John Harris

Journalist & Author

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The Tories have forgotten their pro-EU voters. And they’ll pay for it | John Harris

Monday, May 20th, 2019

In my home town, I’ve seen how middle-class angst over Brexit is creating an existential threat to the party which could once count on their votes

In a seemingly endless season of Tory nightmares, this week looks set to mark the most dreadful phase so far. The Conservatives are about to endure a set of elections that they never thought they would face. Only four years ago, the party won a general election; now, there is talk of them finishing fifth, or even sixth. With every Tory moan of pain, Nigel Farage’s nicotine grin grows ever larger. And out in the country, there is an overlooked Conservative crisis: one bound up not with the part of the population that voted for Brexit, but with the liberal, pro-remain swathe of the country without whom the future of Conservatism looks bleak indeed.

I come from somewhere still understood as one of the most Tory places there is. Wilmslow, in Cheshire, has a population of 25,000 and is a dormitory town on the southern edge of the sprawl around Manchester. Part of the Tatton constituency, it was once represented by George Osborne, and these days is the adopted home of the zealous Brexiteer Esther McVey. Though slightly more mixed class-wise than its reputation might suggest, it remains a byword for suburban affluence, and McVey sits on a majority of 15,000. But in the referendum of 2016, Wilmslow was part of a wider Tory-supporting area that voted 54% for remain.

A politics of nostalgia and nastiness is the complete opposite of what these voters look for

Related: A warning to the Tories: Britain’s true-blue suburbs have turned liberal | John Harris

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Is India the frontline in big tech’s assault on democracy? | John Harris

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Social media such as WhatsApp may enable voters, but encrypted messaging polarises them and blocks public scrutiny

In 10 days’ time, two political dramas will reach their denouement, thanks to the votes of a combined total of about 1.3 billion people. At the heart of both will be a mess of questions about democracy in the online age, and how – or even if – we can act to preserve it.

Elections to the European parliament will begin on 23 May, and offer an illuminating test of the rightwing populism that has swept across the continent. In the UK, they will mark the decisive arrival of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, whose packed rallies are serving notice of a politics brimming with bile and rage, masterminded by people with plenty of campaigning nous. The same day will see the result of the Indian election, a watershed moment for the ruling Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP. Whatever the outcomes, both contests will highlight something inescapable: that the politics of polarisation, anger and what political cliche calls “fake news” is going to be around for a long time to come.

WhatsApp has more than 300 million Indian users, and it is Modi and his supporters who have made the most of it

Related: It’s not enough to break up Big Tech. We need to imagine a better alternative | Evgeny Morozov

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Lowborn by Kerry Hudson review – growing up and returning to Britain’s poorest towns

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

A novelist bears the scars of her turbulent upbringing and indicts a nation that leaves so many in poverty

When Kerry Hudson was seven and living in the Scottish town of Airdrie, her mother took her and her baby sister to a neighbour’s flat, where the adults all got drunk. The three of them then returned home, and began playfully throwing broken biscuits at each other – a laugh at first, until her mother suddenly snapped.

“She told me I was a selfish little cow, that I was a nasty little bitch,” Hudson writes. Her mother then dragged her to another nearby flat, and told the family who lived there that they were to take care of her eldest daughter until social services came and took her away. Hudson remembers the response of the children she then had to spend the night with: “The kids asked me, full of the horror of the idea of a child simply given away, ‘What will happen?’ And I replied, ‘I don’t know, she doesn’t want me.’”

Related: I was taken into care at two years old – what really happened?

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Don’t look to national politics for hope: you’ll find it thriving in local councils | John Harris

Monday, May 6th, 2019

Councillors are paid a pittance and face hostility. But from tackling obesity to saving high streets, good ideas are growing

Last Friday morning, my head spun. Having voted in two local elections – for our town and district councils – and then spent the first few hours of the next day following the results, my partner and I got our polling cards for yet another contest. This caused a brief fit of amusement about Brexit Britain’s weird addiction to sending us to polling stations, before we realised we had effectively received our tickets for an awful reality TV show.

Thanks chiefly to Nigel Farage’s Brexit party and the pithily named Change UK – the Independent Group – many of the contestants in the looming European elections form a rum old crowd. From a former BBC newsreader, through superannuated Tories and newspaper columnists, on to the former editor of the lads’ magazine Loaded, with the independent candidate who calls himself Tommy Robinson as the rubbish punchline. God knows what the poor souls who have diligently served as MEPs must feel about this sudden gatecrashing of their world: here is yet another woeful instalment of the Brexit drama, now replayed by celebrity leave and remain campaigners as a pantomime of futile gestures.

If councils are to attract and retain new people, they need not warm words, but meaningful power

Related: Local elections 2019: Conservatives see huge losses in England – as it happened

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My England is in a mess. Scotland’s case for splitting away is stronger than ever | John Harris

Monday, April 29th, 2019

The country I call home is dysfunctional. But north of the border, there’s the chance of something better

The day of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, I was in Hallglen, a large housing estate on the edge of Falkirk. As it turned out, the town would vote to remain in the UK by 54% to 46%, but where I was, droves of people were turning out to support the end of the union, and the creation of a new country.

I had spent time on the estate over the previous weeks, and observed a remarkable upsurge of both interest in politics, and optimism – not least at a Sunday evening public meeting at which hundreds had gathered to talk about how badly their area had fared since the Thatcher years, and how breaking from the rotten Westminster consensus might serve it better. Now, as people went in and out of the polling station, I fell into conversation with a thirtysomething man, who had a vision of what an independent Scotland might mean for the rest of the UK. “If we start this, we could make a big, proper movement for the rest of the country,” he said. “And I think we should. The poverty in this country – us, and England, and everywhere else – shouldn’t be happening in 2014.”

Related: Nicola Sturgeon’s strike for independence should not let the SNP off the hook | Kevin McKenna

If the three-year saga of Brexit tells us anything, it is that the United Kingdom is irretrievably breaking apart

Related: England’s sorry delusions are Scotland’s best argument for independence | Kevin McKenna

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