John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for January, 2020


Labour is stuck in the last century. Its adversaries have seized the future | John Harris

Monday, January 27th, 2020

The party needs its own national story. That will require a shift in consciousness that is 40 years overdue

The chances of the Labour leadership contest flaring into any kind of life currently seem remote, especially when it comes to meaningful debate about the party’s crisis. There are occasional flashes of candour, such as Lisa Nandy’s insistence that “if we do not change course, we will die, and we will deserve to”. But the contest’s default position is embodied by its two frontrunners. Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey have so far displayed one common trait: trying to convey a sense of purpose while saying nothing much at all.

To any outsider, the scale of the party’s predicament is surely clear. Yes, its estrangement from its old heartlands goes back decades, but Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership deepened and accelerated it. Just look at that list of places Labour no longer represents, from all three seats in Stoke-on-Trent, through an array of former mining areas, to places such as Redcar, Scunthorpe and Grimsby. In Scotland, the party is all but extinct.

Related: ‘If Labour doesn’t talk to the voters it lost, I fear for the future’

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Trump’s greatest ally in the coming election? Facebook | John Harris

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

The internet giant has exempted politics from regulations on falsehood. Good news for a candidacy built on lies

If you want to know why the worst president in US history currently stands a very good chance of winning again, consider a few facts. Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is already in full flow, brimming with cash, drenching social media with targeted ads, and reaping oceans of data on voters.

The impeachment drama is, predictably enough, the perfect opportunity to put out material that plays to the idea of Trump as a noble maverick, struggling against the liberal conspiracy implied by his online questionnaires: “Do you agree that President Trump has done nothing wrong? Do you believe the Democrats will try and make up LIES to impeach the president?”

Related: Hypocrisy is at the heart of Facebook’s refusal to ban false political advertising | John Naughton

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The gap between young and old has turned Britain into a dysfunctional family | John Harris

Monday, January 13th, 2020

When generations lead such separate lives, it damages everyone. We need deliberate initiatives to bring them together

Travel around the periphery of any British town or city, and you will quickly behold a symbol of one of the most painful modern divides. The average residential care home will be set well back from the road, seemingly silent and apparently cut off from most of the life of the surrounding community. When people who know nothing of those inside glimpse such sights, what passes through their minds? Empathy, perhaps, with a family member living in such a facility; mounting awareness, maybe, of the rising care crisis and our collective failure to solve it. But what such sights could also embody is the widening divide between generations, and people leading completely separate lives.

Generation gaps are hardly new, but right now age arguably separates us as never before. The difference between the generations on Brexit is so familiar as to be a cliche, and the same division seems locked into politics generally. Only a decade ago, the 18-24s narrowly favoured Labour over the Tories by 31% to 30%, while 44% of the 65-plus demographic backed the Conservatives, with 31% voting Labour. The Johnson-Corbyn contest, by contrast, polarised the generations as never before. In the youngest age category, 62% of those who voted backed Labour, with only 19% voting Tory. Among 25-34s Labour also had a majority. But in the oldest part of the age range, the polarities were almost exactly reversed: 64% voted Tory and 17% supported Labour. Self-evidently, a party system defined by age is a terrifying notion, institutionalising mutual mistrust and resentment. But if we are not careful, that is exactly where we are going to end up.

What do millions of us really know about the lives of people at different stages of life from ourselves?

Related: Over a third of Britons admit ageist behaviour in new study

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The Tories now face a dilemma: change, or lose your new voters | John Harris

Monday, January 6th, 2020

‘Get Brexit done’ will not be enough, and the demands of working-class leavers will jar with the party’s deepest beliefs

Its work has barely started, but the government led by Boris Johnson has already transformed British politics. It was all clear by 5am on 13 December, in that great swath of once-safe Labour seats taken by the Conservatives, crudely understood as being leave-supporting, post-industrial and largely working class: Bolsover, Bishop Auckland, Bridgend, Great Grimsby, Durham North West, Wakefield, Wrexham, Bassetlaw.

In the three weeks since they turned blue, there has been a lot of talk about how places so ill-served by Tory governments could have elected Conservative MPs, but that misses a crucial point. Our convoluted electoral system has long ensured that the most reliable way a place can get political attention is by being part of a marginal constituency. And however it has happened, all those seats that were once solid parts of Labour’s “red wall” have now pulled this off, propelling themselves to the heart of the national conversation.

Given the Tories’ responsibility for the dire inequalities of the last 40 years, the natural reaction might be to scoff

Related: We spent 10 years talking to people. Here’s what it taught us about Britain

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