John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for October, 2017

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Freedom for Frestonia: the London commune that cut loose from the UK

Monday, October 30th, 2017

When a group of squatters decided to form a republic in west London, few took them seriously. Forty years on, those on the frontline recall a remarkable victory

It’s only a small corner of west London, but it speaks volumes about the recent history of the city. Inside a converted factory is the HQ of Stella McCartney’s design business. Two minutes’ walk away is a similarly refurbished building now owned and used by the photographer Mario Testino. Across the cacophonous link-road that connects the A40 to Shepherd’s Bush is the ever-expanding Westfield shopping centre. And looming over everything is an unspeakably unsettling symbol of the 21st-century capital and its awful inequalities: what remains of Grenfell Tower.

On the walls of a new local gallery are 50 or so black-and-white prints that vividly capture a decade-long experiment in different ways of living and tell a fascinating tale that would be inconceivable in the modern capital. It all happened 40 years ago, when 120 residents of a squatters’ community threatened with demolition, eviction and dispersal decided to fight back – by becoming a self-styled independent republic named Frestonia, attracting the interest of the world’s media and embarrassing the authorities into taking them seriously, and allowing many to carry on living here.

They wanted to make us a non-problem, divide us. But all of a sudden we were in the news

Related: Joe Moran: Britain’s mini-republics had passports and flags, but they will be best remembered for their wit

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Owning a car will soon be a thing of the past | John Harris

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

The idea that we will surrender our prized motors can look far-fetched. But as cities clamp down on vehicle use, technology is putting a utopian vision in reach

If ours is an age in which no end of institutions and conventions are being disrupted, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the most basic features of everyday life seems under serious threat. If you are fortunate enough to live in a house with a drive, look outside and you will probably see it: that four-wheeled metal box, which may well be equipped with every technological innovation imaginable, but now shows distinct signs of obsolescence.

Related: The car has a chokehold on Britain. It’s time to free ourselves | George Monbiot

Related: I’m really not a petrolhead… | Victoria Coren Mitchell

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Homelessness has surged for seven years. And it’s clear who’s to blame | John Harris

Friday, October 13th, 2017

The Tories’ ruinous policies have seen rough sleeping soar. And universal credit will pile on the misery for thousands more

From the knuckles upwards, at least three of his fingers were missing. Frostbite last winter, he said. Some of his toes had gone too. Someone had found him unconscious with hypothermia, and he had spent months in hospital before once again living on the street. He said he needed £17 for a one-night stay in a hostel: I gave him a fiver and some cigarettes, and we talked some more.

Related: We had dealt with homelessness. Why has it now returned? | Lynsey Hanley

Related: Andy Burnham is giving part of his salary away. Should we all follow suit? | Sophia Deboick

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Working with autism: ‘We need people who dare to think differently’

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Neurodiversity can be a huge advantage for companies, yet people on the spectrum have often been marginalised. Now some firms are specifically seeking them out. Is this a crucial turning point?

Five minutes from London’s Liverpool street station is an office that looks like any other office in the tech industry: the decor is 21st century, pristine; takeaway coffee cups are omnipresent; most people under 30 are in casualwear. Just about everyone seems to be either staring at a smartphone, tapping at a laptop, or sprinting to their next appointment.

The company I’ve come to visit is called Auticon, an award-winning IT business. As well as the staff in the office, it employs 15 IT consultants who spend most of their time working elsewhere for companies such as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, the credit rating agency Experian, and Allianz Insurance. But there is a fascinating twist: all of the 15 are autistic, and have been given their jobs after long spells of unemployment – not out of charity or sympathy, but a deep appreciation of the attributes they bring to their work.

‘In the right role and with the right support, an autistic person will significantly outperform a neurotypical person’

Popular understanding of autism still seems to miss out the fact that it defines the lives of adults as well as children

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If journalists take sides, who will speak truth to power? | John Harris

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

The idea that those who seek to hold the mighty to account should be activists is a very dangerous one

Since the Labour party conference roared to its triumphant close just over a week ago, a 90-second video has been punted around Twitter and Facebook featuring the indomitable MP-cum-national treasure Dennis Skinner. On YouTube, the clip is headlined “Dennis Skinner schools a journalist”, and the qualities he always brings to his interviews are present and correct: hardened principle, a spirit of fierce defiance, and his own kind of high camp.

Related: MPs will want Theresa May to quit, says former minister Ed Vaizey

Even partisan commentary can be rooted in the principles of good journalism if it does not ignore uncomfortable facts

Related: Laura Kuenssberg hiring a bodyguard was depressing. Then it got worse | Gaby Hinsliff

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