John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for February, 2020


Vexed by James Mumford review – provocative plea for political nuance

Monday, February 24th, 2020

An academic’s argument for policy that bridges the left-right divide exposes the shortcomings of political ‘package deals’

Brendon Kaluza-Graham was born in Spokane, Washington, to parents who were just 14 and 16. His life was split between his separated mother and father and both sets of grandparents, before he was killed, aged 25, by a single bullet to the back of the head. It was fired from a 9mm handgun, as he drove a car he had stolen away from the driveway where he had found it.

The man responsible was one Gail Gerlach. As this book puts it, Gerlach was “an avowed Reaganite conservative”, supporter of the right to bear arms and anti-abortion activist, who could not “fathom how a society that prohibits prostitution, class A drugs, even driving without a seatbelt, can tolerate the killing of an unborn child”. At his trial in 2014, Gerlach’s acquittal on charges of manslaughter sparked no end of controversy, but this alleged legal and moral travesty formed only part of the story. What Gerlach surely symbolised most of all was the fissures that run through the politics of the American right, and the fact that its “pro-life” convictions barely conceal outrageous contradictions.

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Locked away: the national scandal you may have missed | John Harris

Monday, February 17th, 2020

The way the NHS, local authorities and private providers treat our most vulnerable people should shame us all

Adele Green is a mother of four, who lives in the Northern suburbs of Bristol. I spoke to her last week about her son, Eddie, who is now 20 years old, and living in hospital in Doncaster, 180 miles from his family.

That may seem unbearable enough, but it pales into insignificance next to what Eddie has suffered elsewhere. Variously diagnosed with autism, dyspraxia, ADHD and more, he is now officially understood as having a learning disability with complex needs. As a child who liked cycling and dancing, and had the same caring nature he still displays, he moved through an array of educational placements before, in late 2012, he ended up at a now-defunct residential school near his home. As his mother told me last week, soon after arriving “he had a really big meltdown – it was something he couldn’t cope with, from being at home to being somewhere completely different”.

Related: NHS mental health patients kept on locked wards for years

However much the language of diversity and human rights now echoes through public life, many in Britain have been left out, and remain the largely ignored victims of prejudice and abuse.

Related: The scandalous detention of learning disabled people won’t be stopped by a review | Dan Scorer

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Austerity is grinding on – it has cut too deep to ‘level up’ | John Harris

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

In places such as Newcastle, budget cuts have taken a heavy toll. Much of what has closed is not coming back

Seven years ago, pretty much to the week, I paid my first visit as a journalist to Newcastle upon Tyne. The ostensible reason was a fuss about the city council’s proposal to cut its arts budget to zero, and a campaign of opposition endorsed by such alumni of the city as Bryan Ferry and Gordon “Sting” Sumner. But that controversy was only a small, distracting aspect of a much bigger story: the fact that the coalition government’s austerity was now threatening some of the most basic parts of Newcastle’s social fabric, as councillors faced cuts of around £100m, spread over three years. Then as now, they were led by Nick Forbes, the imaginative, engaging politician who remains in post, and is these days also the leader of the Local Government Association’s Labour group, which represents councillors from across England and Wales, and had its annual conference at the weekend.

£37m was cut in 2013-14, followed by £38m, then £40m and so on, until the council had lost £300m by the end of 2019

Related: Tory plans to ‘level up’ the north are laughably inadequate | Polly Toynbee

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Will having longer, healthier lives be worth losing the most basic kinds of privacy? | John Harris

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

Technology is playing a bigger than ever part in healthcare, but it’s a relationship that needs careful regulation

The deal has yet to be approved by the relevant regulators, but Google has got most of the way to buying Fitbit – the maker of wearable devices that track people’s sleep, heart rates, activity levels and more. And all for a trifling $2.1bn (£1.6bn).The upshot is yet another step forward in Google’s quest to break into big tech’s next frontier: healthcare.

Last month, in a Financial Times feature about all this, came a remarkable quote from a partner at Health Advances, a Massachusetts-based tech consulting company. Wearables, he reckoned, would be only one small part of the ensuing story: just as important were – and no guffawing at the back, please – “bedside devices, under-mattress sensors, [and] sensors integrated into toilet seats”. Such inventions, it was explained, can “get even closer to you than your smartphone, and detect conditions such as depression or heart-rate variability”.

Most British politicians seem barely aware of this new set of issues, which demand new rules and laws

Related: Will we just accept our loss of privacy, or has the techlash already begun? | Alan Rusbridger

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