John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for September, 2016

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Austerity and then chicanery: how the Tories target cash strapped councils | John Harris

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

Ministers claim the worst cuts are being offset. In fact, the true beneficiaries are Conservative shires

The idea of Theresa May as some steadfast, solid presence at the top seems to be slipping away with every passing day, but one part of the mood music around her premiership continues to gently play on. Its tones are soothing and serene, intended to ease us out of one Tory era and into another – and if you listen hard, you can just about make out the chorus: “Cuts? What cuts?”

The new prime minister began her brief campaign for the Tory leadership by pledging to do away with George Osborne’s insistence that the public finances be back in surplus by 2020, only for Osborne to apparently agree, 12 days before she gave him the sack. Soon after, her new chancellor, Philip Hammond, said that the new government would “take whatever measures are necessary” to stabilise the economy, and spoke vaguely of a Treasury “reset”. Last Sunday Damian Green, the new work and pensions secretary, appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and talked about cuts in the past tense: “The period of austerity meant that tough decisions had to be taken across the board,” he said, as if it were all finally over.

Related: The austerity agenda isn’t over. More people will sink further into poverty | Patrick Butler

‘Any politician who affects sympathy with people at the sharp end while overseeing such carnage is guilty of cant’

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Crisis on the left: what’s the future of progressive politics? – Guardian Live

Friday, September 16th, 2016

John Harris, a cross-party panel and Guardian Members ask if the only way to defeat the Tories is to create a more representative, pluralist politics on the left

Since the 2015 general election delivered an outright majority to the Conservative party and a landslide victory for the SNP in Scotland, the landscape of British politics has changed radically. A divisive referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU further exposed a split between a disillusioned electorate and a metropolitan elite. As the Labour party undertakes its second leadership contest in a year, many doubt the opposition’s ability to challenge the Tory government in the next general election. So what’s the answer?

Guardian journalist John Harris is joined by: the Labour MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy; the SNP MP for Central Ayrshire, Philippa Whitford; the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas; the British politician and economist, Vince Cable; and the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown.

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A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart review – moving odysseys in Minecraft

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

A father’s relationship with his autistic son is transformed by their shared adventures in a virtual Lego-like world

Sam is eight years old: unhappy at school, held back by his limited vocabulary, and guided through the world by his two thirtysomething parents. As his father, Alex, sees it, “the world is a gigantic engine that needs to function in a certain way, with predictable actions, in order to ensure [Sam’s] safety. Before he can relax, he needs to know the timings and movements of everything around him, and he must have his finger on the off button at all times.”

This is a crisp summary of one of the basic components of autism, which sits at the heart of A Boy Made of Blocks, and explains why this unassuming-looking work of commercial fiction carries not just an air of zeitgeisty significance, but the sense of a missionary author who needs to tell the world about things too often misunderstood.

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Does it matter if your in-laws hate you? Catch up on our live look at the week

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

It’s been a week of ups and downs, highs and lows – but what’s got you talking? Recap on our weekly debate and leave your comments

4.28pm BST

We are just about to wrap up above the line, but encourage you to continue comments below the line.

Lots of interesting debate this week, hope everyone has a good weekend. Share your plans with us in the comments.

4.14pm BST

I remember hearing about Fabric long before I could legally go clubbing. It appeared as some mythical beast, a talking point among my teenage friends. It was the place to go. I only ever went once or twice, and to be honest it was never really my kind of club. I prefer smaller and more intimate venues. However, even though electronic music isn’t really my bag I can appreciate the importance of Fabric: it has helped bring on DJs and develop a vibrant and diverse music scene in the capital. It’s sad to see it shut its doors. I spoke to readers about what they will remember about the club this week – what do you think about its closure?

Related: ‘Landmark clubs are evidence of creativity and energy in a city’: why Fabric’s closure matters

4.03pm BST

If anyone was in any doubt about whether, in 2016, woman are still penalised at work for having functioning wombs, they should turn to Pregnant Then Screwed: a website where women can post their all-too-common tales of prejudice in the workplace. It makes depressing reading: from longstanding, loyal employees forced out due to a lack of flexible working, to pregnant women who have ended up in hospital due to their company’s failure to follow a risk assessment.

