John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for April, 2014

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Anti-Ukip drive should focus on the party being ridiculous rather than racist | John Harris

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The cross-party campaign to expose Ukip as racist could backfire better to focus on its entire ideology that doesn’t make sense

Ukip condemned by cross-party group for running ‘racist’ campaign

At around this time last year, you may recall, the UK Independence party was set to do very well in looming county council elections. So, possibly with the help of backroom staff from Conservative central office, the social media activities of their candidates were closely analysed, and no end of evidence was found of extremely ugly opinions. The Facebook page of a party activist from Leicestershire endorsed the English Defence League; a candidate in Kent advised Londoners to take medical precautions before Bulgarians and Romanians arrived; the Leeds branch of Ukip had put up a page describing refugees as "primitives".

The allegations of racism and general nastiness continued, through election day and beyond, and had absolutely no effect on the party’s prospects. Indeed, on 2 May 2013, Ukip managed a watershed breakthrough, winning unprecedented numbers of seats on councils throughout the south and east of England, and taking yet another step towards the huge success that looks set to materialise at next month’s European elections.

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Britain’s bootboys may be gone, but are we really more at peace? | John Harris

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Punch-ups were a routine hazard of my adolescence in the 1980s. But this pacified Britain may be less tranquil than it feels

Welcome to a new pacified utopia. "Is this the end of the age of violence?" asked the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday. The next day, the Times announced the arrival of something called Generation Zero. "No drinking. No smoking. No fighting," ran their front-page trail; inside, a piece reckoned that increasing numbers of 16- to 25-year-olds "really don’t do a whole lot, or at least, not when it comes to traditional vices". What happened to such worn-out old tropes as feral youth, yob culture, and the prime minister’s own golden oldie, broken Britain?

The trigger for all this feelgood coverage was the latest report from Cardiff University’s Violence and Society Research Group, which for more than 10 years has been publishing an annual analysis of figures for injuries from violence recorded by 117 NHS emergency departments. Last year’s showed a 12% drop in the number of people treated after violent crimes. In 2011-12, the decrease was 14%. In fact, only one year since 2002 has seen an increase. "Each time, before we’ve crunched the data, I’ve thought, ‘We’re going to see a spike back up again it can’t happen again, can it?’" says Professor Jonathan Shepherd, a surgery specialist who leads the work. But the numbers keep tumbling.

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The Rochdale Pioneers to Paul Flowers: how the Co-operative dream died

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Mounting debts, chaotic governance, controversies over executive pay and a bank chair who has become a laughing stock. The high street chain that once cared for British people from cradle to grave is in dire straits

The history of the British Co-operative movement

In February 2009, the Co-operative Group announced that Bob Dylan had allowed it to use one of his most treasured songs in a UK TV advert. The work of London agency McCann Erickson, the commercial in question was soundtracked by his 1962 classic Blowin’ in the Wind, and was a self-consciously epic affair: two-and-half minutes long, voiced over by the Scottish actor John Hannah, and first shown on ITV at 7.40pm on a Monday night, mid-way through Coronation Street.

It began with a boy launching dandelion seeds into the breeze, which then floated over windfarms, arctic glaciers, Fairtrade coffee plantations, and other symbols of the Co-op Group’s supposedly towering ethical standards. "From community projects to a share of the profits, renewable energy to Fairtrade products, the Co-operative believe that when the benefits are passed around it’s good for everyone," went the simpering script.

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Record Store Day: can’t stop the rock, but £50 man fills in for teenage rebels

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

The international event sometimes feels like a day-long benefit for a struggling musical genre, writes John Harris

Jumbo Records in Leeds has been in business for 43 years. Located in a functional shopping centre that also houses Poundland and McDonald’s, its interior offers a fascinating contrast to just about everything that surrounds it. When I arrive, the in-house audio system is blaring out a song from 1971 by the black American pioneers Funkadelic. The cream of the stock is adorned with handwritten reviews ("Emerging from Brisbane in Australia with three siblings in their four-piece lineup, Blank Realm are currently stirring up a storm"). It is a lovely place: somewhere any devotee of music could spend endless hours.

The shop sells not just records and CDs, but gig tickets, and the promotional posters on the walls attest to a culture in which the past is now an integral part of the present. Among forthcoming attractions are the Rezillos, whose commercial peak arrived circa 1978, 59-year-old Wreckless Eric, and Northside, minor players in the "Madchester" milieu of the late 1980s and early 1990s. On Saturday, among the acts who will play the shop’s celebration of Record Store Day will be Cud, a Leeds-spawned quartet whose last top 30 hit came in 1992, with a somewhat risqué single titled Purple Love Balloon.

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London has become a citadel, sealed off from the rest of Britain | John Harris

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Ukip and Scottish nationalism are symptoms of public hostility to the overweening power and dominance of the capital

Last week, an empty if sizable garage in Camberwell somewhere to put a car, that is, not a repair business or petrol station was sold at auction for £550,000, having been put on the market by Southwark council as a "development opportunity". A man from property website Zoopla told the Financial Times that "the buyer could create a significant return despite paying what seems like an extortionate premium today". In other words: bring us your sheds, kennels and cupboards, and watch the capital’s globalised alchemy turn them to gold.

This much we know: even if George Osborne’s property bubble is lifting prices all over the UK, London has long since left everywhere else behind. Over the past year, property values in the capital have risen by 18% and the gap between prices there and the rest of the UK is the biggest since records began. The average monthly London rent is now £1,126. Having moved out in 2004, I know what this means: unless you are an international plutocrat, a highly paid City type or someone either clinging on in social housing or putting up with life in a shared hovel, it is an increasingly impossible place to live.

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