John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for December, 2015

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‘There’s a lot I’m still learning’: can Kezia Dugdale resurrect Scottish Labour?

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

The party lost 40 of its 41 MPs in the 2015 general election, and Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP is riding high. Can a 34-year-old newcomer (who didn’t even vote until she was 23) turn things around?

It’s five minutes before the week’s big event in the Scottish parliament, and the scene suggests a kind of politics much more modern than the hoary Westminster version. The debating chamber is an airy space, all wood panels and bright lights, seemingly purpose-built for TV broadcasts. Members – known as MSPs, or members of the Scottish parliament – have their own little desks on which they can carefully arrange their paperwork. There is none of that “right honourable member” stuff, nor a speaker sitting on a throne and dressed in a gown; if something goes down well, it’s met with applause rather than a massed, “Hear, hear.” And, as if decisively to confirm that we are in the 21st century, each of the major party leaders, arranged in a semi-circle from right to left, is a woman: the Tories’ Ruth Davidson, first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, and Labour’s new(ish) leader Kezia Dugdale.

Today is first minister’s questions, a half-hour ritual with a running order loosely based on what happens in the House of Commons. The big issue this week is an official report into a scandalous run of events back in July this year, when Scottish police – who were amalgamated into a single force by the SNP government in 2013 – failed for three days to respond to reports of a car crash on the M9 that killed 28-year-old John Yuill, and thereby contributed to the death of his 25-year-old partner Lamara Bell, who left behind two children.

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Class act: why working-class voices are music to Darkstar’s ears

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Why did these two men hang around Huddersfield railway station asking young people what they did today? Electronic duo Darkstar explain their most daring LP yet

“We just said to people: ‘We want your life in a nutshell. What do you do every day? What did you dream about last night? What have you been doing for work? And we asked people if they were going to vote – and if not, why not?”

James Young, 33, is sitting alongside his creative partner Aiden Whalley, 31, in the cafe of London’s Barbican, where they are preparing for the first of their two events in a season titled Panic! What Happened to Social Mobility in the Arts? It is intended to shine a light on the apparently narrowing range of voices in the arts, and what seems to be an increasing middle-class monopoly. The pair make music as Darkstar, and their latest album is something of a case study in what Panic! is meant to highlight. Titled Foam Island, it’s an impossibly evocative portrait of the everyday lives of teenagers and twentysomethings in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, recorded in the build-up to this year’s general election.

I remember an acute sense of having a great time, but also being in a northern town and thinking: Shit!

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Oldham byelection: Corbynmania collides with reality – video

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

John Harris spends two days in the northern town where the hot topics are immigration, Syria and the new Labour leader. Nigel Farage thinks Corbyn’s apparent unpopularity is giving his side a real chance but British-Asian voters see things very differently. The polls open in less than 24 hours and things are getting tense

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