3.53pm BST

One reader had a not-so-great relationship with their in-laws, and opted for a rather unusual solution …

Mine wouldn’t acknowledge my existence for 10 years to the point my wife was not allowed to talk about me at all when her father was present – it certainly gives one a perspective on basic racism.

Eventually though the mediation of an aunt the situation was resolved but only by the somewhat bizarre mechanism of pretending we had just met and it was entirely new as a relationship and pretending the last decade basically never happened.

3.35pm BST

Thanks to this comment on the whether there’s a future of the left …

Yes, they’re a very good band from Wales.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_of_the_Left

3.18pm BST

One of our readers sent this question in via our form this week and psychotherapist Philippa Perry answers it below. If you have a question you want answered next week, then share it here.

It matters if your in-laws hate you. They’re going to be upset, you’re going to be upset, your partner is going to feel pretty horrible too. Dislike can be easier to feel than fear or sadness, and takes less effort than love. My mother in-law loathed me so much. I tried to love her but in the end opted for self-protection and cut off contact. My father sneered at my sister’s husband who won him round in the end by lovingly caring for him in his old age. Why it matters is because all that hating was such a waste of life.

3.03pm BST

Related: ‘Freaks on the peaks’: the lonely lives of the last remaining forest fire lookouts

I heard about the lookouts a few months ago while reporting another fire-related story, about Smokejumpers, and so lobbied the US Forest service to visit one. The trip up to the Stonewall lookout in Montana is, as you’d expect, gorgeous. But also stark. A big fire scorched the forest in 2003 and it’s still recovering. One dilemma with this story was using the term “freaks”. Lookouts use the term themselves as an insider, jokey term but in print it could seem harsh and mocking. Judging by the near universally positive reactions of readers – everyone seems to want to do this job – I think the article makes clear lookouts have an important and special role.

2.47pm BST

From the archive, we’ve got these articles on the beloved Star Trek. One is from June 1974 and the other is from February 1973, about an annual Star Trek convention.

They comes as Star Trek turns 50 this week, making those of us who grew up on the progressive, optimistic science fiction franchise feeling rather out of time in an increasingly non-progressive era. A reminder, if you’re a fan we’re also collecting your Star Trek stories and pictures – click the blue GuardianWitness buttons to find out more.

2.07pm BST

Tech news this week was dominated (sorry, Playstation fans) by Apple’s announcement of a new phone, and, as well as its wearable (obviously) Watch, some new “loseables” in the form of the Airpod wireless headphones.

Related: Earth to Apple: wireless Airpod headphones are like a tampon without a string

$159/£120?? based on my consumption of £5 headphones from Tesco I reckon an iphone 7 will cost me about two grand a year.

And just when we thought the year couldn’t get any worse, Apple goes and drops the trusted headphone jack.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

1.56pm BST

The future of the left is a topic you won’t move away from quickly – there’s been some really interesting exchanges and we hope they continue. If you spot a comment up here you can click on it to scroll directly to that point in the conversation – and get involved.

Agree with Harris. Labour’s dead. And it wont take a long time before the tories realise that the same thing is going to happen to them. The party’s been captured by the hard right-wing and, at some point, the centrists will become a complete irrelevance.

What we may see is a fragmentation, even atomisation, of mainstream political parties. In both the case of Labour and the Tories, the parties are increasingly becoming representative of narrow interest of core members. Tory members have always been very euro-sceptic and held a strong anti-immigration line. The brexit vote has legitimised those views and those euro-sceptic MPs who were once on the fringes and largely dismissed by their peers are now the ones calling the shots. The narrow victory by the Leave campaign has given them the confidence to push forward policies and ideas that are hugely divisive in the mistaken belief that these policies are supporters by a broad church. The way in which the Tory party has framed the Brexit vote as an almost exclusively anti-immigration vote and have pushed for grammar schools (despite the fact it was not in their manifesto) are good examples of this phenomenon. With Labour, you have a so-called social movement which demands that all MPS reflect the views of the majority of the membership, instead of looking to reflect the wide spectrum of interest and views of Labour voters. Just like the Tories they believe that this narrow movement holds great support across the UK. If only the media would give them a fair shot. If only the MPs would support the leader. If, if …

