John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for January, 2011

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My advice for David Cameron’s tour of Britain | John Harris

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Cameron should ensure he doesn’t stick to the south-east in his public meet and greet. I can recommend some places to visit

Unless you fancy spending a pound, you won’t be able to read this story in the Times, but here’s the boiled-down version. That newspaper may be hidden behind a paywall, but the prime minister is coming out from behind his own barrier. I quote: “David Cameron is to escape Downing Street for regular visits to the regions amid concerns that he is spending too much time behind his desk. The Prime Minister wants to release himself from the shackles of Whitehall and ensure he has his finger on the national pulse as the cuts begin to bite.” Suggesting that the trips (which seem to already have started) might be made along Eddie Izzard/Forrest Gump lines, the piece is accompanied by a picture of Cameron jogging.

On one level, fair play to the PM: high office inevitably fosters a cloistered mindset that can easily lead its holders to view the great unwashed as alien creatures (witness Gordon Brown’s encounter with Gillian Duffy). Even if you fear where he’s taking us, there is something admirable about the fact that, as the article puts it: “Mr Cameron is known to chafe at the security constraints on his movements, but makes a point of doing the supermarket shop.”

The problems, however, will extend into the distance. First, it is desperately difficult for any high-ranking politician to take the public temperature, without the whole exercise looking forced and flimsy. New Labour made an art of this, via such dreadful wheezes as “The Big Conversation” and “Let’s talk”, and of late, Ed Miliband has discovered that even with less cynical intent, doing the meet-the-public thing runs a risk of looking unconvincingly stagey. We all know the drill: politician takes off jacket; people sound off about immigration, benefit fraud and MPs’ expenses; politician looks well-meaning but uncomfortable; exit politician.

In Cameron’s case, his new schtick also has a distinctly Stalinist angle – in that, just as Soviet premiers were escorted around apparently thriving tractor factories while the socialist economy atrophied, the PM is reportedly to visit “places where things are open for business and working”. That perhaps threatens to largely imprison him in the south-east, so this seems an apposite time to make a few more chewy recommendations.

As an act of brazen cheek, which will also take him to the heart of a part of Britain the Tories seem to little understand, he should pitch up in Gordon Brown’s home turf of Kirkcaldy: a place I spent time in during the election campaign, where the virtual disappearance of a once-thriving linoleum industry has left a gaping socio-economic vacuum, and the forlorn condition of so many post-industrial areas comes into very sharp focus. The cuts, it’s safe to say, are causing no end of local anxiety – and in places like this, the coalition’s conviction that hacking back the state to make way for green private sector shoots surely looks borderline laughable.

It’s good to see him in Newcastle today – visiting the inestimable Gregg’s bakers, and facing plenty of hostility about the cuts – but I wonder whether he’ll make time for the local businesspeople spitting tacks about the baffling abolition of their Regional Development Agency? He should certainly spend a bit of time in Manchester, where there is similar fury over 2,000 job cuts from the city council thanks to a jaw-dropping funding cut of 21%, entangled with anger about how much the north seems to be being hammered by Eric Pickles.

Just down the road, Cameron might also have a look at the seemingly affluent suburb of Altrincham, the embodiment of a malaise that too few politicians seem to understand. We made a film there during conference season, and found people time-poor, underpaid and wondering why an out-of-town monstrosity had killed their town: a day there would certainly flesh out the fretful condition of the people variously known as “the squeezed middle”, and – cheers, Nick Clegg – “alarm-clock Britons“.

Other tips? I could go for hours, and I probably will. He should pop into Sheffield, a case study in the currently parlous prospects for his coalition partners. Having just got back from there, I’d advise him to go to Scarborough, where the Tory county council’s cuts programme threatens to strangle the kind of community bonds that the “big society” is meant to promote. Further south, he might try any of a number of places: the Forest Of Dean, where there’s a growing local insurrection about the sell-off of all land belonging to the Forestry Commission; any number of the boroughs of inner London; and Hastings, a place that often serves as the last refuge of people driven out of the south-east’s affluent expanses (a story that may well be about to be reprised).

Here, though, is an interesting thought. Cameron is a deft, clever operator – and like his beloved Tony Blair, he well knows the benefits of being seen to face flak. So do not be surprised if at least a few of the above places soon hear the oncoming roar of the prime-ministerial motorcade – or, come to think of it, the distant tip-tap of jogging feet.

