John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for December, 2012

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Britain’s best independent shops

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Buying online may be efficient, but where’s the joy in that? Our writers choose their favourite local bookshops, butchers and boutiques for everything you need for Christmas… and beyond

AG Hendy & Co Home Store, Hastings

My friend Alastair drove all his social circle crazy for years by constantly dragging us to car-boot sales and charity shops every weekend. He’d bag all the best bits, while we looked on sulkily. The stuff he collected was piled up in attics, spare rooms and garages until, finally, it had somewhere to go. Hendy’s Home Store features everything from vintage crockery to Romanian felt slippers. It would be harder to leave the place without a pile of perfect gifts than with them. Deborah Orr
AG Hendy & Co Home Store, 36 High Street, Hastings, East Sussex; homestore-hastings.co.uk

Ritchie’s of Rothesay, Isle of Bute

The recession and mainland supermarkets have made life hard for shopkeepers on the Isle of Bute. Wondrously, those that survive include Ritchie’s, which has smoked haddock and salmon here since 1888, and Macqueens (scottish-island-quality-meats.com), a traditional butcher specialising in Bute beef and lamb. Our local butcher in London, Godfreys at Highbury Barn, is, of course, without peer. Ian Jack
Ritchie’s of Rothesay, 111 Montague Street, Rothesay, Isle of Bute; ritchiessmokedsalmon.co.uk

Raves From The Grave, Frome

A good rule of thumb for record-buyers and house-hunters of a certain age: to gauge the worth of a town’s record shop, see if they’ve a section devoted to the trailblazing art-rock band Pere Ubu. In 2009, I ran the test here and instantly decided to move to Frome. The floor-to-ceiling stock includes vinyl, new and used; the staff know their stuff; and they sell Toy Story DVDs and cater to my six-year-old son’s love of Kraftwerk. While other record shops shut down, they’ve just opened a new branch, in Bath. Spotify? Schmotify! John Harris

The Antique Shop, Kirkcudbright

Lime green art deco shot glasses, lacy Victorian nightdresses and 1930s satin pyjamas, Downton-style bling (in proper velvet boxes), elbow-length gloves – you can pick up all sorts of beautiful gifts in the Antique Shop by the harbour in Kircudbright. Even if you walk out empty-handed, it’s still a pleasant way to while away an hour. Decent price tags, too. For edible treats, make for Coco in Edinburgh for triple-dipped kirsch cherries or a ”tattoo” selection box decorated with 1920s-style lucky dice, tigers and anchors. Sweet. Liese Spencer
The Antique Shop, 67 Saint Mary Street, Kirkcudbright; 01557 332400.

Much Ado Books, Alfriston

For bibliophile walkers, this is a place of pilgrimage. On the South Downs walk, it’s as warm and serene as the Downs are cold and wild, with an eclectic stock including shelves of first novels, everything you ever wanted to know about those local celebs the Bloomsbury Group, and stashes of notebooks with reclaimed picture plates as covers. Comfy chairs provide a reading rest for weary feet. The only problem is resisting the temptation to overload your rucksack on exit. Claire Armistead

The Idler Academy, London

This is not just a brilliant bookshop with a fantastic selection of old and new books. It’s a brilliant bookshop that offers near nightly courses on everything from bridge to tantra to ukulele, weekly author events and a delicious cafe. On any afternoon you’ll find customers of all ages sitting on comfy benches, idly eating coffee cake while lazily reading a book or three. Hadley Freeman

Bluejacket Workshop, Morston

I love this shop. It’s a showroom for a collective of local artists, but nothing like as bad as that sounds. It’s full of beautiful handmade or restored rugs, furniture, knitwear, ceramics, jewellery and toys. There’s a workshop proper adjoining it, so you can look through and wish you could create something lovely, too. When I grow up, I’m going to buy everything there. Lucy Mangan

Washingpool, Bridport

We’re blessed with outstanding farm shops here on the Devon/Dorset border. Just outside Bridport is Washingpool, a favourite since I arrived here 15 years ago – they’ve been growing their own veg for two generations. Heading west on the A35 is Felicity’s, for rare-breed pork; 10 miles on is Millers, always with something new on the go; then head to Ottery St Mary, to Joshua’s, with its fabulous little orchard of cordoned apples and pears. Fantastic healthfood shop Ganesha, in Honiton, is great for organic grains and pulses (and chocolate!). Hugh Fearnley‑Whittingstall

Hanging Ditch, Manchester

Manchester’s small but stunning Hanging Ditch is an architect-designed wine shop and bar next to Harvey Nix. Slap in the middle of the city centre, it sells everything from supertuscans (in the tantalising “fine wine” drawers at the bottom of the shelves) to malbec ice wine. Elsewhere, Grape & Grind in Bristol is a brilliant wine shop with all kinds of interesting, off-the-wall bottles you simply won’t find in a supermarket. Fiona Beckett

Gay’s The Word, London

This legendary bookshop opened in 1979 and is still a distinctive, exciting place, stocking an ever-changing blend of fiction and non-fiction – perfect for that unexpected novel or history book that could not be chanced on browsing the web. Jonathan Jones

