John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for December, 2020


Throughout history Britain’s ruling class has created crisis after crisis – just like now | John Harris

Sunday, December 27th, 2020

Boris Johnson’s run of bad decisions on Brexit and Covid have their roots in a saga of elite entitlement and superficiality

When the novelist John le Carré died earlier this month, among the passages quoted by journalists was a short excerpt from The Secret Pilgrim, published in 1990. In the book, the words are spoken by Le Carré’s fondly loved character George Smiley. “The privately educated Englishman – and Englishwoman, if you will allow me – is the greatest dissembler on Earth,” he says. “Was, is now and ever shall be for as long as our disgraceful school system remains intact. Nobody will charm you so glibly, disguise his feelings from you better, cover his tracks more skilfully or find it harder to confess to you that he’s been a damned fool.”

The words are a cutting summary of the far-off era of upper class treachery and cold war subterfuge, but also fit the less romantic time of Brexit, the pandemic and a Conservative party whose leadership by two public schoolboys has so pushed us into disaster. Therein lies a huge part of the national tragedy that, amid stranded lorries, a shamefully high death toll and some of the greatest peacetime blunders this country has ever made, has recently seemed to be reaching some kind of awful climax. Of late, some of the best writing about the mess we are in has focused on Boris Johnson’s character flaws, which are undoubtedly a big part of the tale. But what has been rather less examined is the fact that his shortcomings blur into a much longer story about our longstanding ruling class, and its habit of creating crisis after crisis.

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Unless we start paying, making music will become the preserve of the elite | John Harris

Monday, December 21st, 2020

Coronavirus has left Britain’s musicians struggling to survive. An industry revolution is needed, but change can start with us

A few weeks ago, I spent £27 on a record with the enticing title Live Drugs. I bought it because I am a fan of its creators, the Philadelphia-based rock group the War on Drugs, and also because I was in the midst of a pandemic-related phase of insomnia and anxiety and it seemed to offer the prospect of a bit of uplift. But the main reason was the prospect of some kind of reconnection with something I almost seem to have forgotten: live musical performance, and what it’s like to hear and watch a band with a multitude of other people.

Live Drugs was recorded in an array of places across the world over a period of five years; one review called it “a grand love letter to live music”. Its best moments suggest a kind of inarticulable dialogue between the group and its audience, something heard most spectacularly on the 12-minute evocation of 21st-century living titled Under the Pressure, when thousands of people passionately sing along not with the words, but the guitar part. They sound like a football crowd.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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This Brexit disaster has been brewing in the Conservative party for 30 years | John Harris

Sunday, December 13th, 2020

Margaret Thatcher helped turn the Tory right into a force for instability – and now we are all living with the consequences

What a strange, head-spinning moment this is. The news is awash with reports of queues at the ports, the stockpiling of food and medicines and a government committee charged with “exit operations”, but the plain political fact that sits under everything is in a surreal league of its own. Amid an unprecedented pandemic that blurs into an equally unprecedented economic and social crisis, Britain has a government more than prepared to take the deranged option of inflicting even more disaster on its own country. Everything remains uncertain; both sides say the chances of a trade deal remain slim.

As a reminder of the stupidity and arrogance that got us into this mess, the Conservatives and their cheerleaders in the press are inevitably blaming the supposedly vengeful Europeans. Of late, some people have even been heard alleging that some of the responsibility lies with remainers who refused to back a softer Brexit in parliament. The truth, of course, is that leaving the EU in this chaotic way is the work of the pro-Brexit right: not the result of other people’s failings, but its own conscious designs.

Related: Tory grandees’ fury over Johnson’s ‘nationalist’ no-deal Brexit

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The Covid vaccines bring hope, but in many parts of the UK this crisis will last | John Harris

Monday, December 7th, 2020

The pandemic has badly hit people who were already facing financial hardship. I met some of them; it was a sobering experience

Last week, the blighted state of large parts of the country fleetingly broke into the news. On Monday, the Legatum Institute thinktank reported that about 700,000 people in the UK had been pushed into poverty as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and said that the figure would have been twice as large had it not been for the government’s £20-a-week uprating of universal credit, which it plans to end in the spring.

Related: As regional mayors, we urge Rishi Sunak to step up support for people this winter

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Tiers, fears and what we lost in lockdown | Anywhere but Westminster – video

Friday, December 4th, 2020

John Harris and John Domokos revisit parts of the Midlands and north-west England that they’ve been chronicling for years, and talk to people about the aspects of the Covid era that can’t be captured in charts and graphs – from mental health to the silencing of musicians, to life without work. One thing is clear: this crisis will last well beyond the rollout of a vaccine

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