John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for November, 2015

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Labour split on Syria and George Osborne’s U-turns – Politics Weekly podcast

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

John Harris, Heather Stewart and Randeep Ramesh join Tom Clark to discuss Labour’s struggle to find a unified position on Syria and George Osborne’s autumn statement Continue reading…

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End of austerity? A silent crisis in local services tells the true story | John Harris

Friday, November 27th, 2015

From buses to potholes to swimming pools, Osborne’s axe is slashing the basics of any civilised society

If your childhood happened between the mid-1970s and early 80s, you will probably recall a particularly miserable symbol of that era’s reduced budgets and shrinking horizons: the broken-down, litter-strewn park.

Slides would be so caked in mud as to make them unusable; roundabouts wouldn’t go round; grass would go uncut. I grew up in suburban Cheshire, and even there, the same applied: in amid the fag ends, dog shit and broken bottles, a weird sense of times so topsy-turvy that places meant to deliver happiness had become a byword for a kind of low-level sadness. Is there a more forlorn sight than a broken swing?

Related: Autumn statement: Osborne isn’t fixing the roof, he’s eroding the foundations | Mariana Mazzucato

The chancellor’s hopeless offers of assistance extend into the distance

Appears to be a 56% cut to Govt funding for local councils table 2.1 p78 AS – did I miss that in Chancellor’s speech? #spendingreview

Related: David Cameron hasn’t the faintest idea how deep his cuts go. This letter proves it | George Monbiot

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Save the library, lose the pool: Newcastle finds self-help has its limits as cuts bite

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Community groups are trying to fill the gaps but the hacking back of council services has just begun, John Harris finds

On a weekday morning in Blakelaw, two miles from the heart of Newcastle, the scene inside a community centre suggests a perfect example of what David Cameron used to call the “big society”.

Local women have gathered for a “coffee and conversation” session, while people nearby are cutting flyers for a residents’ association’s Christmas fair. Meanwhile, an effervescent 36-year-old councillor called David Stockdale is discussing plans to bring a key amenity into community ownership. The prime minister would presumably balk at his terminology: Stockdale proudly talks about a “socialist post office”.

Related: Is saving Newcastle a mission impossible? | John Harris

We are entering the realm of not just the politically impossible, but the legally impossible

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The Bristol conundrum: ‘Gentrification is a danger – and if you’re poor, you’re really, really stretched’

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

In the last of his series of urban dispatches, John Harris encounters a city where civic pride and cultural vivacity are tinged with fears that Bristol is changing in ways some people find hard to take

“Bristol is perhaps the one southern city which really feels independent of London,” writes Owen Hatherley in his brilliant architectural travelogue A New Kind Of Bleak. During the six weeks I have spent immersing myself in four English cities, that book and its predecessor, A Guide To The New Ruins Of Great Britain, always came with me – and in Bristol, the former works as an unflinchingly honest guidebook.

It is undeniably true that, as Hatherley points out, the bleak area around Temple Meads station is currently “one of the worst introductions to a city in the UK”. It’s true, too, that anyone looking for good buildings here can find “an enormous amount to admire … late medieval, Regency and early industrial architecture …. almost always decontextualised, thrown into collision with something hostile.”

The good thing that’s happened in Bristol over the last 30 years is people coming back to live in the city centre

Bristol is clearly being changed by the consequences of London’s impossible property prices

If you’re poor in Bristol, you’re really, really stretched

Related: Can a new Bradford emerge from a hole in the ground?

People who’ve lived here for a long time find the anarchy quite alienating. They need to have their voices heard as well

Related: The great reinvention of Manchester: ‘It’s far more pleasant than London’

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‘Send more rich people!’ The reinvention of the once-great naval city of Plymouth

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Plymouth relied on its dockyards for 350 years and when they fell into decline the city started to question why it existed at all. In the latest in his series of urban reports, John Harris finds an insight into the future of all British cities

Twenty years after their cultural peak, the 1990s seem to have been fixed in the culture as a decade of primary-coloured hedonism, and politics almost wholly free of substance: the time of Union Jack guitars, the supposed End Of History, New Labour in its vacuous pomp, and a long economic boom. Particularly in the wake of the crash of 2008, most of this has taken on a warm nostalgic glow: a sense of good times lost, and an innocence to which some people would dearly like to return.

But in Plymouth, the 1990s were not like that at all. With the cold war a fading memory and its dockyards shrinking at speed, in the early part of the decade, this once-great maritime city registered an unemployment rate of over 14%, and its neighbourhoods became mired in decline. In 1981, around 15,000 people had been employed at the local naval dockyards; by 1997, that figure was down to around 4,000, where it has remained ever since. As the British city said to have been most damaged by German bombing in the second world war, Plymouth had been faced with the challenge of rising from the wreckage left by the Luftwaffe, but its self-understanding as a great naval centre had remained intact. Now, with the very essence of its identity disappearing, it inevitably crumpled.

In terms of its scale, what happened here was on a par with anything in a pit village or a steel town

Why the fuck would a hairy-arsed place like this … be interested in culture? Because people’s sons and daughters are

It was a notorious place: everything went on there. It was always bad: sirens at all hours

Related: The great reinvention of Manchester: ‘It’s far more pleasant than London’

Related: Can a new Bradford emerge from a hole in the ground?

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