John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for April, 2021

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Let’s not go back to the denial and delusion of the Thatcher years | John Harris

Monday, April 19th, 2021

Nostalgia, royal navel-gazing and angst: modern Britain is in danger of repeating the mistakes of 40 years ago

Midway through last week, I spent a couple of hours in Redditch, 15 or so miles south of Birmingham. My daughter plays the drums, and she wanted to see the new statue of the late John Bonham, who grew up in Redditch, joined the hugely successful hard rock group Led Zeppelin, and died a tragic death in 1980. We found the impressive memorial in the local market square – an obviously popular meeting place, sullied by a conspicuous line of vacant shops.

Redditch has had a rough time of late. Even now, its Covid infection rate is among the highest in the country. Like so many places, the town has said goodbye to its branch of Marks & Spencer, and is about to lose its Debenhams department store too. In the spring sunshine, it felt pinched and forlorn. This was thrown into sharper relief by what we then listened to on the car radio: endless chatter about the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, the supposed magic and wonder of the royal family, and the arrangements for his funeral.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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People are returning to the high street, but the retail crash has changed it beyond recognition | John Harris

Sunday, April 11th, 2021

The easing of Covid restrictions in England will reveal the effects of the loss of brick and mortar shops in our towns and cities

As what we now call non-essential retail reopens in England, the return of crowds to our high streets will presumably be hailed as a moment of unbridled collective joy: a great national pastime restored, money at last handed to businesses besides Amazon and the big supermarkets, and – amid hazard tape and sanitiser stations – our ghostly town and city centres brought back to life.

But what people will find when they get there may make for a distinctly melancholy experience. Precise numbers for the entire retail sector are hard to come by, but over the course of 2020, Great Britain is reckoned to have lost about 17,500 chain outlets. In the six weeks until mid-February this year, more than 1,000 more announced their closure; the rate of job losses is now put at 850 for each working day. Once businesses exit the current pause on business rates and the furlough scheme draws to its planned close in September, there will presumably have been even more casualties: some forecasters predict that there could soon be as many as 80,000 vacant shops around the country.

Related: The disappearance of department stores will rob us of a certain kind of magic | Kitty Drake

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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This is the legacy of Britain’s year of Covid: power unchecked, scrutiny sidelined | John Harris

Monday, April 5th, 2021

Vaccine passports are just the start – we increasingly have a state that thinks it can do as it pleases

What a strange moment of ambivalence this is. The vaccination programme seems to have so far worked its expected wonders, the lifting of key restrictions looms, and a fragile sense of optimism has been boosted by balmy weather. But there is a slowly rising unease about something that may yet cut across that increasingly upbeat mood: the fact that this is a dangerous moment for both our democracy, and the relationship between the state and society.

Everywhere you look, there are high-ranking Conservatives blithely evading scrutiny, and the government is thereby slipping free of meaningful constraints. From the prime minister’s relationship with the “technology entrepreneur” Jennifer Arcuri and her access to public funds and favours, to the stink given off by David Cameron’s efforts on behalf of the financier Lex Greensill, recent headlines have confirmed that old-fashioned ideas of probity now count for very little at all. Much the same applies to the way Covid-related contracts and jobs have been brazenly handed to associates of senior Tories.

Related: Boris Johnson to give go-ahead for trials of Covid passports

Related: The Guardian view on Covid and civil liberties: keeping a close watch on government

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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