OK Comics, Leeds

Stumbling across OK Comics in Leeds as a student was a revelation: I had no idea that there was this incredible world where grown-ups drew cartoons and other grown-ups read them and took them seriously. This was where I discovered Jeffrey Brown, Marjane Satrapi, Charles Burns. Tucked away in a beautiful Victorian arcade, with sofas for reading on, author signings, drink and draw events, and even a free lending library. Becky Barnicoat

Mrs Jones, Holt, Norfolk

Forget Paris, Milan, New York or London. Holt in north Norfolk is my favourite town to shop in the whole world. It has the independent Holt Bookshop, a very superior pretty-things-for-the-house shop, Nixey and Godfrey, as well as top-notch fishmongers, butchers and a 341-year-old department store, Bakers & Larners. Not only that, but it has two outstanding clothes stores: the quirky Old Town and – my favourite – Mrs Jones. Vanessa Bruno jersey pieces, See by Chloé tailoring, Equipment silk blouses, J Brand jeans and Anya Hindmarch bags: the stock is nicely judged at the aspirational-but-not-ridiculous end of the market. The owner knows when to hover and chat, and when to leave you alone (so rare), there is a little box of toys in the changing room for kids, and everything I’ve bought from here has turned out to be a keeper. Who needs Bond Street? Jess Cartner-Morley

Willow & Stone, Falmouth

Browsing here transports me into my fantasy life. While inside, I imagine that, rather than surrounded by mess and plastic toys, I live a life in which my children sit quietly at the table making tasteful cut-out woodland animals, where organic soaps sit tidily in ceramic dishes in the bathroom, while next door my husband sets a fire with a tasteful, clay-coloured kindling bucket at his side. They have oak wellington racks and associated accessories for a boot room (oh, to have a boot room!) and pretty little bobbins of vintage-style ribbons (I can’t even sew). Yes, it’s full of aspirational nonsense, but, hell, there’s nothing wrong with a little dream once in a while. Merope Mills

Rye Books, London

I just looked on the website of my favourite independent bookseller and it said, “TONIGHT: all your birding questions answered.” This distills the purpose of a trusted bibliotaph – their enthusiasms must be much broader than your own; that way, you will always find something to extend you. They’re also quite keen on cake, so may extend you in another direction, if that’s your thing. Zoe Williams

Borderline, Brighton

Brighton is lucky in that it’s packed with independent record shops. Earlier this year, the iconic Rounder closed its doors after 46 years – it named tax avoidance by big online retailers among the reasons – but that still leaves almost a dozen within walking distance of where I’m typing this: secondhand shops, specialist shops including the wonderful vinyl-only Record Album, knowledgable indie retailers such as Resident. My favourite is Borderline in North Laine, which has psychedelic posters on the walls, an intelligently-compiled stock of everything from jazz and world music to krautrock and punk, lots of CDs for a fiver and beautiful, spendy vinyl reissues that represent a clear and present danger to my ongoing ability to pay my mortgage. I recently walked past on a wet Wednesday morning and discovered them gamely trying to engage passing custom by playing the Blues Magoos’ awesome, acid-soaked 1966 cover of Tobacco Road at deafening volume. These people are unequivocally the kind you want running a record shop. Alexis Petridis

Palas Print, Caernarfon

Caernarfon in the rain can be a challenging prospect, and it does rain a lot in this bit of north Wales. But if you ever want to take shelter in one of Britain’s best independent bookshops, step inside. Run by Eirian James and Selwyn Jones, it brilliantly combines English- and Welsh-language books, reflecting an area where more than half the population has Welsh as its first language. It stocks a lot of fiction by Welsh writers working in English, but, unlike some bookshops, doesn’t give it the patronising label “local books”. It puts it on the general fiction shelf. “So Owen Sheers has to battle it out with Carol Shields,” James says. It is also strong in poetry (in both languages) and Welsh history. It turned 10 this year, and is a great place to hang out, rain or shine. Stephen Moss

HE Harrington, Broadstairs

Rumoured to be the inspiration for the famous “Four Candles” sketch (Ronnie Corbett had a house on the seafront), Harrington’s is the hardware store of your – oh, OK, my – dreams: a million tiny drawers; Jim and Henry, the two senior brothers who own it, resplendent in brown coats; and what appears to be a warren as large as Gringotts Wizarding Bank by way of back shop. It’s what Labour And Wait in London pretends to be, and at a fraction of the price: bottle brushes, Brown Betty teapots, whisks, cookie cutters, Mason Cash brown bakeware bowls… A wonderful, thriving little timewarp. Marina O’Loughlin

R Garcia & Sons, London

This Spanish deli is where I go for fresh padrón peppers, the best manchego money can buy and the aroma of cured pork, which is the smell of Spain. Yotam Ottolenghi

Ampthill Antiques Emporium, Bedfordshire

Alongside this Victorian department store, over three floors, there’s a yard full of garden and architectural antiques. From wrought-iron chairs to statues, plus vintage tools, you’re bound to find something for a horticultural friend. Jane Perrone

