John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for December, 2011

« Older Entries |

The scale of the challenge is shocking us into action | John Harris

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Through protest, we are finding a new left politics that can propel glaring iniquities to the centre of public debate

Last week, in the wake of David Cameron wielding his veto in Brussels, I was dispatched to tour the West Midlands and sample the views of the public. When I asked one woman whether we should stay in the EU or get out, her answer said it all. “Doesn’t make a scrap of difference anyway,” she said. “The country’s fucked.”

Such is the spirit of the age. But these times are not entirely bereft of hope.Throughout 2011, we’ve been repeatedly reminded of a new left politics, possessed of a power to zero-in on the post-crash world’s most glaring iniquities, and propel them to the centre of public debate. It first stirred at the turn of the last century in what we used to call the anti-globalisation movement. But 2011 marked its decisive arrival: though Time magazine’s recent identification of its person of the year as The Protester drew much of its justification from the Arab spring, it applies just as much to events in the US, Europe and the UK.

First, then, an awe-struck salute to UK Uncut, whose visibility this year peaked when supporters occupied Fortnum & Mason in London on the day of the TUC’s March for an Alternative and were ambushed by the police. Nine months on, we end the year with the Commons public accounts committee issuing a report about more than £25bn in “unresolved” corporate tax bills, and “sweetheart” deals apparently hatched between Revenue & Customs, and Vodafone and Goldman Sachs – and validating just about every word UK Uncut has shouted about big companies’ tax avoidance.

Why did this issue become so inescapable? I cannot put it any better than the group’s own online blurb. “Because of the actions organised from Aberystwyth to Edinburgh … Tunbridge Wells to Nottingham … because protest works.” Having launched a big fundraising drive, UK Uncut has begun judicial review proceedings focused on up to £20m of Goldman’s tax liabilities that HMRC is said to have passed over. In context, the money amounts to peanuts. But given the sinister centrality of that firm to the grim turn of events in the eurozone – witness the backstories of the new European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, and Greece’s PM, Lucas Papademos – this part of the story will have a beautiful symbolic resonance: grassroots activists shining a light on an organisation whose web of influence is regularly portrayed as a neoliberal version of freemasonry.

Next, to the clump of tents pitched around St Paul’s, and the people at the heart of the London manifestation of Occupy, shivering into Christmas while fighting eviction and being misunderstood – not least by people on the left. For sure, their self-comparisons to the rebels of Tahrir Square can easily grate. Undoubtedly there have been frequent occasions when their collective thought process will have eluded even their own supporters. But those who seem to be almost offended by their occasional naivety and apparent absence of an ideological core need to consider two things.

First, there is the small matter of Occupy LSX’s achievements: sending the Church of England into such a spin that Rowan Williams suddenly had to align it with what he termed “deep exasperation with the financial establishment”; prompting no end of coverage of the byzantine Corporation of London; and playing a huge role in the pushing of a host of issues around equality that began to snowball in the culture from mid-October onwards.

Second, it’s Occupy’s non-doctrinaire openness that has made it such a focus of public curiosity, and resulted in a brilliantly approachable demonstration of consciousness-raising. Put simply, would it have managed even a tenth of its impact – and scraped 40% of the public supporting its broad views – if its core support had been pledged to the usual pre-cooked leftie list of demands and in thrall to dead Russians? On 30 November, I got much the same sense from the trade unions’ public sector day of action, and the scores of people I met who were experiencing the strike ritual for the first time, getting a taste of politics as lived experience rather than distant spectacle. As with Occupy, they pointed up a simple truth: that often the best way to harden your understanding of what you’re doing is simply to get out there and do it.

As a signpost to the future, we should look at what’s happening in the US. Having been brutally forced out of all those city squares, a lot of Occupy’s energy is now devoted to Occupy Our Homes: what its New York offshoot calls “the liberation of vacant bank-owned homes for those in need, and the defence of families under threat of foreclosure and eviction”. In an election year that will pit a hidebound president against whoever is chosen to front an intellectually bankrupt Republican party, Occupy’s voice will surely get all the louder.

Inevitably, some of that will be felt over here, as social media bring word of new tactics, language and targets. Whether via rhetoric or direct action (or both), at least one focus for renewed protest is a no-brainer. 2012 will surely see actions aimed at the forces whose diktats define our grim immediate future – not least the ubiquitous rating agencies, who blithely gave triple-A ratings to the doomed financial instruments that brought the world to the brink, but now affect to represent the essence of due diligence, making crushing austerity a precondition of their approval of sovereign debt (It’s perhaps some token of the 21st century’s strange governing logic that in Spain, regaining their confidence has just entailed giving the job of finance minister to that country’s former head of Lehman Brothers).