It’s not quite that Labour’s dead, which is why I talk about the end of the Labour Party as we know it. Some (or a lot) of what it encompasses at the moment will be part of the left’s future: e.g if the leadership of the unions would start to better answer the question of how to organise in a fragmented, “platform” economy, we’d get a sense of their (absolutely necessary) involvement.

Two questions usually give you a sense of whether a group or individual has a sense of the left’s future: 1)Do they want to change the electoral system and embrace plural politics, and 2)Are they interested in UBI? (Note: a depressingly large swathe of Labour, left and right, would answer ‘No’ to both)

Has the left a future? Possibly if it comes up with new solutions to the issues of today rather than using old failed solutions. Millions more people each year are gaining standards of living that only the elite could afford a generation ago but the left don’t like to focus on the positives – hence the move to talk about inequality of wealth rather than whether standards of living are rising (you can have zero wealth but a decent standard of living). The left needs to talk about real solutions and show them working rather than theoretical six form debating niave policies.

1.47pm BST

If you are interested in the Paralympics our colleagues on the picture desk are selecting some of the best images from each day.

Related: Rio Paralympic Games 2016: day one – in pictures

1.29pm BST

Well this is going to be a depressing politically themed thread today.

I had a steak and Stilton pastie for lunch. Bloody marvellous.

Ok we’re listening Mark – let’s broaden things out. (Cheese and tomato sandwich for me … )

Related: Turning Paralympians into ‘superhumans’ is no help to disabled people | Penny Pepper

That’s an interesting perspective, but surely it is a fantastic message to send out…that a disability need not stop anyone from having dreams and that that there are other abilities that can shine in the same person?

I know my kids were amazed to see what people with disabilities were able to do, especially during the London Paralympics. It’s difficult to teach that to a child in theory and it certainly doesn’t mean that all disabled people need to live up to that expectation.

I find much of the media coverage of the Paralympics unctuous and patronising. The absurd hyperbole surrounding the games makes it difficult to watch sometimes, without switching off the overblown commentary.

As someone disabled by cancer, I am so torn on this issue. The Paralympics does to much to educate society about disability and imparts a really positive message, but it also leads people to be more dismissive of real physical and mental conditions that are real and do need to be taken into account. The DLA or PIP is essential for some disabled people who need extra help. Disability already saps one’s confidence because you effectively cannot trust your body, or indeed other’s reactions. I have been made fun of for having no hair- having no eyelashes and eyebrows makes one look strange but also abused simply for having to stop walking suddenly because I felt my legs give way and someone pushed me aside. The Job Centres need to stop bullying disabled people into work they simply cannot do or can only do on a good day, by alluding to the Olympics and “can do” attitude.

1.19pm BST

More thoughts on the left from below the line:

The left will always have a future. Especially in a country where inequality is becoming less popular.

However, what does this mean for Labour party? The Labour party was the party of progress of the 20th century. Great party. But ultimately, undone by the breakdown in 1970’s. Wilson’s voters. don;t forget, remembered the depression and world war 2. Today’s baby boomers have no memory of those things, just the 1970’s and 1980’s. Left boomers remember 1980’s as unemployment, pit closures, factory closures. The right boomers remember the property ownership, share ownership, white collar jobs. And they were in the majority. Neoliberalism, polarised, because it widened wealth gaps, and as a result, many areas became more left wing (merseyside, glasgow etc). But they were minority by geography. Most Brits liked neoliberalism and did well out of it.

Pretty good, that.

The Mosborough (Sheffield) Byelection result, where a Labour safe seat was lost, must come as a wake-up call for all who wish Labour to thrive.

