John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for April, 2015

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Anarchy in the UK: 35 years of fanatics and firebrands at Speakers’ Corner

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Before Twitter, Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park was where idealists, eccentrics and firebrands went to hold forth. John Harris on a new photobook that celebrates this peculiarly British bastion of free speech

Seventy years ago, George Orwell wrote about the gatherings that took place at a particularly iconic area of Hyde Park. “I have listened there to Indian nationalists,” he said, “temperance reformers, communists … freethinkers, vegetarians, Mormons, the Salvation Army … and a large variety of plain lunatics, all taking their turn at the rostrum in an orderly way and receiving a fairly good-humoured hearing from the crowd.” There were, he reminded his readers, “very few countries in the world where you can see a similar spectacle”.

Down the years, the nature of that spectacle has remained remarkably constant. Having negotiated some clear space, speakers stand on a platform a foot or so above their audience – and give it some. Whatever their views, their faces will take on much the same expressions: anger, frustration, impatience with a world that simply refuses to see sense. And around them, bystanders tend to gaze on with varying degrees of bafflement, indifference and amusement. No one’s mind is likely to be changed; the most illuminating thing to happen might be a testy exchange between the speaker and an observer who takes the opposite view. But there are compelling, almost magical elements at the centre of the whole ritual: free speech in action, and politics and religion at their most raw.

Related: Soapbox superstars: 35 years at Speakers’ Corner – in pictures

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Election 2015: fear and loathing in Farageland – video

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

In Boston, Lincolnshire, a key Ukip target seat, John Harris meets Nigel Farage, picks daffodils alongside East European migrants – and learns how a combination of immigration, exploitation, low wages and sky-high rents has created huge local anger. Here, Britain’s most insurgent new party seems to be defying talk of a slump, offering simple answers, and attracting big local support. But is the failure of politics and economics in east England more complicated than Ukip make out? Continue reading…

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A tale of two Kensingtons: London and Liverpool … and the election’s inequality gap – video

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Kensington, one of the poorest parts of Liverpool, fears three more years of Tory austerity and the closure of its Sure Start centre. Its namesake in London could be hit by Labour’s mansion tax and its abolition of non-dom tax status. John Harris starts his general election campaign road-trip by taking the temperature in two wildly different parts of Britain

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Cheshire seems like George Osborne’s utopia – until you look closely | John Harris

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

In the latest of our pre-election series, back in the chancellor’s constituency, food banks have appeared amid the footballers’ Bentleys and newbuild mansions

Two signifiers for wealth hit you the instant you arrive in Alderley Edge, Cheshire: property and parking. The latter is not just a big local issue, but a byword for the arrogance that often comes with money. On the condition that he remains anonymous, one passerby tells me about the flash cars routinely parked illegally, by drivers who couldn’t care less. He mentions two such cases from 2009, both involving a former Manchester United star, first caught putting his £137,000 Bentley on a bus stop, and then parking it in a bay reserved for disabled drivers (“It is a personal matter for the player,” offered the club’s press office). Inevitably, my informant tells me, tickets and fines are no deterrent: “They’re a sort of badge of honour – that you’re rich enough not to care.”

Even more important is the kind of pad displayed in estate agent windows, sold with blurbs that border on the self-parodic. Two minutes away from the centre of the village, there’s a six-bed newbuild called Knights Keep: “effortlessly nestled at the top of Alderley’s most prestigious road”, and priced at £4,200,000 (and therefore subject to Labour’s proposed mansion tax). Those on a more modest budget might prefer Lynton Gardens, six new properties “designed in the style of a London mews house”, hawked with brochures that mention the surrounding area’s prodigious consumption of champagne, intended to sell for about £600,000.

In a way, Tatton is Osborne’s vision of Britain made flesh

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