John Harris

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Are the Liberal Democrats staring into the abyss?

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Plummeting support, appalling gaffes, shattered public trust and the increasingly toxic reputation of Nick Clegg suggest the Lib Dems are in a terrible state. And the Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection probably won’t help

Tomorrow morning, people in the north-western seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth will start voting in a byelection that is 2011’s first proper bit of political drama: a real page-turner, which has brought all three party leaders up north.

Even before the campaigning started, what sparked the contest was a soap opera in itself. Having lost at last year’s general election by only 103 votes, the Liberal Democrats’ candidate accused the ex-Labour minister Phil Woolas of falsely associating him with Islamist extremists, and took his case to a specially convened election court, which found Woolas guilty. Protesting his innocence, the latter was duly thrown out of parliament, and the contest began – though if wronging the Lib Dems might have seemed likely to hand them an easy win, it hasn’t worked out like that at all. At the weekend, one poll put Labour on 46%, 17 points ahead of the Lib Dems, and apparently coasting to victory.

One very British rule of politics holds that if a candidate overturns a result and calls for a new contest, the public tend to scent a bad loser and take their revenge (witness Winchester in 1997, where the Lib Dems initially beat the Tories by two votes, only to romp home in a second poll by 21,000). In addition, Woolas – until recently, a sharp-tongued immigration minister, chiefly famed for his awkward encounter with Joanna Lumley and the Gurkhas – was a popular local MP. The biggest factor, though, may well be the mounting unpopularity of the Lib Dems – chained to the Tories, occasionally wriggling with pain, and seemingly taking most of the heat for the coalition’s more unpopular actions.

If they lose – and it looks likely that they will – it will just be the latest chapter in a sorry story of plummeting support, recurrent mishap (witness the fall of David Laws and the pre-Christmas pantomime starring Vince Cable), broken public trust, and the increasingly toxic reputation of Nick Clegg.

The fleeting burst of Cleggmania during the general election campaign now looks like something from another age. Today, an opinion poll put support for the Lib Dems at just 7%. In a survey released just before Christmas, Mori found that in some regions of the UK, it was as low as 4%. To hear some people talk, the party’s broken promise on tuition fees will haunt them just as much as Iraq haunted Labour, and there will be no decisive recovery for years.

And now they face what could be a very grim 2011. In May, there will be elections for local councils, as well as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – and the most positive prediction you can extract from senior Lib Dems is that things will be “difficult”. The referendum on changing our voting system has hardly fired the public’s imagination, and is widely predicted to be lost – which will lead plenty of Lib Dems to wonder what the point of partnership with the Tories actually is. Meanwhile, as the cuts finally bite, senior Lib Dems worry that their support could well plunge even lower, and the message to their activists boils down to that most hackneyed of instructions: keep calm, and carry on.

A great deal of political comment tends to fixate on the most dramatic possibilities – how the coalition might fail or whether the Lib Dems could split. If support remains low, they will obviously stay put, for fear of sparking an election and being wiped out. But if support rises, a very different motivation for preserving the coalition will arise. If they begin to do relatively well, it will suggest that life with the Tories is really not the nightmarish business some would suggest.

Right now, though, things are hardly going brilliantly. Lib Dem councillors have defected to Labour in Sheffield, Liverpool, Plymouth, Exeter, Solihull, Harlow, Doncaster, Barnsley and more. The mood of plenty of activists is downcast. Before Christmas, for example, one local party sent out an email looking back on the year that their party had entered government for the first time since the second world war. “Hopefully next year will bring a bit more cheer,” it said.

Last September, at the Liberal Democrat conference, I met Richard Grayson, a former adviser to Charles Kennedy and recent Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, who now sits on something called the Facing The Future Policy Review, and he lately responded positively to Ed Miliband’s suggestion that some Lib Dems might work with the Labour party. Back then, when I asked a dozen or so activists to mark their morale out of 10, I was greeted by plenty of sevens, eights and nines – but he put his score at zero, and he doesn’t seem to have cheered up.

“Both my wife and my mother have left the party,” he tells me. “My mother left over tuition fees; my wife left over . . . well, really, the whole lot, but in the end it was the scrapping of things like the Sustainable Development Commission. She’s very green. And I am now hearing that people are leaving the party, but quietly. They’re not going anywhere else; they’re just giving up.”