World of Bears, Taunton

Tucked down a side street in this market town is an extraordinary toy shop dedicated entirely to teddy bears. If, like me, you have a child who is crazy for soft toys, then even entering can be dangerous. These are not all inexpensive bears: some are made by the ursine world’s most exclusive names, including Steiff. Handle with care. World of Bears stocks more than 18,000 altogether and has three levels where children – and adult collectors – can spend hours browsing, picking up and hugging. Harriet Green

RE, Northumberland

An old-fashioned curiosity shop that almost single-handedly invented shabby chic, RE is housed in a small converted workshop in Corbridge. Known for its quirky homewares, it is the place to go for biblical plates, rusty signs, vintage brandy glasses – and everything else besides. Hannah Booth

Deborah Orr
Merope Mills
Hannah Booth
Yotam Ottolenghi
Ian Jack
John Harris
Fiona Beckett
Liese Spencer
Claire Armitstead
Hadley Freeman
Lucy Mangan
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Jonathan Jones
Becky Barnicoat
Jess Cartner-Morley
Zoe Williams
Alexis Petridis
Stephen Moss
Marina O’Loughlin
Jane Perrone
Harriet Green

guardian.co.uk © 2012 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 »

Britain’s best independent shops

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Buying online may be efficient, but where’s the joy in that? Our writers choose their favourite local bookshops, butchers and boutiques for everything you need for Christmas… and beyond

AG Hendy & Co Home Store, Hastings

My friend Alastair drove all his social circle crazy for years by constantly dragging us to car-boot sales and charity shops every weekend. He’d bag all the best bits, while we looked on sulkily. The stuff he collected was piled up in attics, spare rooms and garages until, finally, it had somewhere to go. Hendy’s Home Store features everything from vintage crockery to Romanian felt slippers. It would be harder to leave the place without a pile of perfect gifts than with them. Deborah Orr
AG Hendy & Co Home Store, 36 High Street, Hastings, East Sussex; homestore-hastings.co.uk

Ritchie’s of Rothesay, Isle of Bute

The recession and mainland supermarkets have made life hard for shopkeepers on the Isle of Bute. Wondrously, those that survive include Ritchie’s, which has smoked haddock and salmon here since 1888, and Macqueens (scottish-island-quality-meats.com), a traditional butcher specialising in Bute beef and lamb. Our local butcher in London, Godfreys at Highbury Barn, is, of course, without peer. Ian Jack
Ritchie’s of Rothesay, 111 Montague Street, Rothesay, Isle of Bute; ritchiessmokedsalmon.co.uk

Raves From The Grave, Frome

A good rule of thumb for record-buyers and house-hunters of a certain age: to gauge the worth of a town’s record shop, see if they’ve a section devoted to the trailblazing art-rock band Pere Ubu. In 2009, I ran the test here and instantly decided to move to Frome. The floor-to-ceiling stock includes vinyl, new and used; the staff know their stuff; and they sell Toy Story DVDs and cater to my six-year-old son’s love of Kraftwerk. While other record shops shut down, they’ve just opened a new branch, in Bath. Spotify? Schmotify! John Harris

The Antique Shop, Kirkcudbright

Lime green art deco shot glasses, lacy Victorian nightdresses and 1930s satin pyjamas, Downton-style bling (in proper velvet boxes), elbow-length gloves – you can pick up all sorts of beautiful gifts in the Antique Shop by the harbour in Kircudbright. Even if you walk out empty-handed, it’s still a pleasant way to while away an hour. Decent price tags, too. For edible treats, make for Coco in Edinburgh for triple-dipped kirsch cherries or a ”tattoo” selection box decorated with 1920s-style lucky dice, tigers and anchors. Sweet. Liese Spencer
The Antique Shop, 67 Saint Mary Street, Kirkcudbright; 01557 332400.

Much Ado Books, Alfriston

For bibliophile walkers, this is a place of pilgrimage. On the South Downs walk, it’s as warm and serene as the Downs are cold and wild, with an eclectic stock including shelves of first novels, everything you ever wanted to know about those local celebs the Bloomsbury Group, and stashes of notebooks with reclaimed picture plates as covers. Comfy chairs provide a reading rest for weary feet. The only problem is resisting the temptation to overload your rucksack on exit. Claire Armistead

The Idler Academy, London

This is not just a brilliant bookshop with a fantastic selection of old and new books. It’s a brilliant bookshop that offers near nightly courses on everything from bridge to tantra to ukulele, weekly author events and a delicious cafe. On any afternoon you’ll find customers of all ages sitting on comfy benches, idly eating coffee cake while lazily reading a book or three. Hadley Freeman

Bluejacket Workshop, Morston

I love this shop. It’s a showroom for a collective of local artists, but nothing like as bad as that sounds. It’s full of beautiful handmade or restored rugs, furniture, knitwear, ceramics, jewellery and toys. There’s a workshop proper adjoining it, so you can look through and wish you could create something lovely, too. When I grow up, I’m going to buy everything there. Lucy Mangan

