John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for May, 2019


The energy behind Farage and his Brexit party leaves his rivals in the shadows | John Harris

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

His crude messages need to be fought with urgency and passion – precisely what the remain parties lack

Last Sunday, I went to a Brexit party rally in Frimley, Surrey. The venue was the Lakeside Hotel and Country Club complex, well known as the setting for international darts contests. Inside, 1,200 or so people had gathered to hear Nigel Farage and most of the party’s other would-be MEPs for the south-east region. The atmosphere was roughly as I had expected: highly charged, defiant, often strangely celebratory. But what was most striking was the slickness of the presentation: brisk, elegantly structured speeches and warm-up videos, and the clear sense that everyone had been told to lay off subjects that usually buzz around Farage – immigration, chiefly. Instead, they doubled down on the twin themes of Brexit being denied and delayed, and what that says about the people and institutions in charge of the country.

The first speaker was one Robert Rowland, a candidate with the face, haircut and stiff demeanour of a freshly bought Action Man. “If Brexit fails, we cease even to be a democracy,” he said. “The duplicitous professional political class will have prevailed. The last three years have seen Britain’s establishment – the civil servants, the majority of MPs from both parties, academia, the judiciary, and of course let’s not forget the BBC” – at this point, there were loud boos – “do their damnedest to delay, diffuse and dilute Brexit. Parliament has abolished the referendum and declared war on the British people … There might not be tanks on the streets, but make no mistake: this is a coup against democracy.”

Farage’s greatest asset is a discourse full of crude binaries, deepened by the hardcore postures struck by Theresa May

Related: Shocked by the rise of the right? Then you weren’t paying attention | Gary Younge

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The Tories have forgotten their pro-EU voters. And they’ll pay for it | John Harris

Monday, May 20th, 2019

In my home town, I’ve seen how middle-class angst over Brexit is creating an existential threat to the party which could once count on their votes

In a seemingly endless season of Tory nightmares, this week looks set to mark the most dreadful phase so far. The Conservatives are about to endure a set of elections that they never thought they would face. Only four years ago, the party won a general election; now, there is talk of them finishing fifth, or even sixth. With every Tory moan of pain, Nigel Farage’s nicotine grin grows ever larger. And out in the country, there is an overlooked Conservative crisis: one bound up not with the part of the population that voted for Brexit, but with the liberal, pro-remain swathe of the country without whom the future of Conservatism looks bleak indeed.

I come from somewhere still understood as one of the most Tory places there is. Wilmslow, in Cheshire, has a population of 25,000 and is a dormitory town on the southern edge of the sprawl around Manchester. Part of the Tatton constituency, it was once represented by George Osborne, and these days is the adopted home of the zealous Brexiteer Esther McVey. Though slightly more mixed class-wise than its reputation might suggest, it remains a byword for suburban affluence, and McVey sits on a majority of 15,000. But in the referendum of 2016, Wilmslow was part of a wider Tory-supporting area that voted 54% for remain.

A politics of nostalgia and nastiness is the complete opposite of what these voters look for

Related: A warning to the Tories: Britain’s true-blue suburbs have turned liberal | John Harris

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Is India the frontline in big tech’s assault on democracy? | John Harris

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Social media such as WhatsApp may enable voters, but encrypted messaging polarises them and blocks public scrutiny

In 10 days’ time, two political dramas will reach their denouement, thanks to the votes of a combined total of about 1.3 billion people. At the heart of both will be a mess of questions about democracy in the online age, and how – or even if – we can act to preserve it.

Elections to the European parliament will begin on 23 May, and offer an illuminating test of the rightwing populism that has swept across the continent. In the UK, they will mark the decisive arrival of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, whose packed rallies are serving notice of a politics brimming with bile and rage, masterminded by people with plenty of campaigning nous. The same day will see the result of the Indian election, a watershed moment for the ruling Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP. Whatever the outcomes, both contests will highlight something inescapable: that the politics of polarisation, anger and what political cliche calls “fake news” is going to be around for a long time to come.

WhatsApp has more than 300 million Indian users, and it is Modi and his supporters who have made the most of it

Related: It’s not enough to break up Big Tech. We need to imagine a better alternative | Evgeny Morozov

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Lowborn by Kerry Hudson review – growing up and returning to Britain’s poorest towns

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

A novelist bears the scars of her turbulent upbringing and indicts a nation that leaves so many in poverty

When Kerry Hudson was seven and living in the Scottish town of Airdrie, her mother took her and her baby sister to a neighbour’s flat, where the adults all got drunk. The three of them then returned home, and began playfully throwing broken biscuits at each other – a laugh at first, until her mother suddenly snapped.

“She told me I was a selfish little cow, that I was a nasty little bitch,” Hudson writes. Her mother then dragged her to another nearby flat, and told the family who lived there that they were to take care of her eldest daughter until social services came and took her away. Hudson remembers the response of the children she then had to spend the night with: “The kids asked me, full of the horror of the idea of a child simply given away, ‘What will happen?’ And I replied, ‘I don’t know, she doesn’t want me.’”

Related: I was taken into care at two years old – what really happened?

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Don’t look to national politics for hope: you’ll find it thriving in local councils | John Harris

Monday, May 6th, 2019

Councillors are paid a pittance and face hostility. But from tackling obesity to saving high streets, good ideas are growing

Last Friday morning, my head spun. Having voted in two local elections – for our town and district councils – and then spent the first few hours of the next day following the results, my partner and I got our polling cards for yet another contest. This caused a brief fit of amusement about Brexit Britain’s weird addiction to sending us to polling stations, before we realised we had effectively received our tickets for an awful reality TV show.

Thanks chiefly to Nigel Farage’s Brexit party and the pithily named Change UK – the Independent Group – many of the contestants in the looming European elections form a rum old crowd. From a former BBC newsreader, through superannuated Tories and newspaper columnists, on to the former editor of the lads’ magazine Loaded, with the independent candidate who calls himself Tommy Robinson as the rubbish punchline. God knows what the poor souls who have diligently served as MEPs must feel about this sudden gatecrashing of their world: here is yet another woeful instalment of the Brexit drama, now replayed by celebrity leave and remain campaigners as a pantomime of futile gestures.

If councils are to attract and retain new people, they need not warm words, but meaningful power

Related: Local elections 2019: Conservatives see huge losses in England – as it happened

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