One final thought, sparked by all that coverage of Meryl Streep’s role in the soon-to-be-released Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady. In the 1980s, we simply shouted “Maggie out”, as if that was going to be enough; now, almost every activist I meet well knows that their priority is not to add to the thin noise of Westminster politics, but to highlight failures that are truly systemic.

What’s heartening is that, rather than sapping their momentum, the scale of that challenge usually serves to somehow fire them up all the more – which is why, as skies continue to darken, the coming year will surely see immovable arguments about equality, economic justice and our increasingly crooked version of democracy achieve even more prominence.

As that happens, we should maybe bear in mind a more useful watchword from the world of 30 years ago: the art of living in 2012, I’d suggest, will be all about the imperative to both protest, and survive.

John Harris © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

Politics Weekly podcast: Michael White’s political year

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

This was the year that the government hoped would see economic growth return. The initial public goodwill enjoyed by the new coalition government would be built upon and Britain would gradually accept that cuts to some services were necessary. The private sector was waiting to step in to employ those laid off by the state and a “big society” would be willing to lend a hand. It didn’t quite pan out like that.

The economic recovery faltered as a new recession grew ever more likely. Unemployment in Britain grew steadily. Citizens, students and trade unionists protested in their thousands. Major cities witnessed mass riots. In the Middle East, the revolutions of the Arab spring tested the new government’s foreign policy. As did complex negotiations with Europe.

Against this backdrop parliament has been an often sombre place in 2011. Michael White has been in the press gallery for much of it. He’s witnessed the weekly battles between Ed Miliband and David Cameron. He saw the government struggle to contain a rebellion over Britain’s relationship with the European Union. And he witnessed the best of the chamber in a principled and learned debate over the military action in Libya.

Michael hears from MPs about their abiding memories of the 2011 (including Bernard Jenkin, Liam Byrne, Claire Perry and Ed Balls) and looks back on how the major events were covered in Politics Weekly. With John Harris, Severin Carrell, Rupert Neate, Larry Elliott and Allegra Stratton.

The podcast returns in 2012: click here to subscribe via iTunes.

Leave your thoughts and your own highlights of the political year below.

Michael White
Phil Maynard
Severin Carrell
John Harris
Allegra Stratton
Larry Elliott
Rupert Neate

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

Here’s to Mick Hucknall’s amazing voice | John Harris

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Admitting I liked Simply Red didn’t fit with the NME’s Maoist indie conspiracy, but Hucknall’s repertoire is studded with triumphs

It was 1987, and I was 17, that eager and impressionable age when booze, nightclubs and inconclusive romantic encounters embody all the wonderment that the adult world has to offer. Most weeks, I would go to a Mancunian place called – but of course – Brahms and Liszt, with the obligatory half-inch of white sock on show, and hopes of making it to my sixth pint of lager. The DJ there habitually played a Simply Red song called The Right Thing, a number 11 hit, which, what with its apparent cross-referencing of football and human intimacy, my thinking brain now understands as a prime contender for an imaginary pop bad-sex award (”Feel I’m getting harder now … Get off your back four! Get on top more! Owwww!”), but my heart will never let go.

And from that point onwards, Mick “Hucko” Hucknall and his hugely successful pop-soul vehicle formed an anomalous but immovable part of my musical tastes. Within months, I would leave Brahms and Liszt behind, and move on to the justifiably legendary Hacienda club, but always keep an eye on what he and his ever-shifting backing group were up to. In 1991, they released their faultless meisterwerk Stars. The following year, I was a newly appointed writer at the NME, and well on to my seventh pint of lager, when out it came: “I like Simply Red” – which, by implication, meant I was not fully on board with the Maoist indie conspiracy. My colleagues visibly bristled. After pint number eight, I think I put The Right Thing on the pub jukebox. “Get on top more!” shouted Hucko; the wind howled around our table.

The case for the defence is straightforward enough, and remains so.