Washingpool, Bridport

We’re blessed with outstanding farm shops here on the Devon/Dorset border. Just outside Bridport is Washingpool, a favourite since I arrived here 15 years ago – they’ve been growing their own veg for two generations. Heading west on the A35 is Felicity’s, for rare-breed pork; 10 miles on is Millers, always with something new on the go; then head to Ottery St Mary, to Joshua’s, with its fabulous little orchard of cordoned apples and pears. Fantastic healthfood shop Ganesha, in Honiton, is great for organic grains and pulses (and chocolate!). Hugh Fearnley‑Whittingstall

Hanging Ditch, Manchester

Manchester’s small but stunning Hanging Ditch is an architect-designed wine shop and bar next to Harvey Nix. Slap in the middle of the city centre, it sells everything from supertuscans (in the tantalising “fine wine” drawers at the bottom of the shelves) to malbec ice wine. Elsewhere, Grape & Grind in Bristol is a brilliant wine shop with all kinds of interesting, off-the-wall bottles you simply won’t find in a supermarket. Fiona Beckett

Gay’s The Word, London

This legendary bookshop opened in 1979 and is still a distinctive, exciting place, stocking an ever-changing blend of fiction and non-fiction – perfect for that unexpected novel or history book that could not be chanced on browsing the web. Jonathan Jones

OK Comics, Leeds

Stumbling across OK Comics in Leeds as a student was a revelation: I had no idea that there was this incredible world where grown-ups drew cartoons and other grown-ups read them and took them seriously. This was where I discovered Jeffrey Brown, Marjane Satrapi, Charles Burns. Tucked away in a beautiful Victorian arcade, with sofas for reading on, author signings, drink and draw events, and even a free lending library. Becky Barnicoat

Mrs Jones, Holt, Norfolk

Forget Paris, Milan, New York or London. Holt in north Norfolk is my favourite town to shop in the whole world. It has the independent Holt Bookshop, a very superior pretty-things-for-the-house shop, Nixey and Godfrey, as well as top-notch fishmongers, butchers and a 341-year-old department store, Bakers & Larners. Not only that, but it has two outstanding clothes stores: the quirky Old Town and – my favourite – Mrs Jones. Vanessa Bruno jersey pieces, See by Chloé tailoring, Equipment silk blouses, J Brand jeans and Anya Hindmarch bags: the stock is nicely judged at the aspirational-but-not-ridiculous end of the market. The owner knows when to hover and chat, and when to leave you alone (so rare), there is a little box of toys in the changing room for kids, and everything I’ve bought from here has turned out to be a keeper. Who needs Bond Street? Jess Cartner-Morley

Willow & Stone, Falmouth

Browsing here transports me into my fantasy life. While inside, I imagine that, rather than surrounded by mess and plastic toys, I live a life in which my children sit quietly at the table making tasteful cut-out woodland animals, where organic soaps sit tidily in ceramic dishes in the bathroom, while next door my husband sets a fire with a tasteful, clay-coloured kindling bucket at his side. They have oak wellington racks and associated accessories for a boot room (oh, to have a boot room!) and pretty little bobbins of vintage-style ribbons (I can’t even sew). Yes, it’s full of aspirational nonsense, but, hell, there’s nothing wrong with a little dream once in a while. Merope Mills

Rye Books, London

I just looked on the website of my favourite independent bookseller and it said, “TONIGHT: all your birding questions answered.” This distills the purpose of a trusted bibliotaph – their enthusiasms must be much broader than your own; that way, you will always find something to extend you. They’re also quite keen on cake, so may extend you in another direction, if that’s your thing. Zoe Williams

Borderline, Brighton

Brighton is lucky in that it’s packed with independent record shops. Earlier this year, the iconic Rounder closed its doors after 46 years – it named tax avoidance by big online retailers among the reasons – but that still leaves almost a dozen within walking distance of where I’m typing this: secondhand shops, specialist shops including the wonderful vinyl-only Record Album, knowledgable indie retailers such as Resident. My favourite is Borderline in North Laine, which has psychedelic posters on the walls, an intelligently-compiled stock of everything from jazz and world music to krautrock and punk, lots of CDs for a fiver and beautiful, spendy vinyl reissues that represent a clear and present danger to my ongoing ability to pay my mortgage. I recently walked past on a wet Wednesday morning and discovered them gamely trying to engage passing custom by playing the Blues Magoos’ awesome, acid-soaked 1966 cover of Tobacco Road at deafening volume. These people are unequivocally the kind you want running a record shop. Alexis Petridis

Palas Print, Caernarfon

Caernarfon in the rain can be a challenging prospect, and it does rain a lot in this bit of north Wales. But if you ever want to take shelter in one of Britain’s best independent bookshops, step inside. Run by Eirian James and Selwyn Jones, it brilliantly combines English- and Welsh-language books, reflecting an area where more than half the population has Welsh as its first language. It stocks a lot of fiction by Welsh writers working in English, but, unlike some bookshops, doesn’t give it the patronising label “local books”. It puts it on the general fiction shelf. “So Owen Sheers has to battle it out with Carol Shields,” James says. It is also strong in poetry (in both languages) and Welsh history. It turned 10 this year, and is a great place to hang out, rain or shine. Stephen Moss