Living in the real world

Thirty years ago this month, four brassed-off politicians issued a statement known as the Limehouse Declaration, and served notice that they were about to leave the Labour party. Thus was born the Social Democratic party, which duly forged an alliance with the Liberals, before both sides merged into the Liberal Democrats. These days, their legacy is clear in one particular aspect: if you talk to an MP or activist of a certain age and they seem disquieted by life in coalition with the Tories, they will often turn out to be a veteran of the SDP years.

The fate of the so-called Gang of Four has been mixed. Roy Jenkins is no longer with us. David Owen, who refused to endorse the merger, caused no end of trouble and then faded into obscurity, but has lately been making positive noises about Ed Miliband. Bill Rodgers, now a member of the House of Lords, this week wrote a letter to the Guardian seeking to steady nerves about his party’s current difficulties (”I am comfortable with the coalition and I believe it should survive poor Lib Dem polls,” he said), while also holding out the possibility of an eventual deal with Labour.

And then there is Shirley Williams, also in the Lords and easily the most respected of the surviving trio. I ask her: back in the 80s, given she and her SDP comrades were fond of bigging up European-style coalition politics, was the idea of an eventual deal with the Tories ever discussed, even hypothetically? “No, of course it wasn’t,” she shoots back. “And nor with anybody else either. But if we’d had a natural preference, it would have gone towards Labour.”

So how does she feel now? “I have to be honest with you,” she says, sounding stern. “Labour showed no interest in coalescing with us. It’s no good blaming us for that. And even if they had been interested, you, the press, would have said, perfectly fairly: this is a coalition of the defeated. We’d have been torn to pieces. So there we are: stuck with the Conservatives. But the choice wasn’t between whether you had Labour or the Tories. It was between whether you had a coalition or whether you had a broken-backed minority government. I would much rather have a Liberal Democrat government, but I haven’t got it, and it can’t be created. So let’s live in the real world.”

Williams says she’s concerned about the government’s plans for the NHS, but takes heart from the raising of the income tax threshold, plenty of moves on civil liberties, and how much she and other Lib Dems altered Michael Gove’s academies legislation. But how much does she worry about all those miserable poll ratings?

“Quite a lot. It would be daft not to. But the polls for the Lib Dems have always leapt up and down. I think, frankly, there’s no prospect of there being a very substantially supportive poll for the Liberal Democrats this side of this year. It depends on whether we begin to come out of the economic crisis in the next few months.”

This is roughly the line you get from all senior Lib Dems – that, as one minister puts it, “we are going to see a steady economic recovery, and when that happens, we’ll see support coming back to us”. In this reading of the immediate future, 2011 will inevitably be turbulent, but when new businesses are springing up like daffodils and the dole queues have become a mere trickle, everything will improve and the days of 7% poll ratings will be over.

I search in vain for any Lib Dem MPs who’ll contradict this basic message. To some people, they sound like deluded members of a religious sect; to others, their calmly upbeat take proves they understand that government is a long game, and there is no point getting hysterical mere months into a five-year project. Either way, what they say points up something that observers of the current political game often miss: that whereas the Labour party remains full of people who permanently suspect imminent betrayal, and always fear the worst, the Lib Dems’ prevailing disposition is built on a mixture of deference, optimism and innocence, and their lack of any clearly defined ideology. Put simply, acting up is really not their style.

Former leader Menzies Campbell reckons that “the outlook is increasingly fair, to borrow a meteorological parallel”, and tells me all is enthusiasm and good cheer in Oldham. “I was astonished at just how many people were there,” he says. “I was in the campaign HQ, and there was a steady stream of people turning up, out of the blue, to offer their help. And a lot of young people, which I thought was particularly gratifying, given the furore over tuition fees.” What he says next may not play well with the likes of Grayson, but he’s sticking to it: “The genuine activist is determined to do his or her best for the party. There are people who call themselves activists, whose connection with the party is somewhat tenuous, shall we say. What their mood is, I really couldn’t tell you.”

I then ask around senior and not-so-senior Liberal Democrats, seeing if there is any anxiety about where their party is headed. Evan Harris, who lost his Oxford seat at the election but sees himself as a standard-bearer for the Lib Dem left, remains silent. So too does Charles Kennedy, who was briefly whispered about last year as a possible defector to Labour and seems to some people to be quietly carrying what remains of his party’s conscience.