Hucknall can sing, arguably better than any British vocalist of the last 30 years: to take one example from many, as an example of perfect delivery, his performance on For Your Babies sits in the same rarefied place as, say, Etta James’s I’d Rather Go Blind, Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again, and Smokey Robinson’s Tracks of My Tears. His self-written repertoire is studded with triumphs, and he usually picks a good cover. When surveying his life and work, it’s worth bearing in mind that he’s from Denton (look it up, if necessary). And, not that it says much about his art, but I met him once, in some London hellhole that struck me as being like Brahms and Liszt for people with pots of money. He was funny and surprisingly self-deprecating; I even began to forgive him both his fondness for Tony Blair, and his cartoonish embrace of a sitcom writer’s understanding of the high life (putting up money for the grimly “aspirational” Malmaison hotel chain, starting his own Italian wine label called Il Cantate, which translates as – but of course – “the singer”). Really: unless you’re still clinging on to what remains of the Maoist indie conspiracy, you’d like him.

Now, Simply Red – which was long more of a brand than a proper group – are no more, but I glimpsed Hucknall on breakfast TV the other day, promoting a rather workmanlike single called Happy This Christmas, and looking like either the years of moneyed indulgence had finally caught up with him, or he doesn’t do mornings (or both). But his voice was as great as ever: all nuance and warmth, with his customary intuitive grasp of his subject matter – whether it’s Christmas, or the imperative to “get on top more”.

John Harris © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

The West Midlands Euro road trip – video

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Anywhere but Westminster: John Harris and John Domokos travel to Birmingham, Walsall, Coventry and Halesowen to find out what the Midlands makes of David Cameron’s tough posture on the EU

John Harris
John Domokos
Elliot Smith

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

Guardian Books podcast: Celebrity books for Christmas

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Christmas is showbiz time in publishing – but there’s not much razzle dazzle around for this year’s crop of celebrity memoirists, who range from comedians to actors and poets. To save you the bother, we enlist John Harris to read his way through eight of the most hyped titles and report back. We talk to ex-Python Terry Jones about dysfunctional technology and why he has chosen to publish his latest book – a collection of short stories called Evil Machines – with the new subscription publisher Unbound. Plus we look at some of the little gems that you might have missed – including a poetry anthology about laundry and the memoirs of a learned pig.

Reading list

Pyg by Russell Potter (Canongate)
Washing Lines selected by Janie Hextall and Barbara McNaught (Lautus Press)
Evil Machines by Terry Jones (Unbound)
Things I Couldn’t Tell My Mother by Sue Johnston (Ebury)

Claire Armitstead
John Harris
Terry Jones
Richard Lea
Tim Maby

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

« Older Entries |

John Harris is powered by WordPress 2.8.4 Entries (RSS) Comments (RSS). Designed by Hywel Harris

ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galactic Elite W Blanc Cheap Womens AF Sublimation Graphic Tee 2016 Adidas Originals ZX Flux Weave Shoes Sale Mens AF Active Running Shorts Online ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Running White Ftw Metallic Silver Vivid Mint F14 Mens AF Washed Out Tee AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Court Star Slim W Sale Mens AF Classic Taper Pants Online Adidas Running adizero XT 5 Shoes Cheap Womens AF Textured Open Cardigan 2016 Mens AF Varsity Logo Cardigan AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Zx 700 W Sabpou Sabpou Noiess Mens AF Striped Icon Henley AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Earth Green S13 Tech Grey Met S14 Solar Pink Mens AF Premium Utility Jacket AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Response Aspire Str W Running White Ftw Pink Buzz S10 Light Grey Sale Mens AF Denim Joggers Online ADIDAS ORIGINALS Extaball W Noiess Ormeta Nuiflu Mens AF Quilted Bomber jacket AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Tech Super W NOIR NOIR ROSSOL Mens AF Classic Chambray Shirt AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Bankshot 2 0 W Aluminum 2 Aluminum 2 Chalk 2 Mens AF Rib-Trim Crew Sweater AF 2016 Adidas Women adidas Neo Zip Fleece Hoodie New Womens AF High Rise Cropped Flare Sateen Pants 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Running White Ftw Metallic Silver Glow S14 New Womens AF Denim Mini Skirt 2016 Adidas Men Originals Plimcana 2 0 Low Shoes New Womens AF Lace Midi Skirt 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Noiess Noiess Rosflu Men Running adizero Tempo Boost 7 Shoes ADIDAS ORIGINALS Extaball Up W Noiess Noiess Ftwbla ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galaxy W Neon Pink Metallic Silver Black 1 Men Running Springblade Ignite Shoes