Losing Labour candidate was Julie Grocutt from Stocksbridge, an anti-Corbyn, pro-Smith groopie, who previously also put her 2 cents in regarding the Brick-through-”Eagle’s”-window incident.

I don’t think many of the voters in that ward would have voted one way or another because of the factional preference of the Labour candidate. 99% of people don’t care about that stuff.

1.13pm BST

Away from politics briefly – are you a Star Trek fan? If so you’ll know the show is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week – and you might be interested in our callout asking you to share your stories and photos.

Here’s our colleague James Walsh on what we’re looking for:

Related: Are you a Star Trek fan? Share your stories and photos

This is our 10yr old Star Trek fanatic Alannah-Mae. Both her dad and I have been fans for years, this year our daughter watched the Voyager series from start to finish. She adored it – the series really resonated with her fierce independent streak; a female captain and head of engineering!!

Watching her drop into the the Star Trek world and take so much joy and inspiration from it made us live it even more.

Sent via GuardianWitness

By Emma Burgess

8 September 2016, 22:28

Related: To boldly binge: my continuing mission to watch all 700 episodes of Star Trek

1.02pm BST

John Harris is responding to some of your responses to his article and points here in the comments.

In the face of such conscienceless greed exhibited by buy-to-let landlords and property investors (including most of the ruling elite), who see nothing wrong in direct exploitation of the rising generation through exhorbitant rents and soaring house prices, I would say that the left has a chance. If only they could find the charismatic leader to unite the various factions. JC is not that person.

It has to run deeper than that. As the piece says:

Labour is engulfed by the same crisis facing its sister parties in Europe. Political commentary tends to focus on politicians, and describe the world as if parties can be pulled here and there by the sheer will of powerful individuals. But Labour’s problems are systemic, rooted in the deepest structures of the economy and society. The left’s basic ideals of equality, solidarity and a protected public realm should be ageless. But everything on which it once built its strength has either disappeared, or is shrinking fast.

For the Left to have a future, the following urgently need to read John Harris: JEREMY CORBYN, OWEN SMITH, CAROLINE LUCAS, that new Green co-leader who called UKIP ‘fascists’, and TIM FARRON. Can they come out of their comfort zones?

In fairness, C.Lucas is very good on what was in that piece – UBI has been Green Party politics for ages, she’s very good at working with people from other parties… has a broad but radical understanding of modern left politics. Not much of that in evidence on the Labour Question Time last night, unfort.

12.49pm BST

You’re discussing that question of the week – here are a few of your comments so far:

Of course the left has a chance.

What’s the alternative – just let everything happen and slowly erode away everything that has been achieved by the left in the past, you know, funny lefty stuff like sick pay, maternity leave, weekends, holidays, social care, environmental protection etc.?

England, particularly, is a conservative nation, but one that could never quite become wholly conservative, such as its devotion to the NHS. Perhaps it’s now time for it to completely embrace that conservatism and see where it leads? I think it will lead to worse lives for many of us. But that appears to be what the majority of Brits want. So why fight against it?

“The break-up between social democracy and the new radical left”

Is the best thing ever to happen, if you think right wing, Free Market extremists should be left to gut, a Century of left wing advances in our Societys. Notably: in free Health care & services for the poor, elderly, disabled, or the other most vulnerable groups in society. By spiltting the left, it reduces it to powerless impotent fury: anyone who does not think the left must win elections, to stop this wilful vandalism of our societys is the problem, not the solution.

The left absolutely does have a future.. but the Guardian needs to stop attacking it.

What has “become” the left in recent years (identity politics > all) is now discredited and thankfully in decline.

12.24pm BST

After reading his long read this week one reader asked John Harris to expand on what he thinks the alternatives for the future left are – so where it can go now? Is Labour dead? What would a new party look like? Here is his response.

The most basic point that arises from what my piece says is that the revival of the political left, here and across the world, is probably going to be a long haul. The break-up between social democracy and the new radical left (e.g Podemos in Spain, elements of Syriza in Greece, many of the forces behind the Bernie Sanders campaign) has only just happened. Debate and thought about how much economies have changed and what the left should do about it is still in the foothills.

