John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for July, 2019

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Boris Johnson is channelling a punk ethos to force through Brexit. It could work | John Harris

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

The prime minister’s taboo-busting, provocative approach has potential popular appeal

“How can wealth persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power? Here lies the whole art of Conservative politics in the 20th century.”

Those words were written by the Labour hero Aneurin Bevan, seven years after the end of the second world war and a decade before the arrival of the Beatles, but their power endures. Indeed, the imminence of Brexit and the entry into Downing Street of yet another moneyed Old Etonian prompts much the same question, though Britain’s current circumstances demand that it should be slightly rephrased. So, let us turn to the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole’s book Heroic Failure, which updates Bevan’s point.

Related: Boris Johnson ‘turbo-charging’ no-deal Brexit plans, say ministers

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Why you don’t hear Trump or Farage talking about the tech revolution | John Harris

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Protecting people against the chaos wreaked by automation should be a priority. But populists would rather talk about trade

This week’s nightmare is the arrival of Boris Johnson; the autumn brings the Brexit watershed. Soon after, the 2020 US election takes shape, compounding the sense that politics everywhere is in a state of complete unpredictability. All that is clear, perhaps, is that the forces gathered around Brexit, Donald Trump and the various brands of European populism still think things are going their way.

For some people, everything comes down to the failures of neoliberalism and its inbuilt globalisation, and the long aftershocks from the crash of 2008. Others, with very good reason, focus on racism and bigotry, and the spectacle of white men who are apparently convinced that their time at the top is about to come to a close and therefore lashing out. There are also people who seem to think that any sober, cause-and-effect explanations of a global crisis are impossible amid the mess: they tend to take refuge in rather specious ideas about “collective derangement” and national nervous breakdowns.

The ongoing transformation of production and consumption by computing power is everywhere

Related: Automation threatens 1.5 million workers in Britain, says ONS

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Labour can effect positive change, but not while its internal politics are so toxic | John Harris

Monday, July 15th, 2019

The party urgently needs to dispense with fringe views and face a post-Brexit reality dominated by the right

After a long tumble into disgrace and confusion that dates back well over a year, the story playing out at the top of the Labour party increasingly seems to be so dreadful that it defies belief. Jeremy Corbyn is doing a very good impression of someone who would rather be anywhere else. The party’s supposed leap forward on Brexit policy seems to have resulted in a stance not quite as bamboozling as the one it replaced, but it is still surrounded by unanswered questions; the leadership’s dearth of collective energy as the agenda of a Boris Johnson government takes shape is miserable to behold. Obviously, the people at the top have other things on their minds. Woven into everything is the ever-widening story about antisemitism, which now includes signifiers for almost every aspect of the party’s malaise – from the presence in the party of hateful attitudes towards Jewish people, through allegations of the awful treatment of young party staffers by powerful people at the top, to the sense of any sensitivity and seriousness now being drowned out by the familiar sound of belligerence and faction-fighting.

All too often, anti-imperialists seem to keep the company of very rum people indeed

Related: End the antisemitism soap opera, Emily Thornberry tells Labour

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Want to know what a Boris Johnson government would look like? I have just the book | John Harris

Monday, July 8th, 2019

Among the would-be PM’s backers are the authors of Britannia Unchained, and their vision of deregulated Britain is terrifying

Seven years ago, a group of Conservative MPs who had taken their parliamentary seats in 2010 brought out a slim manifesto for the future of Britain titled Britannia Unchained. Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Liz Truss appeared to speak with one voice: that of unabashed Thatcherites, convinced that hacking back tax and regulation and fixating on the demands of “business” was as appropriate for the 21st-century UK as it supposedly had been for the crisis-plagued Britain of the 1970s.

Some of the text was so provocative that it read like trolling. “The British are among the worst idlers in the world,” read one passage. “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.” To even start to compete with the rising economies of India, China and Brazil, said the authors, we need to avenge the “dependency culture” and “stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie between manufacturing and services, the north and the south, women and men”. They advised fellow Conservatives to double down on austerity, and maintain their faith in old-fashioned laissez-faire economics.

Related: Here’s Tory Brexiteers’ real plan for 2019: a leaner, meaner Britain | Tim Bale

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All hail the hyperleaders – the bellicose insurgents using the web to seize control | John Harris

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

Boris Johnson longs to be one of the new breed of politicians, backed by an online ‘superbase’. But he is falling short

Back in the far-off days of Occupy and the Arab spring, we were told that the political future would be leaderless, “horizontal” – and defined by the egalitarian promise of social networks. But more than ever, any chance of political success now depends on charismatic, one-person leadership, and the crucial online currency of celebrity.

On the left, this is the age of Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. On the right are Donald Trump, Matteo Salvini and the other figureheads of reactionary populism, whose most grimly fascinating example is probably Narendra Modi of India. All of these individuals present themselves as people from outside their countries’ establishments, and draw their energy from vast numbers of devoted supporters who gather online. In his own way, Boris Johnson clearly fancies his chances of becoming one of them. But more of that in a moment.

Their names are ‘repeated in social media and turned into hashtags, all of which becomes a rallying point for militancy’

Related: The Five Star experiment has failed us. Now Italy needs real political change | Francesco Grillo

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