John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for March, 2021

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How do faithless people like me make sense of this past year of Covid? | John Harris

Monday, March 29th, 2021

Many of us yearn for meaning. But in our individualistic, secular society we lack even the flimsiest of narratives to guide us

When my partner and I filled in our census form, we got to the section about faith, both ticked the “no religion” box, and seemed to think nothing of it. But for an hour or two afterwards, I felt a pang of envy that has occasionally surfaced in the past – this time to do with a year of lockdown, the sudden fear of serious illness and death, and the sense of all of it being wholly random and senseless. Was this, I wondered, how religious believers were feeling? Or were they able to give their recent experiences at least a semblance of coherence and meaning?

Like millions of other faithless people, I have not even the flimsiest of narratives to project on to what has happened, nor any real vocabulary with which to talk about the profundities of life and death. Beyond a handful of close friends and colleagues and my immediate family, there has been no community of like minds with whom I have talked about how I am feeling or ritualistically marked the passing of all these grinding weeks and months.

Related: Don’t be fooled: Covid won’t be cured by a panacea | Philip Ball

Related: It’s been a year of bearing witness to trauma. Call me a fool, but now I sense hope | Rachel Clarke

John Harris is a Guardian columnist.

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English politicians are waving the union jack, but its meaning is tattered and torn | John Harris

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

The constant hoisting of the flag into public view serves only as a reminder that the union is all but over as a political entity

The new “briefing room” in 10 Downing Street reportedly cost an eye-watering £2.6m to commission and build. Its technical elements were supplied by a Moscow-based company called Megahertz. But aside from those two details, there is nothing terribly surprising about it: done out in a mixture of very Tory blue and natural(ish) wood, it prosaically replicates the basic visual stylings of the Johnson government, something reflected in the presence of no less than four union jacks.

Is there now any escape from the red, white and blue? Last week, after being gently mocked for the size of his flag by the BBC presenter Charlie Stayt – which caused an achingly predictable social media storm – the local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, insisted that he was using “a symbol of liberty and freedom that binds the whole country together”. Towards the end of 2020, it was reported that ministers had tried to put the flag on packs of the Covid vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca (which, contrary to the recent impression that it is somehow a branch of Her Majesty’s government, is actually an Anglo-Swedish company with a French chief executive). Labour, too, has got the bug, as evidenced by Keir Starmer’s recent appearances in front of his own union jack, and February’s news of internal documents pushing the idea that his party should make as much use of the flag as possible.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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‘It’s all psychedelic!’ The film about Alan McGee’s rocking, rolling life

Friday, March 19th, 2021

He launched Oasis and Primal Scream, then practiced occult magic in Wales. Nick Moran and Ewen Bremner explain how they recreated McGee’s life for biopic Creation Stories

On a hot afternoon in north London, three incarnations of Alan McGee are sitting within a few yards of each other.

One is him aged around 17, clad in a big-collared shirt and grey flares, and about to have his world transformed by the Sex Pistols. Another version, played by the Scottish actor Ewen Bremner – best known as Spud from Trainspotting – today represents his 20s, and suggests a lost member of the Velvet Underground, complete with Breton shirt, leather jacket, shades and the appearance of someone who could sorely do with some sleep.

When I was doing a lot of prescription drugs, chaos magic made a lot of sense

Related: Creation Stories review – mythmaking and megalomania in likable Alan McGee biopic

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Tim Berners-Lee: ‘We need social networks where bad things happen less’

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

The father of the world wide web talks about its first 30 years, the rise of the toxic internet – and whether Facebook needs to be broken up

Zoom being Zoom, Tim Berners-Lee’s name appears in my browser window about 20 seconds before his audio and video feed kick in – and for a brief moment, the prospect of talking online to the inventor of the world wide web seems so full of symbolism and significance that it threatens to take my breath away.

During the hour we spend talking, that thought never fully recedes – but the reality is inevitably rather more prosaic: a 65-year-old man in a slightly crumpled, light blue polo shirt, talking – usually at high speed – from his home a dozen or so miles from Oxford, at a desk positioned just next to a fancy-looking model house (“I think that’s a mansard roof,” he says). For all that he is one of a tiny group of people who can claim to have fundamentally changed how most of us live – which explains why he had a role in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics – he carries himself with a striking lack of star power. He could probably walk down the average high street unrecognised; as if to underline that the human race may now have its priorities slightly wrong, at 345,000, his Twitter followers number less than 5% of Piers Morgan’s.

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The Conservatives are now the party of England. Changing that will be hard | John Harris

Monday, March 15th, 2021

As class-based loyalties have faded, the Tories have cast themselves adeptly as authentic populists

A simple question haunts politics: after everything this country has experienced over the last year, and in the midst of controversies that seem to flare up on a weekly basis, how is it possible that the Tories have ended up in such a commanding political position?

Over the last week or so, the awful spectacle of NHS staff facing a real-terms pay cut has been made only more glaring by the mountains of money we now know have been frittered away on a dysfunctional test-and-trace system. But will even this scandal really change anything? A recent YouGov poll put the Conservatives 13 points ahead of Labour. May’s local elections do not look likely to see any kind of significant turnabout. To quote the radio host James O’Brien: “Their complete failure to protect us from huge, real, fatal problems seems not to matter.”

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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