John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for October, 2021

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It’s Boris Johnson’s path or Rishi Sunak’s way: the Tories can’t have both | John Harris

Tuesday, October 26th, 2021

The spending review will expose the tensions between the interventionist prime minister and his traditionalist chancellor

Look at the two main political parties in England and Wales, and consider which one seems to have most changed.

Labour? It has been collectively fretting for decades about the appeal of Conservatism to the working class, while solidifying into a party dominated by the educated bourgeoisie. In terms of basic beliefs, it remains the party of the big centralised state. Leaving aside the brief spells of Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman as acting leader, all 19 of the party’s chiefs have been white men, and its current frontbench does not quite reflect the diversity its leaders extol.

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‘We’ve been hammered’: on the breadline in Burnley

Monday, October 25th, 2021

First the pandemic, now the universal credit cut is taking a toll and there is scepticism about ‘levelling up’

On a wet Monday morning in the middle of Burnley, the Church on the Street is handing out bread: sliced white loaves donated to the organisation’s food bank and gratefully received by the 20 or so people who gathered here soon after the doors opened.

They have come here for a variety of reasons: for food, advice on benefits or help with homelessness and addiction. Some need a shower or a haircut, others a hot meal and an hour or two of conversation and company.

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The gap between reckless Brexit promises and reality will soon be too big to ignore | John Harris

Monday, October 18th, 2021

Voters invested hope in the idea of leaving the EU. But a few years of queues and chaos could further erode public trust

What must it be like to be in the inner circles of this government, watching the economy bounce from crisis to crisis? Shortages mount, while livestock that suddenly cannot be put into the food chain is slaughtered and sent to rendering plants. Ships are diverted from UK ports because no drivers can be found to transport their cargo once it is offloaded. In response to ministers’ threats to suspend the trading arrangements for Northern Ireland – that we are now told the government never believed in to start with – there is reportedly pressure within the EU to begin preparations for a trade war.

The prime minister goes off to Marbella, where he pretends to paint pictures; the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is said to be pinning his hopes for an easing of the current energy crisis on a “wet, windy and mild” winter. Yet the Conservative party is still ahead in the polls, apparently shored up by the weakness of the Labour party and the clear, optimistic narrative that Boris Johnson has so far managed to project on to events. And I wonder: in cabinet meetings and ministerial get-togethers, do they laugh at the apparent absurdity of it all, or anxiously exchange estimates of when the roof might finally start to fall in?

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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‘Insufficient and very defensive’: how Nick Clegg became the fall guy for Facebook’s failures

Friday, October 15th, 2021

After election humiliation and Brexit, the former UK deputy prime minister swapped Westminster for a £2.7m job in Silicon Valley. The catch? Serving as the public face of the crisis-hit company

On Sunday, Nick Clegg did a succession of interviews with some of the US’s biggest TV news shows. In his role as Facebook’s vice-president for global affairs and communications, he was defending his company after weeks of headlines about its latest crisis – this time involving Frances Haugen, a Facebook staffer turned whistleblower who had testified days earlier before a committee of the US Senate. The story centred on a stash of company documents that Haugen had given to the Wall Street Journal. The central allegation, which Facebook vehemently denies, was that the company had ignored its own research into the harms caused by some of its products in favour of the pursuit of “astronomical profits”.

Anyone au fait with the five grim years Clegg spent as the UK’s deputy prime minister would have had the familiar impression of someone emphasising his good intentions in almost impossible circumstances. His facial expression regularly expressed a sort of righteous exasperation; his words seemed to imply that if only his critics could grasp the facts, everything would quickly die down. Like any well-briefed politician, he emphasised a handful of statistics: the 40,000 content moderators Facebook employs, the $13bn (£9.5bn) it says it has spent cracking down on misinformation and hate speech; the company’s claim that the latter accounts for only five of every 10,000 Facebook posts.

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Johnson will survive these crises because he can turn them into a story about Britain | John Harris

Monday, October 11th, 2021

‘If it’s not hurting, it’s not working,’ the Tories used to say. So as the pain grows, Boris Johnson will claim it as a success

On the face of it, politics in England is in a weird, almost delirious state. The governing party has been in power for more than a decade and now claims to want to solve problems it has either ignored or worsened. Brexit is causing calamities that show no signs of easing; and the government’s handling of the pandemic has been largely awful, with a cost measured in tens of thousands of lives. Yet Boris Johnson and his party seem so full of confidence that the Prime Minister has flown off for a mid-crisis break on the Costa del Sol.

The Tories’ opponents, meanwhile, boggle at how a rightwing politics seemingly composed of stories and unlikely visions – as well as outright lies – can be so successful. Labour looks disoriented and downcast, its politicians aghast at the contrast between the government’s “fantasism” and hard reality. Part of 2021’s all-enveloping strangeness, they seem to think, is the fact that Johnson affects to be so upbeat while so many of the relevant numbers suggest chaos and uncertainty. In fact, looking back, this is the one bit of the current picture that should be completely familiar.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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