John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for June, 2021

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As Hancock exits, the future looks the same: hope mixed with dread | John Harris

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Whoever may come and go in the new era of ‘living with the virus’, this government lacks the skills to see us through

Two days before Matt Hancock began his tumble towards resignation, you could sample news stories about the immediate future of the Covid crisis and choose from two completely different narratives: one all about apparently boundless optimism, the other a mixture of caution and despair.

Thanks to government sources, the Times announced that with vaccinations working their wonders, the country was heading towards the new “terminus date” of 19 July in fine fettle, ready at last “to lift all remaining lockdown restrictions … including social distancing, facemasks and work-from-home guidance”, and to embrace “personal responsibility”. But later the same day, it was announced that 16,135 new cases of Covid had been recorded in the previous 24 hours, the highest number since early February. In Oldham, the Greater Manchester town that has been at the extreme edge of the Covid experience since last year, 3,000 schoolchildren and 210 of their teachers were said to be self-isolating.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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Anywhere but Westminster: 10 years in 10 minutes – video

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

After a decade of reports from all over the UK, the Guardian’s flagship video series has won this year’s Orwell prize for political journalism. Here, John Harris and John Domokos collect the highlights of their journey and ask viewers a simple question: where should they go next?

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Summer festivals are crying out for help – but the Tories don’t want to hear it | John Harris

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

The pandemic has revealed the Johnson government’s attitude to the arts: a mixture of indifference and hostility

Human beings need to regularly gather together. Over the past 15 or so months, the fact that we have largely been deprived of such opportunities has been a key reason why so many people have felt so listless and disoriented – and, for that matter, why some have been driven to break the rules. Obviously, to understand what they have done is not to condone it, but there is something in all those stories of illicit parties and so-called raves that highlights a need for communality and shared pleasure that will always finds cracks to grow in, like weeds on the driest of pavements.

The best example of what we have missed centres on the UK’s outdoor festivals. Amid corporate sponsorship and phone-charging tents, these events may not necessarily look like the modern version of ancient rites involving dancing, singing and feasting (and intoxication), but it is not hard to see them as exactly that. They also highlight what the performing arts bring to the world, and how much people value them. In 2019, 26% of British adults were reckoned to have gone to at least one festival in the past 12 months; before the pandemic struck, the sheer number of British events – from vast mega-festivals to compact local versions – spoke volumes about people’s appetite for them.

Related: Peter Gabriel: festivals risk ‘losing everything’ without government insurance

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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What the loss of a Conservative seat tells us about England’s changing middle class | John Harris

Friday, June 18th, 2021

The shock result in Chesham and Amersham isn’t just about HS2. Deeper shifts are occurring that ought to worry the Tories

Four days ago, a former insider at a London-based thinktank wrote a piece for the Spectator about the forthcoming Chesham and Amersham byelection, and his sense that this little-remarked political episode would soon be over, with the minimum of fuss. “Hopefully then we can stop hearing any rubbish about how the Lib Dems are set to tear down the Conservatives’ ‘blue wall’ in the home counties,” he wrote. “As the campaign has demonstrated, the Lib Dems are miles away from being able to cause such an upset.” He ended with a prediction he evidently felt was beyond question: “The Lib Dems will lose on Thursday, most likely fairly badly, and they will have no one to blame but themselves.”

Election predictions are often a mug’s game, not least in a political climate as febrile and strange as ours is currently. But while the media largely stayed away, the Liberal Democrats’ unexpected success in suburban Buckinghamshire – where their vote jumped by 30 percentage points, while the Tories’ dropped by 20 – went with the grain of a slowly emerging shift that some of us have been following for the past three or four years, which is much cultural as political.

Related: Boris Johnson says Tory loss in Chesham and Amersham byelection ‘disappointing’ – UK politics live

Related: Chesham and Amersham has shaken Tory MPs’ faith in Boris Johnson | Katy Balls

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Enough ‘autism awareness’. The necessity now is action | John Harris

Monday, June 14th, 2021

Progress has been made, but the release of the profound film, The Reason I Jump, shows how much further we need to go

A film comes out this month that is among the most profound, thought-provoking and moving feats of documentary-making I have ever seen. It is about autism, and a state of being that far too many people either misunderstand or ignore. But as it ranges across lives played out in Japan, Britain, the US, India and Sierra Leone, it also shines a light on parts of the autistic experience millions of us would recognise in ourselves. In doing so, the film shows how little we still know about the human mind, but how much more we understand than we did even a decade ago.

The Reason I Jump draws on the revelatory book of the same name, written by the Japanese author Naoki Higashida when he was only 13 and first published in 2007. Diagnosed with “autistic tendencies” when he was six, Higashida had always displayed the deep difficulties with spoken communication common to many autistic people. But when he learned to use a computer connected to an alphabet grid, he began to map out his world in rich, aphoristic prose that rarely wasted a word.

Related: A psychiatrist diagnosed me as autistic with ADHD. Now, finally, I can thrive | Marianne Eloise

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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