Eventually, I get hold of Adrian Sanders, the Lib Dem MP for Torbay and a tuition fees rebel. Late last year, he prompted the odd shocked gasp with an angry post on his website, saying many of his fellow Lib Dems were “rediscovering the joys of gardening and DIY”. He also took aim at the people in charge of his party: “Unlike the bulk of the Liberal Democrat membership, the current leadership and their advisers are dominated by people who give the impression they didn’t, among other things, enter politics to deny the Conservatives political power. That is the fundamental difference between them, and those who . . . view the Tories as the opposition to just about everything we stand for.”

By Lib Dem standards, this was seditious talk. So does he stand by it? “That is very much my view,” he says. “I came into politics in the very late 70s, at a time when Mrs Thatcher was the leader of the opposition, with a Labour government that was failing, and I got involved to stop Thatcher. I feared mass unemployment without any plan to mitigate it, welfare cuts that were ideologically driven . . .” Stop there. Aren’t we dangerously close to the exact same thing?

“Well, people who deny the economic circumstances we’re in . . . those circumstances are grave today, compared with 1979. There’s a crisis, and it has to be dealt with. I don’t view Cameron like Mrs Thatcher.”

What about George Osborne?

“Perhaps a bit. Maybe even Danny Alexander. But not David Cameron.”

I ask him to elaborate: looking at Alexander, the Lib Dems’ chief secretary to the Treasury, does he maybe feel like a lot of Labour people felt during the Blair years – that there are some transparently rightwing people who have taken over his party?

“I can only speak personally and say yes. That’s exactly how I would view what to me, personally, is a cuckoo in the nest.”

And Danny Alexander is an example? “Yes.” What are you going to do about it? “There’s nothing you can do. The only thing is to try to guide the leadership where you want to go. And recently, we have seen a few significant moves in the right direction.”

Disagreements

In the first phase of the coalition, Nick Clegg seemed dead against any attempts to separate the coalition’s policies into Lib Dem and Tory elements, and insisted his party had to stomach “ownership” of just about everything. Now, he suddenly claims to be much keener on admitting to disagreements, and highlighting when his party has pulled the government into the places most Tories would not otherwise go. “People want to hear a bit more about that process,” he told the Guardian this week. “I’m very relaxed about that.”

Towards the end of my time in Lib Dem-land, the phone rings, and there at the other end is the energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne: the ex-SDPer who lost the leadership to Clegg in rum circumstances (1,300 votes were delayed in the post; had they counted, he’d have won), is tipped as his possible successor, and has been widely credited with playing a much cleverer game in government than the deputy prime minister.

We talk about the lingering aftershocks of the tuition fees episode (”certainly the decision we’ve taken that’s attracted the most opproprium”), how much is at stake in the AV referendum, and the flak thrown his party’s way (”tough decisions make you unpopular”). And I wonder: what are his thoughts about the likely fate this year of Lib Dem activists – those doughty souls who have to make the case for his party, while life for the likes of him is all international summits and ministerial cars?

“The party’s morale will be tested. But I think the party is more mature than a lot of people think. It’s got a lot of experience of taking tough decisions locally: we run a lot of big cities. And I think the activists know all that and have the patience to see this through.”

This is the message: that even if all around are losing their heads, he and his colleagues are going to be glued in place until 2015.

“Believe me,” he says, “in the long term, this is going to work.”

John Harris

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Librarians: ‘We do so much more than shelve books and say shhh’ | John Harris

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The Tories clearly don’t know how much libraries do. Cuts will threaten the very social bonds they claim to want to promote

Fifteen minutes south of Scarborough is Eastfield Community Resource Centre – opened four years ago, to serve one of the area’s most disadvantaged communities. In addition to lending out books, what would once have been a mere library has obeyed the modern demand to transform itself into a “hub”, and provides what might look to a lot of people like the raw materials of social mobility: internet access, parent and toddler groups, space and resources to help with school homework, meeting rooms and more.

On the day I visit, four staff members are seeing to the needs of a steady stream of people. The shelves bulge with titles that point to horizons well beyond these parts: David Remnick’s Obama biography, The Bridge; a rich work of pop-cultural scholarship entitled Dylan’s Visions Of Sin; and a coffee-table study of Matisse. “You can’t learn everything at school,” one local tells me; this place surely offers instant proof.

