John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for December, 2016

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The lesson of Trump and Brexit: a society too complex for its people risks everything | John Harris

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

The populists have grasped that communities are struggling to cope with upheaval and intricacy – and have exploited the backlash

By way of a gloomy seasonal party game, try this. Take the proverbial back of a cereal box, divide it into six rectangles, and on each one, write a supposed cause of the political turbulence now gripping the west: “the financial crash of 2008”, “inequality”, “racism and xenophobia”, “Tony Blair, basically”, and all the rest. Then get out the gin, maybe put on a Radiohead album, and enjoy hours of doom-laden conversational fun.

Were I daft enough to play the game myself, on one rectangle, I think I’d write an explanation so far barely mentioned in the acres of coverage of 2016’s chaos, but one right at the heart of it all: “Ever-increasing complexity, and the diminishing returns it now creates.” It’s not the snappiest conversation starter, I know. But if you’re looking for a grand catch-all theory that ties together Donald Trump, Brexit, and the general sense of a world spinning into chaos, it might not be a bad place to begin.

Individual lives are more scrambled and complicated than they have ever been. For a lot of us, modernity is a mess

Related: Don’t fall for these dishonest attacks on the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ | Jonathan Freedland

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With Trump and Uber, the driverless future could turn into a nightmare | John Harris

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

The automation revolution is no longer a sci-fi dream – but millions of jobs may go, fuelling yet more alienation and dismay

The future is here – not in the shape of Facebook, Twitter and all the rest, but in a drastic change to one of civilisation’s basic requirements: getting humans from place to place. On Wednesday, Uber added a second American city to an experiment that will soon expand: having already done so in Pittsburgh, it transported paying customers around San Francisco in cabs whose every move was controlled by computer.

Related: Uber riders in Pittsburgh can hail self-driving Ford Fusions in test program

Related: Trump to meet tech firms including Apple, Facebook and Google

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Sleaford proves Labour isn’t connecting with the 52% – or the 48% | John Harris

Friday, December 9th, 2016

First came Richmond. Now this dismal byelection result shows the party is all at sea on Brexit-tossed political waters, left behind by a tide of change

“Clearly for us, this was not the result we might have hoped for,” says a senior Labour MP of the party’s grim showing in the Sleaford and North Hykeham byelection. “The challenge for us was because of Brexit. Everything was about Brexit. The messages about the A&E, the NHS, the messages about infrastructure, all of that got lost to an extent in the swirl around Brexit.”

Well, there it is: pesky old Brexit. If only Britain were not in the midst of its most highly charged political period for decades, if only leaving the EU had not captured the political imagination of a sizable part of Labour’s old core vote, if only many remain voters weren’t cottoning on to the much more primary-coloured message of the Lib Dems … well, then all would be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Related: Stark warning for Labour as party slips to fourth in Sleaford byelection

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A challenge to Facebook’s reach and power is long overdue | John Harris

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Mark Zuckerberg’s company feeds utopian delusions, but in reality it is just a billionaire’s media outlet grinding out a fortune

“As I look around and I travel around the world, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward, against this idea of a connected world and a global community. I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as others.”

Related: How Facebook powers money machines for obscure political ‘news’ sites

Related: Google, democracy and the truth about internet search

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Do we need vegan-friendly fivers? Catch up on our live look at the week

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

From a Richmond by-election to Trump and more, look back on our real-time discussion about the week’s news and comment

4.53pm GMT

Ok everyone. I will be heading off now, but please feel free to continue the discussion below the line. Thanks all! Email over thoughts and suggestions about this feature if you have any (

They are always welcome!

4.30pm GMT

I had one of those moments parents dread this week. Just as I was putting the kids to bed my eldest, aged 7, asked “Does Father Christmas really bring us the presents, or is it you and mummy who get them?”
The question took me aback, and I’m afraid my reply was the rather unconvincing fluff of “Well, what do you think? It’s magic.”
She said to me “Look me in the face and say that, so I can see if you are lying.”
I was most conscious though that this was all in earshot of her 3-year-old brother. It’s been my policy not to lie to my children about anything. If they’ve asked where babies come from or questions about religion they get a very biological or honest answer. “Well some people believe Jesus was the son of God. But daddy doesn’t believe that.”
However, Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy all make an appearance in our household – which I guess makes me a bit of a hypocrite on the honesty front.
I was pleased today to find out I’m not alone, here is a lovely little collection of what parents tell their kids about Santa which is well worth your time.