HE Harrington, Broadstairs

Rumoured to be the inspiration for the famous “Four Candles” sketch (Ronnie Corbett had a house on the seafront), Harrington’s is the hardware store of your – oh, OK, my – dreams: a million tiny drawers; Jim and Henry, the two senior brothers who own it, resplendent in brown coats; and what appears to be a warren as large as Gringotts Wizarding Bank by way of back shop. It’s what Labour And Wait in London pretends to be, and at a fraction of the price: bottle brushes, Brown Betty teapots, whisks, cookie cutters, Mason Cash brown bakeware bowls… A wonderful, thriving little timewarp. Marina O’Loughlin

R Garcia & Sons, London

This Spanish deli is where I go for fresh padrón peppers, the best manchego money can buy and the aroma of cured pork, which is the smell of Spain. Yotam Ottolenghi

Ampthill Antiques Emporium, Bedfordshire

Alongside this Victorian department store, over three floors, there’s a yard full of garden and architectural antiques. From wrought-iron chairs to statues, plus vintage tools, you’re bound to find something for a horticultural friend. Jane Perrone

World of Bears, Taunton

Tucked down a side street in this market town is an extraordinary toy shop dedicated entirely to teddy bears. If, like me, you have a child who is crazy for soft toys, then even entering can be dangerous. These are not all inexpensive bears: some are made by the ursine world’s most exclusive names, including Steiff. Handle with care. World of Bears stocks more than 18,000 altogether and has three levels where children – and adult collectors – can spend hours browsing, picking up and hugging. Harriet Green

RE, Northumberland

An old-fashioned curiosity shop that almost single-handedly invented shabby chic, RE is housed in a small converted workshop in Corbridge. Known for its quirky homewares, it is the place to go for biblical plates, rusty signs, vintage brandy glasses – and everything else besides. Hannah Booth

Deborah Orr
Merope Mills
Hannah Booth
Yotam Ottolenghi
Ian Jack
John Harris
Fiona Beckett
Liese Spencer
Claire Armitstead
Hadley Freeman
Lucy Mangan
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Jonathan Jones
Becky Barnicoat
Jess Cartner-Morley
Zoe Williams
Alexis Petridis
Stephen Moss
Marina O’Loughlin
Jane Perrone
Harriet Green

guardian.co.uk © 2012 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 »

With Ukip’s surge, do we still have a progressive majority? | John Harris

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

The party’s success may not mean victory for the hang ‘em, flog ‘em brigade but it does show the huge distrust in our politicians

There was a nice poetry in the 12 hours between the arrival of the Leveson report and the results of Thursday’s three byelections. In the Commons and in the media, commentators and politicians got themselves in a lather about matters that were undoubtedly important, but not exactly uppermost in the public mind. And then, from Rotherham in particular, there came news that – in the midst of the chatter about crossing Rubicons and the like – still feels underplayed. So let us begin by stating the obvious: as signs of the popular mood, Thursday’s results were both fascinating and important. And here’s why.

First, we should marvel at the fate of the Lib Dems. In Croydon North at the last election they got 7,226 votes, a 14% share of the poll; on Thursday they shrunk to 860 votes, a 3.5% share. In Middlesbrough, things were not quite so grim: the Lib Dems’ share fell from 20% to 9.9%, and finished behind Ukip. But in Rotherham, “meltdown” seemed too kind a word. Nick Clegg always suggests a naive member of the officer class, with his troops cast as Tommies sleepwalking into a hail of enemy fire. But if what happened in South Yorkshire doesn’t shake them awake, nothing will. When you finish eighth in a byelection on 451 votes, behind a local vicar and self-styled “White Knight”, where are you?

In all but their strongest redoubts – bits of the deep West Country, perhaps – they are effectively over, for at least a generation. Activists are switching off; their councillor base is shrivelling; their time-honoured model of pavement politics is increasingly impossible. And just to give their fate the decisive ring of tragedy, even if they finally panic, the very understandable wish to postpone death will keep them in the coalition, to the presumably bitter end.

It is one of the more surreal aspects of modern politics that their place as a receptacle for English protest votes seems to have been usurped by a motley gang who look like their polar opposites: a catch-all nasty party, as opposed to what was once a byword for fuzzy niceness. In Rotherham, Ukip’s 22% share was seemingly built from the votes of not just disaffected Tories, but Labour supporters who would not have otherwise bothered to vote. The idea that Ukip is a clique of Southern free-marketeers has been sloughed off: as one blogger on the Daily Telegraph put it yesterday, “the populist revolt is bigger and wider than many anticipated”.