But for how much longer? Thanks chiefly to the clunking fist of Eric Pickles, Tory-run North Yorkshire county council must save £2.1m from a libraries budget of £7.5m by 2015. Thus, of 42 libraries, only 18 now have a guaranteed future: the remaining 24 – including Eastfield – will either close or somehow be handed to volunteers. North Yorkshire’s fleet of mobile libraries will also be hacked down, from 10 to two.

After our initial call for on-the-ground intelligence, I came here thanks to online posts from a couple of Yorkshire-resident regulars on Comment is free, one of whom was adjusting to the possibility of a nearby library – the closest thing to a local community centre, they said – being shut for good. The thread they posted on, of course, reflected a nationwide story, now familiar to millions of us. In Somerset, 24 out of 40 libraries may soon close. In Doncaster, 13 of the 26 are under threat. The same applies to 20 out of 43 libraries in Oxfordshire, 7 of the 12 in Conwy, 23 of the 32 in Cornwall, and 9 of the 11 on the Isle of Wight. The noise of protest grows greater by the day: do not be surprised if pockets of local dissent soon fuse together, and cause no end of problems for both national and local government.

The threat to hundreds of libraries is being recast as an opportunity to bring in volunteers, and finally provide concrete examples of how the “big society” may work in practice – and, though any library is better than none at all, you have to wonder about what will transpire. How volunteers will convincingly step into the space left by trained librarians, or maintain six-day-a-week opening, remains unclear (witness a recent headline from the Swindon Advertiser: “Library hours cut due to lack of volunteers“). Moreover, when you spend time in a facility as ambitious as the one in Eastfield, one thought becomes inescapable: there is simply no way that unpaid staff could run it satisfactorily.

Still, this is the vision of the future to which Ed Vaizey, the minister who sees to libraries, seems enthusiastically pledged, with local stories to assist his case. “There are all sorts of ways of configuring the big society,” he said in July last year. “The George and Dragon pub in North Yorkshire is now delivering a library service and a pint to the community in Hudswell. That sounds like a good partnership to me.”

That village has a population of 250, and sits on the north-eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales, in William Hague’s constituency, Richmond. Hague was there for the ceremonial opening of what so impressed Vaizey, and hailed it as “an example of the big society at work”. The reality is rather more complicated. Yes, the people of the village clubbed together to raise £220,000 to buy the closed local pub and re-open it, and they then combined it with a shop, and a limited book-lending service. But in doing so, they were largely plugging a hole left by the market rather than the state, and the locals I meet are keener to talk about “local socialism” than the big society.

As I also discover when I call in, the idea that their very limited library “service” – a single shelving unit, with 60-odd books supplied by the council – is being held up as a model that might replace orthodox libraries is greeted with something approaching horror.

Underlying that response is something I hear time and again in Yorkshire, which points up gaping cracks in the big society dream: that, if local libraries are pushed so far down the list of local priorities, too many will fail to fulfil vital responsibilities, and thus threaten the very social bonds the Tories claim to want to promote.

That point was underlined by a post from a librarian who responded to our initial appeal for information, and it’s worth quoting at length: “We do so much more than issue books, shelve and say, ‘Shhh’ to people,” he wrote. “We cater to our public from birth to death. We go out to antenatal and postnatal groups to sign up the youngest in our population, thus trying to help those families who do not read … We offer free sessions to under-fives, know all about school curriculums and how best to work with schools.

“We know our looked-after children, our troubled teens, our users who suffer from mental health issues … We know how to help with homework, teach internet skills to all ages, help unskilled people find jobs … We embraced using volunteers, but can they run our libraries without us? No. And in my authority they are losing about 60% of librarians.”

John Harris

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North Yorkshire: libraries under threat – video

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

John Harris and John Domokos: Anywhere but Westminster: A local library run by librarians? For many in North Yorkshire, that will be a thing of the past. John Harris travels from the coast to the dales to ask communities how they’ll cope

John Harris
John Domokos

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I am a Beatles obsessive. But let’s cut the Fabs-worship | John Harris

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

As John Lennon said, it’s just a rock group that split up. But 40 years on the Beatles use so much cultural air no one else can breathe

First it was the Abbey Road zebra crossing: not the exact patch of London street that the Beatles traversed in the summer of ‘69, but still considered iconic enough to be given Grade II listed status, thanks to a Tory heritage minister named John Penrose. Now the housing department is trying to intervene in the case of Ringo Starr’s Liverpool birthplace, requesting the postponement of plans for its demolition and suggesting a “big society”-style wheeze whereby local people will be asked how this small aspect of the legend might be reprieved and turned into a proper visitor attraction. The upshot is heartwarming, to say the least: they may want to leave the arts to the mercy of the market, and snatch books from mere babes – but if the memory of the Beatles is involved, this government knows what’s at stake.

