John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for May, 2016

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Paul McCartney by Philip Norman review – the Beatle finally gets his due

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

Norman was one of the commentators who made popular the idea that John Lennon was the key member of the Beatles. In this flawed but powerful new book he admits he was wrong

Philip Norman’s biography of the Beatles, Shout!, has sold more than a million copies. Published in 1981 soon after John Lennon’s murder, it was buoyed by the wave of nostalgia that ensued – the first stirrings of the over-the-top Beatles worship that is now an immovable part of popular culture all over the world. Norman delivered arguably the first literary look at Beatledom: the book divided their career into four parts – Wishing, Getting, Having and Wasting – and told the story in gleaming prose. But Shout! has one big drawback: a glaring bias against Paul McCartney, who was portrayed as a kind of simpering egomaniac, and a correspondingly overgenerous view of Lennon, who, Norman later claimed, represented “three quarters of The Beatles”.

Norman went on to write John Lennon: A Life. Now, eight years later, comes this new book, introduced with a blunt mea culpa. Norman’s damning of McCartney, he now says, was a reaction to how much he had once not just admired him, but wanted to somehow be up there, in his place. “If I’m honest,” he now writes, “all those years I’d spent wishing to be him had left me feeling in some obscure way that I needed to get my own back.” Now, he has a more generous view – and so, with McCartney’s “tacit approval” (assistance with sources and information, but no direct involvement) he has written the Lennon book’s companion piece.

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Whatever happens in this referendum, England’s disquiet is set to get a whole lot worse | John Harris

Friday, May 27th, 2016

The new ONS figures show a nation divided, as population shifts exacerbate existing tensions

A question may have recently popped into your head: why are we having this referendum? A large part of the answer, of course, is rooted in the internal machinations of the Conservative party, David Cameron’s doomed attempts to quieten things down and the enduring Tory view of the EU as the world’s prime example of bureaucracy and statism gone mad.

Related: The eight big questions on migration the leave campaign must answer | Jacqui Smith

On the outer edges of London and beyond, resentment and loss will still define a big part of the public mood

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Bristol mayor Marvin Rees: ‘My dad arrived to signs saying​: ​No Irish, no blacks, no dogs’

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

His election as UK’s first black mayor was deeply symbolic. How does he plan to tackle Bristol’s growing problem with inequality – and its racist past?

‘I don’t want to be tagged as the black mayor. I’m a mayor for all of the city,” says Marvin Rees. “But my story of growing up here as a mixed-race kid does matter. There is something special about that.”

Earlier this month, Rees defeated the incumbent mayor of his home city of Bristol with a final vote-share of 63%. In London, Sadiq Khan’s win was being held up as a huge moment for Britain’s Muslim population, and welcome proof that divisive, borderline-hateful campaigning is often more likely to backfire than succeed – but 120 miles up the M4, an equally dazzling story was playing out. Rees, after all, had become not just the local elections’ other big Labour story, but also the UK’s first black mayor. Moreover, in a city with a history intertwined with slavery and the black community’s fight for rights and recognition, his arrival in power was deeply symbolic.

Related: Bristol campaigners to disrupt auction of council homes

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How to cut through the political noise to talk to the people who matter

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

With the EU referendum looming, we want you to tell us: who should we discuss the big issues with?

It was a Tuesday lunchtime in Druid Heights, a struggling central Baltimore neighbourhood, all boarded-up houses and abandoned backlots. We were following a team from non-partisan local church organisation BUILD as they knocked on doors and tried to get people to vote in the Maryland state primaries.

The presidential candidates and their political machines felt as if they were light years away: here, a lot of people talked about politics in the context of where they lived. The outcomes of national elections seemed to amount to a kind of abstract drama. Most people we met supported Hillary Clinton, but they had no illusions about a win for her entailing change in this part of the city. “I’ve seen so many great presidents come through,” one woman told us. “I’ve seen Obama come through. And our community hasn’t changed yet.”

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Donald Trump supporters are not the bigots the left likes to demonise | John Harris

Friday, May 13th, 2016

It is time to stop the hysterical moralising and try to understand why mainstream US politics is so unappealing.

Last Tuesday, at about 3pm, I parked my rental car outside a polling station in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and began to talk to the droves of people going in and out. There was only one subject I really wanted to hear about: Donald Trump, and his jaw-dropping progress to being the presumptive Republican nominee.

As he said himself, a win in the state of Indiana would seal the deal, and so it proved: he got 53% of the vote, which triggered the exit of his two supposed rivals. Meanwhile, the global liberal left seemed to be once again working itself into a lather, which was easily translatable: how awful that a man routinely described using all the boo-words progressives can muster – misogynist, racist, fascist, xenophobe, or “xenophobic fascist”, as George Clooney understatedly put it – could now be a resident of the political mainstream, and a serious contender for president.

Related: George Clooney: ‘There’s not going to be a President Donald Trump’

Time spent in the US quickly reveals a country that collectively feels it has taken no end of wrong turns

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