John Harris

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The pitched battle over lockdowns is missing the point: Covid-19 is a class issue | John Harris

Monday, October 19th, 2020

The UK coronavirus crisis – even more so in its second phase – is all about basic inequalities – and lockdown makes these worse

Just as our final exit from the EU comes into view, noise from the media and politics about Covid-19 is sounding discomfortingly similar to the furies that erupted around the 2016 referendum.

On one side stands the political right, opposed to lockdown, apparently spurning the advice of experts, and seemingly convinced that a mixture of true-Brit common sense and derring-do will somehow see us through. The left, meanwhile, emphasises the importance of “the science”, and the prospect of disaster. As in the US, it is beginning to feel like any contentious political question will now trigger these polarised responses – not necessarily in the population at large, but certainly among the people whose opinions define what passes for the national conversation.

Related: Inequality is rising under Covid – how we talk about it is vital | Frances Ryan

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Local lockdowns dreamed up in London are causing nightmares for the rest of England | John Harris

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

Dealing with Covid is hard enough for cities like Manchester. Centralised power and a shambolic government make it even harder

At the heart of England’s passage through the Covid-19 era are two key factors which have combined to create a mess of failure and mishap.

One is the government’s simple incompetence. The other centres on a centralised system of power and administration that no longer works – something now vividly manifest in just about every aspect of the crisis, from the way rules and restrictions are being landed on places without warning, to a national test-and-trace system whose dysfunction has been clear for months. Put the two together, and you end up with the drama that is now being replayed over and over again: hapless, hopeless people at the top, trying to fight the pandemic using machinery that has long since rusted to the point of uselessness, while those on the ground insist they could do a better job if only they were given the chance.

Related: UK is at ‘tipping point’ of Covid crisis, says senior health official

Related: Continual lockdowns are not the answer to bringing Covid under control | Devi Sridhar

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Modern, multicultural and surprisingly liberal: this is the real ‘red wall’ | John Harris

Monday, October 5th, 2020

It’s wrong to stereotype Labour’s lost heartlands. They have more in common with metropolitan Britain than you may think

The election of 2019 and the political climate surrounding it now feel like relics of a different age. But one of the key elements of those distant weeks has stuck around: the concept of the red wall, a byword for the post-industrial places in the Midlands, the north of England and north Wales that were once solidly loyal to Labour but now have new Conservative MPs.

In the Guardian, Keir Starmer’s speech to Labour’s virtual conference was framed as urging “red-wall voters to ‘take another look at Labour’”. Last week, protests by north-east Tory MPs about Covid restrictions were characterised as a “red wall revolt”, while government plans to abolish district councils boiled down to an attempt to “shore up the red wall”.

Related: One in three ‘red wall’ families £1,000 a year worse off under Tory plans

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Beyond the Red Wall by Deborah Mattinson and The Northern Question by Tom Hazeldine – review

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Why did the Red Wall collapse? Voices from the heartlands on Labour and the north-south divide

In mid-2019, a former employee of the Conservative party called James Kanagasooriam began looking at recent electoral statistics for parts of England long associated with support for the Labour party. As a teenager, he had been fixated with a duvet cover featuring a map of the UK, and the fact that, in political terms, “the bottom half was blue while the top half was red”. Now, he realised, that was becoming much less certain.

Support for the Tories in the north of England, north Wales and the Midlands had grown by around 15% over the previous decade, and Kanagasooriam saw the possibility of a truly historic shift. Everything, he surmised, came down to the “degradation of historical memory: Mrs Thatcher, heavy industry, coal mining. The economics that had driven those places to group together was being replaced by a cultural sense of belonging that was more proximate to the Conservatives”.

According to the people Mattinson asks, Labour is a party of the south – of ’scroungers’ and ‘middle-class students’

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Under cover of coronavirus, the Tory government is bulldozing basic liberties | John Harris

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

The Tories have been increasing police powers, bringing in laws by diktat and sowing mistrust. When will the left speak up?

Towards the end of last week, someone I know posted a video and photograph on social media, taken one balmy afternoon on Hampstead Heath in north London. They showed a group of young people – who, by the look of them, had spent the day together at school or college. The images also featured three police officers, dispatched to disperse the gathering. In response, everyone had tried in vain to retreat into groups of six. “In the end they give up and all leave together,” ran the accompanying text. And that was that: a small, faintly absurd incident that highlighted the strange times in which we now live.

The underlying logic of England’s so-called rule of six is, I suppose, clear enough. But the sheer complexity of apparently simple regulations – not to mention the fact that they exempt grouse-shooting parties – shows something is clearly wrong. Given that schools are back, people are being encouraged to return to work and visiting restaurants and pubs is still held to be some kind of moral duty, the effectiveness of the new rule is obviously open to question.

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