It certainly is, and what that denotes is unprecedented. Imagine if, instead of such marginal sects as the Socialist Alliance and the Respect Coalition (whose showings in two of these byelections suggest that George Galloway’s victory in Bradford West was a one-off), Tony Blair had been menaced throughout his time in office by a popular, well-run force pledged to put jump-leads on the Labour thinking he had come to kill off. This is what David Cameron now faces, and even if you can set your watch by Ukip candidates sounding off in very unpleasant ways about such issues as gay adoption and how Anders Breivik might have said a few sensible things about political correctness, it does not look set to go away.

That the Tories will soon offer an in-out referendum on the EU and give full vent to their rising passion for withdrawal is surely a racing certainty. Moreover, with each Ukip advance, one senses another justification for the Tories to write off “modernisation” as a moment of weakness, and go back to post-Thatcher first principles (for the details of what that might mean in practice, read Britannia Unchained, the treatise on a possible future of 60-hour weeks and deregulated everything, written by five up and coming Tory MPs). In other words, Ukip’s success is manifested not just in byelection results and column inches devoted to the party itself, but in the sense that, with both jangled nerves and a palpable relief, the Conservatives are reverting to type.

Labour held Rotherham, and kept Middlesbrough and Croydon North, the latter two on increased shares of the vote. But they should also worry, not just about the poor turnouts that marked both this week’s and the three byelection contests two weeks ago but about what the Ukip effect might mean for them. Until Clegg and his gang pushed the Lib Dems towards calamity, people who cleaved to a leftish view of the world could add together Labour and Lib Dem votes, and harp on about that fragile and possibly chimerical entity known as “the progressive majority”. But the rise of Ukip looks to me to be legitimising a very different view, in which the average English person will be characterised as an avowed Eurosceptic, a fierce opponent of immigration, a hang-’em-and-flog-’em merchant, and a hater of government.

In fact, Ukip’s success is no more an endorsement of Nigel Farage’s weird stew of nostalgia and turbo-Thatcherism than Cleggmania was for the detailed policy positions of the Lib Dems, but rather an indication of surging national mistrust of the mesh of politicians and vested interests that the great Englishman William Cobbett termed “the thing”. But that is a point that will be lost, and for Ed Miliband in particular this spells trouble. Both inside and outside Labour, plenty of people will use the idea of a deep well of rightwing populism against him, and it will take more than the broken machinery of the Labour Party to make any real headway.

Over the last two years, each time events have pointed to a Britain moving beyond three-party British politics, voices have predictably piped up claiming that normal service will soon be resumed. But that view is running out of road. In Scotland, Labour is still reeling from being routed by a nationalist party which is about to stage a referendum on independence. The Tories are all but extinct north of the border, with the Lib Dems probably not far behind (witness a council result in the council ward of Edinburgh Pentland last May, where they were beaten by Professor Pongoo, a man in a penguin suit).

This month’s English and Welsh police and crime commissioner elections were characterised by two themes: their appalling organisation and vapid tenor of debate, for sure, but also victory for 12 people with no party ties. Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of an elected mayor and is now run by an independent. The share of opinion polls given to “others” is at an all-time high; it is not long since we were gripped by panic about the BNP. Only in Wales does something resembling political orthodoxy seem to be holding; but then again, it is not that long since Plaid Cymru was temporarily booting Labour out of some of its post-industrial heartlands.

We have another compelling development: a revolt on the English right, and the demise of a party that only two years ago was toasting its arrival at last in government. “Politics is changing,” said the dependably mischievous Nigel Farage yesterday. As he well knows, that’s definitely the understatement of the year.

John Harris

guardian.co.uk © 2012 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 »

With Ukip’s surge, do we still have a progressive majority? | John Harris

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

The party’s success may not mean victory for the hang ‘em, flog ‘em brigade but it does show the huge distrust in our politicians

There was a nice poetry in the 12 hours between the arrival of the Leveson report and the results of Thursday’s three byelections. In the Commons and in the media, commentators and politicians got themselves in a lather about matters that were undoubtedly important, but not exactly uppermost in the public mind. And then, from Rotherham in particular, there came news that – in the midst of the chatter about crossing Rubicons and the like – still feels underplayed. So let us begin by stating the obvious: as signs of the popular mood, Thursday’s results were both fascinating and important. And here’s why.

First, we should marvel at the fate of the Lib Dems. In Croydon North at the last election they got 7,226 votes, a 14% share of the poll; on Thursday they shrunk to 860 votes, a 3.5% share. In Middlesbrough, things were not quite so grim: the Lib Dems’ share fell from 20% to 9.9%, and finished behind Ukip. But in Rotherham, “meltdown” seemed too kind a word. Nick Clegg always suggests a naive member of the officer class, with his troops cast as Tommies sleepwalking into a hail of enemy fire. But if what happened in South Yorkshire doesn’t shake them awake, nothing will. When you finish eighth in a byelection on 451 votes, behind a local vicar and self-styled “White Knight”, where are you?

In all but their strongest redoubts – bits of the deep West Country, perhaps – they are effectively over, for at least a generation. Activists are switching off; their councillor base is shrivelling; their time-honoured model of pavement politics is increasingly impossible. And just to give their fate the decisive ring of tragedy, even if they finally panic, the very understandable wish to postpone death will keep them in the coalition, to the presumably bitter end.