Related: ‘It shocks people that I refuse to lie’: what parents tell their children about Santa

4.13pm GMT

The idea that NHS treatment should be denied or delayed for people who can be blamed for their condition is poisonous. It will lead to the end of an NHS founded on the principle that treatment is free for all, when they need it, regardless of their status, their worth, their morals, their state of mind. It didn’t surprise me that lot of smug people wrote comments after my piece praising the Vale of York NHS, backed by Downing Street, for putting obese people and smokers to the back of the queue. People like to feel good about themselves by imagining they are superior to others, the unlucky, the addicted, or the unworthy. Which of us, really, is so virtuous? Let’s have empathy and support for the people who need it most when they are ill and treat everyone according to need.

Related: Sending fat smokers to the back of the queue is a betrayal of NHS values| Polly Toynbee

4.05pm GMT

Forget Sam-Cam’s fashion range, one reader has other ideas …

I’m just looking forward to Jeremy Corbyn’s range of jams and preserves.

3.44pm GMT

Samantha Cameron’s intention to launch her own fashion label has been the worst-kept secret in fashion. This week it was confirmed with an announcement that the Cefinn brand will go on sale early next year. So far, all we have to go on are two outfits, and the fact that the brand logo is eyebrow-raisingly close to the Celine font. More details will be in the January issue of Vogue, which is out on Monday. But the news got me thinking: why is it that we are so fascinated by the wardrobes of public figures? And what does using a spell in Downing Street as a launchpad for a fashion or lifestyle brand say about modern politics?

Related: Sam Cam the brand – what to expect from the Cefinn fashion label

3.27pm GMT

Another view on those bank notes from the comments

I don’t believe so as it’s just a slaughter by product, and if it’s more efficient to use by products than we should go with that. Having said that we should do everything we can to reduce beef and dairy consumption, as it’s not the by products but the big market for those main products that are environmentally unfriendly and unsustainable. So lets focus on the real culprits, not the by products.

2.55pm GMT

The nation’s wombs were a battleground this week, as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommended that sufferers of severe pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) should be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The severe form of PMS affects about 2% of women, and is defined by psychological symptoms that interfere with work, school performance or relationships. According to the experts, CBT is a more effective treatment than antidepressants. Which sounds fair enough. But, of course, no.

Related: Should women with PMS get free therapy on the NHS?

2.21pm GMT

Campaigners are putting pressure on the Bank Of England, urging it make the new £5 note vegan friendly. The response from the Australian pioneer of the polymer bank note? Well, he says they are being “stupid”.

Related: £5 animal fat bank note: British vegetarians being ’stupid’ says inventor

I think it’s a reasonable demand that people who abhor and won’t partake in the death or suffering of animals to ask for alternative to a product they have no choice but to use.
It’s funny how easily people can trivialise others’ beliefs when they’re not their own.

Vice did the maths on this:

And if you get about 40kg of tallow-worthy fat from the average cow, how many cows would you need to make every single £5 note in circulation?


1.59pm GMT

We talked lunch this week, something that – perhaps because this feature runs around midday on a Friday – often comes up below the line. More specifically, it was the office lunches and your feelings towards your colleagues’ habits that turned cogitation to conversation.

Related: How hot, smelly and noisy is your al desko lunch?

Even though my co-worker re-heats fish at her desk (gag), she actually makes fun of me/picks on me for “taking a lunch break” (as she calls it) because I leave the office for lunch.

That is what I find most depressing about the al desko (as the author calls it) trend. It makes leaving the office something to be ashamed of, whether it is your right to do so or not: many appear to think you are not working hard enough because you’ve left your desk for lunch

Never mind the smell – it’s working during your lunch that should be socially unacceptable. Previous generations worked hard to get us mandatory lunch breaks, but we willingly erode these rights with the creeping expectations of ‘professionalism’ – a mythology of sacrifice and work obsession that negates our own interests.