The latter story centres on 9 Madryn Street, a 150-year-old terraced house in Dingle threatened by the last government’s much-criticised housing market renewal programme for the last five years, and finally condemned by the city council last August. I am a Beatles obsessive, and have made the obligatory visit, though its relevance to anything has always seemed pretty questionable, even to the likes of me. Starr’s family moved elsewhere a few years after he was born, which was presumably the rationale for English Heritage’s recent refusal to give the house listed status, a decision framed in terms of its alleged lack of “historic or architectural importance”.

Now, though, the Tigger-ish Tory minister Grant Shapps wants “local community groups to have the opportunity to put forward viable proposals to preserve this historic house”. This sudden groovy tilt to planning policy has its origins in the campaigning of local Beatles freaks, though it may also reflect an exotic detail in the minister’s own backstory: Shapps’s cousin is Mick Jones, the guitarist in the Clash.

Such, anyway, is yet another episode in a story that has long since ballooned into absurdity: the transformation of the Beatles into a national religion – arguably bigger than Jesus, as John Lennon infamously put it. X Factor contestants must, by law, deliver warblesome readings of Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road; each time Sir Paul McCartney ventures out to hack out his versions of the hits, the public is encouraged to think something miraculous is afoot; Yoko Ono, bless her, keeps the posthumous Lennon machine grinding on.

In Liverpool, meanwhile, delusions of post-industrialism have reached their apogee in the idea that Beatledom can be a substitute for a lost mercantile past. It’s all there: John Lennon international airport, the Hard Day’s Night Hotel, the “Magical Mystery Tour” that wends around the city, even a Fabs-themed Starbucks — though judging by the forlorn atmosphere of too many of the surrounding streets, Beatles-driven regeneration really isn’t working. Funny, that.

Prior to the mid-1990s, when the Beatles nostalgia industry finally found its feet and the Gallagher brothers glued their devotion into the culture, little of this existed. The long aftershocks of punk rock ensured the Beatles were still deemed rather uncool; given that Tony Blair had yet to waltz into Downing Street with his Fender Stratocaster, the establishment was barely interested in rock heritage. There was a Beatles tourist trail, of sorts – but it usually involved squinting at car parks or boarded-up shops, and trying to divine whatever spectral magic they had left behind.

Moreover, the idea of the Beatles as all-dominating titans had yet to take root: well away from their legacy, music developed on its own terms. These days, by contrast, they use up so much of the cultural air that we seem little able to breathe. There must be more to life than nodding-dog piano ballads of the Hey Jude variety, but there are times when they seem to define a good 50% of the mainstream. For all their inventive wonderment, one would imagine that I Am the Walrus, Happiness Is a Warm Gun and Helter Skelter left at least some of rock’s more creative possibilities unexplored, though listening to the bulk of even supposedly cutting-edge music, you’d never know.

And consider what state-sponsored Fabs-worship is doing to our appreciation of their own work. Understanding their music’s essentials – the liquid excitement of their early period, the creative daring in so much of what they did, the 1,000mph pace at which they developed – is made increasingly difficult by a great blanket of compulsory sentimentality. Put another way, we are reaching a point where a creation as jaw-dropping as, say, A Day in the Life is in danger of acquiring a leaden kind of tedium, like something from a school hymn book. The Beatles’ magic is being crushed: sorry to bring up such grim eventualities, but after the great outpourings that will greet the passing of Paul and Ringo, there will surely be none left.

In 1970, John Lennon said this: “It’s just a rock group that split up, it’s nothing important – you can have all the records if you want to reminisce.” The words crumble next to his group’s myth, but they also speak an undeniable truth — which is why the 72% of local people who are reportedly OK with the Madryn Street demolition ought to have their wishes respected, and life should go on. And one other thing: Ringo was the drummer, remember.

John Harris

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