It is one of the more surreal aspects of modern politics that their place as a receptacle for English protest votes seems to have been usurped by a motley gang who look like their polar opposites: a catch-all nasty party, as opposed to what was once a byword for fuzzy niceness. In Rotherham, Ukip’s 22% share was seemingly built from the votes of not just disaffected Tories, but Labour supporters who would not have otherwise bothered to vote. The idea that Ukip is a clique of Southern free-marketeers has been sloughed off: as one blogger on the Daily Telegraph put it yesterday, “the populist revolt is bigger and wider than many anticipated”.

It certainly is, and what that denotes is unprecedented. Imagine if, instead of such marginal sects as the Socialist Alliance and the Respect Coalition (whose showings in two of these byelections suggest that George Galloway’s victory in Bradford West was a one-off), Tony Blair had been menaced throughout his time in office by a popular, well-run force pledged to put jump-leads on the Labour thinking he had come to kill off. This is what David Cameron now faces, and even if you can set your watch by Ukip candidates sounding off in very unpleasant ways about such issues as gay adoption and how Anders Breivik might have said a few sensible things about political correctness, it does not look set to go away.

That the Tories will soon offer an in-out referendum on the EU and give full vent to their rising passion for withdrawal is surely a racing certainty. Moreover, with each Ukip advance, one senses another justification for the Tories to write off “modernisation” as a moment of weakness, and go back to post-Thatcher first principles (for the details of what that might mean in practice, read Britannia Unchained, the treatise on a possible future of 60-hour weeks and deregulated everything, written by five up and coming Tory MPs). In other words, Ukip’s success is manifested not just in byelection results and column inches devoted to the party itself, but in the sense that, with both jangled nerves and a palpable relief, the Conservatives are reverting to type.

Labour held Rotherham, and kept Middlesbrough and Croydon North, the latter two on increased shares of the vote. But they should also worry, not just about the poor turnouts that marked both this week’s and the three byelection contests two weeks ago but about what the Ukip effect might mean for them. Until Clegg and his gang pushed the Lib Dems towards calamity, people who cleaved to a leftish view of the world could add together Labour and Lib Dem votes, and harp on about that fragile and possibly chimerical entity known as “the progressive majority”. But the rise of Ukip looks to me to be legitimising a very different view, in which the average English person will be characterised as an avowed Eurosceptic, a fierce opponent of immigration, a hang-’em-and-flog-’em merchant, and a hater of government.

In fact, Ukip’s success is no more an endorsement of Nigel Farage’s weird stew of nostalgia and turbo-Thatcherism than Cleggmania was for the detailed policy positions of the Lib Dems, but rather an indication of surging national mistrust of the mesh of politicians and vested interests that the great Englishman William Cobbett termed “the thing”. But that is a point that will be lost, and for Ed Miliband in particular this spells trouble. Both inside and outside Labour, plenty of people will use the idea of a deep well of rightwing populism against him, and it will take more than the broken machinery of the Labour Party to make any real headway.

Over the last two years, each time events have pointed to a Britain moving beyond three-party British politics, voices have predictably piped up claiming that normal service will soon be resumed. But that view is running out of road. In Scotland, Labour is still reeling from being routed by a nationalist party which is about to stage a referendum on independence. The Tories are all but extinct north of the border, with the Lib Dems probably not far behind (witness a council result in the council ward of Edinburgh Pentland last May, where they were beaten by Professor Pongoo, a man in a penguin suit).

This month’s English and Welsh police and crime commissioner elections were characterised by two themes: their appalling organisation and vapid tenor of debate, for sure, but also victory for 12 people with no party ties. Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of an elected mayor and is now run by an independent. The share of opinion polls given to “others” is at an all-time high; it is not long since we were gripped by panic about the BNP. Only in Wales does something resembling political orthodoxy seem to be holding; but then again, it is not that long since Plaid Cymru was temporarily booting Labour out of some of its post-industrial heartlands.

We have another compelling development: a revolt on the English right, and the demise of a party that only two years ago was toasting its arrival at last in government. “Politics is changing,” said the dependably mischievous Nigel Farage yesterday. As he well knows, that’s definitely the understatement of the year.

John Harris

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With Ukip’s surge, do we still have a progressive majority? | John Harris

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

The party’s success may not mean victory for the hang ‘em, flog ‘em brigade but it does show the huge distrust in our politicians

There was a nice poetry in the 12 hours between the arrival of the Leveson report and the results of Thursday’s three byelections. In the Commons and in the media, commentators and politicians got themselves in a lather about matters that were undoubtedly important, but not exactly uppermost in the public mind. And then, from Rotherham in particular, there came news that – in the midst of the chatter about crossing Rubicons and the like – still feels underplayed. So let us begin by stating the obvious: as signs of the popular mood, Thursday’s results were both fascinating and important. And here’s why.

