John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for January, 2016


We are addicted to the mighty Google, but that can change | John Harris

Friday, January 29th, 2016

The left is in a lather about tax, but the bigger question is the omnipotence of digital corporations – and how we might cut them down to size

Before I even had breakfast on Thursday, I had used Google at least 10 times. As ever, I checked my Gmail account 15 minutes after I got up. Without even thinking, I then used Google to Google the latest developments in the Google tax story. As far as I know, I do not have Google dreams, but that is probably only because it is such an omnipresent part of my life that my subconscious has no need to chew it over. I’m not sure: maybe I should Google it.

Down the years, the corporations seen as guilty of amoral capitalism – from Nestlé through Monsanto and Exxon to the multinational banks and beyond – have been separate enough from most people’s lives to allow them to be painted as the evil Other, and loudly decried. The rising controversy about Google, by contrast, is a case study in something much more insidious and sophisticated: a company apparently indulging in some of the worst aspects of corporate behaviour, but because it is both stupendously well branded and tightly woven into our view of ourselves and the wider world, still looking as unassailably titanic as ever.

Related: Google agrees to face grilling from MPs on ’sweetheart’ tax deal

Related: The Big Shortfall: how UK taxpayers are cheated by business lobbyists | Simon Jenkins

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Bristol Cable founders: ‘We’re holding people to account for their actions’

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

How three friends from university found themselves building a community-powered newspaper to take on flaccid content

In 2011, Alec Saelens, Adam Cantwell and Alon Aviram were undergraduates at Sussex University. Involved in student politics but well aware of its limited horizons, they began discussing the state of the media, and what to do about it. “We were talking about a leftwing tabloid,” says Cantwell, “and then something more sophisticated than that … and then we were getting near the end of university, and it was like, ‘what are we going to do?’”

Aviram, now 25, moved to Bristol “looking for a city where I could have some sort of quality of life”, and his two friends followed suit. In between low-end jobs in catering – which, to keep themselves afloat, they still do – the three began the journey that would lead to the first issue of the Bristol Cable: a quarterly newspaper-cum-magazine and online outlet its inventors see as a forward-looking answer to the hollowed-out state of local and city media. The sixth issue has just been published, and 20,000 free copies are being distributed from more than 600 points across Bristol. About 15 volunteers run the operation day-to-day, though the roll-call of contributors exceeds 60.

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In mourning Bowie we mourn the end of an era when art could truly subvert | John Harris

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

The generation that led the golden age of rock gave us a new sense of possibility. Now, the barriers they helped dismantle are going back up

“Most rock stars are about 70 years old these days,” wrote the music critic Kate Mossman on the death in 2013 of Lou Reed, and she was not wrong. Fifty or so years after they began blazing a trail into a new world, we refuse to let go of the pop-cultural generation born in the 1940s, even though their creative lights have usually long dimmed – though that, obviously, is hardly the point. When the Rolling Stones played Glastonbury in 2013, I watched a crowd of twentysomethings stand within eyeshot of the main stage, wait for a close-up of Mick Jagger on the big screens, take selfies, and then disappear again. Evidently, the performance was less something to immerse oneself in than a kind of living Mount Rushmore.

Related: Gender maverick, David Bowie | Grayson Perry

This was the age in which a new sense of individuality replaced the idea of meekly taking one’s place in the masses

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The end of council housing

Monday, January 4th, 2016

In 1979, 42% of Britons lived in council homes. Today that figure is just under 8%. Now, by scrapping secure tenancies and bringing in a pay-to-stay scheme, the government’s new housing bill could mark the end of a century-old dream

‘We had two rooms. For five of us. There was a kitchen area, and the living room was our bedroom as well. We had a sofa bed, and we all shared it. And an outdoor toilet, and a tin bath. They’d boil the kettle, and we all had to get in.”

Related: Are you a council tenant? Then you must be punished | Barbara Ellen

Related: Housing masterplan needs a rethink | Letters from Shaun Spiers, CPRE, and others

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When are Labour party ‘moderates’ going to do more than just moan? | John Harris

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Until these self-styled keepers of the flame recognise their own failings and accept that Jeremy Corbyn won, tensions in the party will be unresolved

Smiley optimism was once their calling card, but the one-time disciples of New Labour must be looking into the new year with deep dread: 2015 was bad; 2016 could be worse. But what to do, beyond moaning?

Tony Blair recently pronounced his party’s current position a “tragedy”. Now Peter Mandelson has advised that the time for hand-wringing is over, and his former Labour colleagues ought to “fight for the party’s future” against a leader who is apparently an “intentionally divisive figure”, using “very unconventional means” to strengthen his grip (some of this may sound familiar).

Related: Peter Mandelson: Labour is a broad church – Jeremy Corbyn is turning it into a narrow sect bound for the abyss

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