Less bothered by smells (unless they are incredibly vile) and more bothered by people who; eat with their mouth open / have weird clicky jaws / make weird munching sounds / take 2 hours to consume lunch.

I quite like having a nose and seeing what everyone’s eating.

1.43pm GMT

Today’s political news might be all about the Liberal Democrats’ win in Richmond Park, but next week a byelection happens in very different political territory. The Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency is in the Brexit heartland of Lincolnshire, and 62% of people in the relevant local authority area voted to leave the EU (in Richmond, 70% supported remain). As part of the Anywhere But Westminster series, I went there not to cover the electoral race – this is a very safe Tory seat – but to find out how the aftershocks of the EU referendum were playing out far from the capital.

1.30pm GMT

Some are looking not only to Richmond, but to Sleaford, Lincolnshire, where there will be a byelection next week.

The result, along with the previous one at Witney, means that there’s rich-pickings for any openly anti-brexit party. Sleaford could stop the bandwagon next week though.

37% of voters put the Conservatives into majority Government in 2015.
48% of voters supported Remain in 2016.

1.10pm GMT

Here’s one of your views on that Richmond Park byelection:

I think what it means is that the country is more polarised than ever. Richmond is the kind of place where most people voted Remain. Rather than simply accept being told to “shut up” every five minutes, these people are now digging their heels in. The country is going to be divided for a very long time over this and the name-calling, wilful disregard of facts and tabloid hysteria have not helped one little bit. Neither, for that matter, has a government which has decided that “the will of the people” excludes millions who wanted exactly the opposite and that the referendum is a mandate not only to leave the EU, but to leave the single market, insult our neighbours, threaten people living legally in this country and sabotage the future prosperity of the nation. Paradoxically, both the Libdems and UKIP will be boosted by all this.

1.04pm GMT

Our colleague James Walsh has been speaking to readers in the Richmond Park constituency, resulting in this piece which is worth a read:

Related: Why we voted to get rid of Zac Goldsmith

12.52pm GMT

What does the Lib Dem victory in Richmond mean? Could a pro-EU message take a swathe of seats from the Tories? This graph by pollster James Kanagasooriam suggests that around 20-25 seats have enough people who voted Remain to overturn the Tory majority from 2015, so would be vulnerable to a similar swing – even without any drop in Tory popularity more generally.

Richmond one of a small group of Tory seats vulnerable to Remain tactical voting. Graphic below indicates up to c.20-25 could be vulnerable

12.41pm GMT

You’ve been sharing more vews in response to the question of sleep in the comments.

I definitely keep myself awake far too long in the evenings, mainly because I feel robbed of time after a day at work. When I come home I’m desperate just to spend time enjoying not being at work, relaxing, feeling equilibrium return. I arrive home exhausted and annoyed. I get a second wave of energy at about 9pm and that’s bed by 11 gone out of the window.

12.24pm GMT

Are we telling our bodies to do something totally unnatural?

For millennia, people went to sleep, then woke up for a few hours, then went back to sleep again. First sleep, second sleep. This is how we sleep. It’s the natural way to do it. The idea of sleeping all night so we can go to work all day is entirely artificial, has only been around since the industrial revolution and not surprisingly, many people can’t do it. What’s surprising is that we can expect them to, or even ask them to do something so unnatural.

12.10pm GMT

This week a report claimed that poor sleep costs the UK £40bn a year. People sleep badly, go into work, and with foggy heads do their best. But, whatever your job, such days are less productive than they should be.

Related: Hit snooze! How a better night’s sleep could save the UK £40bn

In one of my first jobs about thirty years ago, one of the manager’s I worked for used to have a short nap in his office after lunch. But those were definitely different, less pressured times.

11.47am GMT

We look forward to getting started. This is a space for our readers to discuss the week’s news and comment articles, with input from writers above the line. It’s been an eventful week, and we will talk about everything from the sleeplessness epidemic to the Richmond byelection. Join us now – and if you have any questions or comments about this feature get in touch (

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