications of Brexit”, to Snow’s observation that “we are barrelling towards either a bad deal or no deal”.

Related: We now need a people’s vote on Brexit. But don’t assume remain would win | Jonathan Freedland

Related: Anti-Brexit People’s Vote march in London – in pictures

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‘I’m afraid a child will die’: life at the sharp end of council cuts

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Withdrawal of early intervention services in Somerset reflects mounting national emergency

In July last year, Frances and her two children walked out of their family home in south Somerset. Over the previous few years, her husband had been repeatedly violent towards her, and cruel and aggressive to her eldest daughter. The arrival of a new baby seemed to only make things worse. “He would lock my daughter out in the rain; he called our baby the ‘c’ word,” she says. “I can remember her standing between us when she was three, saying ‘Don’t hit my mummy.’”

She had been advised to get out of the home and end the relationship by a family support worker sent to see her by a council-run children’s service called GetSet. “On her third visit to our house,” says Frances, “I told her what had been going on. She wasn’t surprised.” Help came quickly, not only with finding somewhere to live, but also with her finances and her daughter’s levels of anxiety.

Related: ‘Lost for words’: Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable

Related: Underfunding to blame for child protection ‘crisis’, says report

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Amazon v the high street – how Doncaster is fighting back

Friday, October 12th, 2018

The old pit town lost 5% of its high-street shops last year – but both the council and creative locals are trying to think again

Most towns and cities have the strange, uncertain spaces some people call “edgelands”, but Doncaster’s seem to go on for ever. Thanks to the Yorkshire town’s proximity to four motorways, the expanses around it are full of retail parks and distribution centres, those leviathans that sit at the heart of 21st-century consumerism.

Three of them belong to Amazon. The two nearest the town centre are comparatively modest, set in a business park that also includes a Morrison’s supermarket and a Holiday Inn Express. But the newest is a breathtakingly vast black-and-silver box covering 1.1m sq ft (102,200 sq metres). On a day when bright sunlight seems to make it glow, driving around its seemingly endless walls proves to be a mesmerising experience, only spoiled by the unshakeable feeling that my little hire car and I are being watched.

Related: Are dark kitchens the satanic mills of our era? | John Harris

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Are dark kitchens the satanic mills of our era? | John Harris

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Few of us realise how the food we order from the likes of Deliveroo gets to us. It’s time we saw the light about such businesses

They are known as “dark kitchens”: cramped boxes, usually plonked in city centres, in which cooks prepare meals that are ordered and sent out via food-delivery apps. Britain is reckoned to have at least 70, most of which are owned and run by the delivery giant Deliveroo under the brand name Deliveroo Editions. The food that comes out of them is sold in the name of established restaurants, and innocent customers might assume it somehow still comes from their high-street premises. But no: this is a new reality of “virtual branding”, in which all that sits behind this or that logo are the bare essentials – a couple of ovens, a handful of chefs and couriers frantically delivering what they cook.

A report last year by my Guardian colleague Sarah Butler focused on a dark kitchen site near Canary Wharf in London, and vividly evoked what went on there: “The boxes have no windows and many of the chefs work with the doors open … Working in the metal boxes is either hot or cold, depending on the weather and whether they are cooking or prepping. In one kitchen, there is only a small fan heater for cold days. Another houses a pizza oven that takes up more than a third of the space and makes it extremely hot.” Online ads for jobs in such places offer hourly wages of between £8.50 and £9, and roles best suited to people who are “reliable”, “hard working”, and have “two years’ experience in [a] fast paced kitchen”.

Light and dark have always been signifiers for the quality of work and what it can do to people’s psyches

Related: This is insecurity Britain. Labour and the Tories are racing to connect with it | Phillip Blond

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Spice: a lethal epidemic fuelled by austerity | John Harris

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

The prevalence of this debilitating drug shows that society has reached a precipitous moment of decay

At first I thought he might be dead. The man was no older than 40, and dressed in a huge beige parka: he had stumbled on to an almost empty town square, wobbled on his feet and then collapsed. For a while, he lay completely motionless, his arms outstretched and his knees folded into his chest. People walked by, showing barely a flicker of interest. He then swayed to his feet, before crashing back down again. This time he hit his head on the concrete, and the hideous crack it made was enough to bring people to his aid, before he seemed to assure them that he would be all right, and uncertainly shuffled away again.

I was in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster – though it could have been any number of places where the street drug known as spice has entered the lives of people living on society’s edges, sowing anxiety and fear. Over the summer, stories of the drug and its users seemed to reach a critical point – in Cardiff, Leeds, Sheffield, Wrexham, Hull, Lincoln and Mansfield. At the end of August, a group of Conservative police and crime commissioners said that spice represented the “most severe public health issue we have faced in decades”, and demanded that, three years after it was made illegal, it be moved from class B to class A status, the same as heroin and cocaine. Three weeks ago, the Daily Mirror splashed that Britain “is in the grip of a spice epidemic”.

Related: Huge rise in ambulance callouts to deal with spice users

Related: How spice, ‘the zombie drug’, is devastating communities

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