John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for July, 2020


Now Britain stands at the crossroads. Will we choose dread or hope? | John Harris

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

Our politicians are lacking in imagination, so it is up to us to make the case for the type of country we want to live in

Boris Johnson may be calling for a return to offices and hoping for a return to “significant normality” by Christmas, but the feeling of dread hanging over this strange, uneasy summer is becoming inescapable. A second wave of Covid-19 now seems to be a racing certainty. And a gathering avalanche of numbers attests to an economic disaster that is probably already upon us.

An economic model in which people work in shops to spend money in other shops has now surely been tested to destruction. April saw national output drop by a chilling 20.4%, and although economists were reported to be anticipating growth of 5.5% in May the actual figure turned out to be an anaemic 1.8%. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, another big coronavirus outbreak in the UK could result in an unemployment rate of 15%. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 650,000 people have lost their jobs since lockdown began, and vacancies are at their lowest level since records began two decades ago. Up to 3m UK jobs are now reckoned to be at risk from companies’ unsustainable debts; in response to calls for the government to consider a programme of bailouts, Rishi Sunak – whose furlough scheme is set to close in October – has so far said no.

Related: Labour will win by changing minds – not pandering to rightwing voters | Lynsey Hanley

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The return of benefit sanctions won’t help the Covi​d-19 jobs​ crisis | John Harris

Monday, July 13th, 2020

As mass unemployment looms, the government is reverting to policies that have wrecked lives and worsened low pay and insecurity

As the government responds to the looming economic crisis, its approach seems to embody two polar opposites. The money it is spending to revive the economy is, we are told, not just unprecedented, but indicative of a huge change in Tory thinking, which shoves Conservatism away from the tenets of Thatcherism and everything that followed it. Chancellor Rishi Sunak tells us this is an administration “unencumbered by dogma”, Boris Johnson cites Franklin Roosevelt, and shocked Daily Telegraph columnists warn of a return to “Labour’s paternalistic corporatism”.

But viewed from another angle, it looks like the government is basically spending vast amounts of cash shoring up an economic model that is now on to its second meltdown in just over a decade. Covid-19 has magnified a social crisis centred on low pay and insecure work, an enduring housing crisis and inequality that defines millions of people’s everyday experience. Yet there is still no sign of any meaningful attempt to change those things. What some people call neoliberalism has, perhaps, reached the stage of high farce, whereby its supposedly rugged, laissez-faire model can only survive thanks to huge bailouts from the state. So, as the old quotation goes, for everything to stay the same, everything must change.

Related: Only 12% want a return to the old ‘normal’ Britain after Covid-19

Related: Care workers with coronavirus face an awful choice: live in poverty or risk killing your patient | Aditya Chakrabortty

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Powerless, rudderless and adrift: Covid-19 has crystallised how England feels | John Harris

Monday, July 6th, 2020

A sense of exclusion and abandonment is as central to people’s experience of this crisis as it was to the Brexit vote

Ten days or so ago, Leicester was an overlooked but fascinating city trying to find its way through the Covid-19 crisis in much the same way as everywhere else: whatever its problems, a diverse, vivacious place where people can trace their backgrounds to over 50 countries around the world. Since a first visit in my early 20s, I have grown very fond of it. During the general election of 2015, when on an assignment to follow Nigel Farage around Lincolnshire, I made a point of staying there en route, solely to remind myself of the England that his politics of nastiness and grievance did not speak for, and of a future that, even as the clouds of Brexit gathered, still felt like it might be within this country’s grasp.

And now? As anyone famous will tell you, residence in the headlines tends to reduce people and places to cheap and nasty cliches. And so it has proved. Rather than pointing to appallingly mixed messages from the government, too much coverage of the city’s outbreak has focused on supposedly irresponsible people flouting social distancing rules, while reports of “language barriers” among the local population and the city’s exploited garment factory workers still having to go into work during lockdown have led in some cases to racist poison on social media.

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