First, we should marvel at the fate of the Lib Dems. In Croydon North at the last election they got 7,226 votes, a 14% share of the poll; on Thursday they shrunk to 860 votes, a 3.5% share. In Middlesbrough, things were not quite so grim: the Lib Dems’ share fell from 20% to 9.9%, and finished behind Ukip. But in Rotherham, “meltdown” seemed too kind a word. Nick Clegg always suggests a naive member of the officer class, with his troops cast as Tommies sleepwalking into a hail of enemy fire. But if what happened in South Yorkshire doesn’t shake them awake, nothing will. When you finish eighth in a byelection on 451 votes, behind a local vicar and self-styled “White Knight”, where are you?

In all but their strongest redoubts – bits of the deep West Country, perhaps – they are effectively over, for at least a generation. Activists are switching off; their councillor base is shrivelling; their time-honoured model of pavement politics is increasingly impossible. And just to give their fate the decisive ring of tragedy, even if they finally panic, the very understandable wish to postpone death will keep them in the coalition, to the presumably bitter end.

It is one of the more surreal aspects of modern politics that their place as a receptacle for English protest votes seems to have been usurped by a motley gang who look like their polar opposites: a catch-all nasty party, as opposed to what was once a byword for fuzzy niceness. In Rotherham, Ukip’s 22% share was seemingly built from the votes of not just disaffected Tories, but Labour supporters who would not have otherwise bothered to vote. The idea that Ukip is a clique of Southern free-marketeers has been sloughed off: as one blogger on the Daily Telegraph put it yesterday, “the populist revolt is bigger and wider than many anticipated”.

It certainly is, and what that denotes is unprecedented. Imagine if, instead of such marginal sects as the Socialist Alliance and the Respect Coalition (whose showings in two of these byelections suggest that George Galloway’s victory in Bradford West was a one-off), Tony Blair had been menaced throughout his time in office by a popular, well-run force pledged to put jump-leads on the Labour thinking he had come to kill off. This is what David Cameron now faces, and even if you can set your watch by Ukip candidates sounding off in very unpleasant ways about such issues as gay adoption and how Anders Breivik might have said a few sensible things about political correctness, it does not look set to go away.

That the Tories will soon offer an in-out referendum on the EU and give full vent to their rising passion for withdrawal is surely a racing certainty. Moreover, with each Ukip advance, one senses another justification for the Tories to write off “modernisation” as a moment of weakness, and go back to post-Thatcher first principles (for the details of what that might mean in practice, read Britannia Unchained, the treatise on a possible future of 60-hour weeks and deregulated everything, written by five up and coming Tory MPs). In other words, Ukip’s success is manifested not just in byelection results and column inches devoted to the party itself, but in the sense that, with both jangled nerves and a palpable relief, the Conservatives are reverting to type.

Labour held Rotherham, and kept Middlesbrough and Croydon North, the latter two on increased shares of the vote. But they should also worry, not just about the poor turnouts that marked both this week’s and the three byelection contests two weeks ago but about what the Ukip effect might mean for them. Until Clegg and his gang pushed the Lib Dems towards calamity, people who cleaved to a leftish view of the world could add together Labour and Lib Dem votes, and harp on about that fragile and possibly chimerical entity known as “the progressive majority”. But the rise of Ukip looks to me to be legitimising a very different view, in which the average English person will be characterised as an avowed Eurosceptic, a fierce opponent of immigration, a hang-’em-and-flog-’em merchant, and a hater of government.

In fact, Ukip’s success is no more an endorsement of Nigel Farage’s weird stew of nostalgia and turbo-Thatcherism than Cleggmania was for the detailed policy positions of the Lib Dems, but rather an indication of surging national mistrust of the mesh of politicians and vested interests that the great Englishman William Cobbett termed “the thing”. But that is a point that will be lost, and for Ed Miliband in particular this spells trouble. Both inside and outside Labour, plenty of people will use the idea of a deep well of rightwing populism against him, and it will take more than the broken machinery of the Labour Party to make any real headway.

Over the last two years, each time events have pointed to a Britain moving beyond three-party British politics, voices have predictably piped up claiming that normal service will soon be resumed. But that view is running out of road. In Scotland, Labour is still reeling from being routed by a nationalist party which is about to stage a referendum on independence. The Tories are all but extinct north of the border, with the Lib Dems probably not far behind (witness a council result in the council ward of Edinburgh Pentland last May, where they were beaten by Professor Pongoo, a man in a penguin suit).

This month’s English and Welsh police and crime commissioner elections were characterised by two themes: their appalling organisation and vapid tenor of debate, for sure, but also victory for 12 people with no party ties. Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of an elected mayor and is now run by an independent. The share of opinion polls given to “others” is at an all-time high; it is not long since we were gripped by panic about the BNP. Only in Wales does something resembling political orthodoxy seem to be holding; but then again, it is not that long since Plaid Cymru was temporarily booting Labour out of some of its post-industrial heartlands.

We have another compelling development: a revolt on the English right, and the demise of a party that only two years ago was toasting its arrival at last in government. “Politics is changing,” said the dependably mischievous Nigel Farage yesterday. As he well knows, that’s definitely the understatement of the year.

John Harris

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