12.23pm BST

Below John Harris comments on the biggest questions that came to mind when writing his long-read on whether the left has a future.

One of the biggest themes in the piece was about the changing nature of work, the roots of that change in technology, and the idea that in a world of temporary employment and the gig economy, work can’t be the main way we give people security and stability. Does that match people’s understanding of how their lives are headed? Does a word like “worker” carry much weight any more? And a final one: the most talked-about way of dealing with all this is a universal basic income, which I personally think will have to be the core of any viable left politics in the future. What do people think?

Related: Does the left have a future? | John Harris

12.09pm BST

Everyone is going wild for Apple’s new iPhone and the fact it comes with wireless headphones. Consumers are perplexed by Apple’s new iPhone 7 AirPods because of one obvious oversight: that cord is there so they don’t get lost.

Other top pieces include the news that Fabric has lost its licence and will be shutting its doors. As well as this, there’s been interest in the fact Barack Obama cancelled a meeting after the president of the Philippines called him a “son of a whore”. Finally, there was lots of interest in news that the police were called after a school sent dozens of pupils home for wearing wrong uniform.

11.58am BST

It’s time for our Friday Guardian Social – your space to discuss the week’s news and views in real time. We’ll bring you the best stories of the week, with comments from the journalists involved in reporting them, as well as some of the discussions you’ve been having around the site.

You can also get in touch by email via matthew.holmes@theguardian.com or sarah.marsh@theguardian.com or fill out our form at the following link if you’ve got any feedback or questions you’d like our journalists to answer.

Related: Is there a question you’d like to ask a Guardian journalist?

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Does the left have a future? Join our live look at the week

Friday, September 9th, 2016

It’s been a week of ups and downs, highs and lows – but what’s got you talking? Discuss the best news and comment here from noon to 4.30pm

12.24pm BST

After reading his long read this week one reader asked John Harris to expand on what he thinks the alternatives for the future left are – so where it can go now? Is Labour dead? What would a new party look like? Here is his response.

The most basic point that arises from what my piece says is that the revival of the political left, here and across the world, is probably going to be a long haul. The break-up between social democracy and the new radical left (e.g Podemos in Spain, elements of Syriza in Greece, many of the forces behind the Bernie Sanders campaign) has only just happened. Debate and thought about how much economies have changed and what the left should do about it is still in the foothills.

12.23pm BST

Below John Harris comments on the biggest questions that came to mind when writing his long-read on whether the left has a future.

One of the biggest themes in the piece was about the changing nature of work, the roots of that change in technology, and the idea that in a world of temporary employment and the gig economy, work can’t be the main way we give people security and stability. Does that match people’s understanding of how their lives are headed? Does a word like “worker” carry much weight any more? And a final one: the most talked-about way of dealing with all this is a universal basic income, which I personally think will have to be the core of any viable left politics in the future. What do people think?

Related: Does the left have a future? | John Harris

12.09pm BST

Everyone is going wild for Apple’s new iPhone and the fact it comes with wireless headphones. Consumers are perplexed by Apple’s new iPhone 7 AirPods because of one obvious oversight: that cord is there so they don’t get lost.

Other top pieces include the news that Fabric has lost its licence and will be shutting its doors. As well as this, there’s been interest in the fact Barack Obama cancelled a meeting after the president of the Philippines called him a “son of a whore”. Finally, there was lots of interest in news that the police were called after a school sent dozens of pupils home for wearing wrong uniform.

11.58am BST

It’s time for our Friday Guardian Social – your space to discuss the week’s news and views in real time. We’ll bring you the best stories of the week, with comments from the journalists involved in reporting them, as well as some of the discussions you’ve been having around the site.

You can also get in touch by email via matthew.holmes@theguardian.com or sarah.marsh@theguardian.com or fill out our form at the following link if you’ve got any feedback or questions you’d like our journalists to answer.

Related: Is there a question you’d like to ask a Guardian journalist?

Continue reading…

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

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