John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for November, 2021

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How will post-Covid Britain look? For many, like it did in the brutal 19th century | John Harris

Monday, November 29th, 2021

While Boris Johnson talks of ‘building back better’, the reality is growing poverty and hunger – and a government that is fuelling them

In December 2019, Boris Johnson was electioneering in Salisbury, where he visited a butcher’s shop and local military veterans’ centre. The same city is also the home of the Trussell Trust, which runs the UK’s largest network of food banks – and Johnson was asked whether anything in the Conservative party’s manifesto might reduce the need for the kind of help it provides. He answered in the affirmative, claiming that helping people with living costs was a personal “crusade”, paying tribute to “everybody who gets involved with running food banks”, but also insisting that “it is wrong that people should be dependent on them”. He then mentioned “cutting national insurance for everyone”, before his punchline: “It is imperative in my view that the next government, if I’m lucky enough to be leading it, tackles the cost of living for everybody in this country. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Then as now, words just tumbled out of his mouth. We all know what happened to the national insurance promise, and if Johnson and his ministers had any credible intention of reducing living costs, any such hope has now been quashed. Instead we’ve had soaring energy bills, higher inflation and the cruel end of the £20-a-week universal credit “uplift” – partially mitigated via changes in the budget aimed at people in employment, but still a grim reality for the 3.4 million people on that benefit who are not in work.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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A Conservative party divided is one more unintended consequence of Brexit | John Harris

Sunday, November 21st, 2021

New Tory MPs do not share the values of the second-jobbing old guard. And revolutions have a way of undoing their elders

Conservative MPs have had second, third and fourth jobs for years. From time to time, the intersection between some Tories’ idea of public service and their pursuit of money has burst into the headlines. But thanks to an uneasy mixture of low expectations of politicians, a certain deference, and the idea that Tory avarice was part of the natural order of things, most of the people involved have been left alone.

Suddenly, though, we seem to be in one of those political moments that is not so much about new revelations as an instant realisation that what was tolerated or ignored yesterday ought to be rejected today. Why the shift? The most obvious explanation is Boris Johnson’s self-described act of “crashing the car” in the Owen Paterson case, and how an attempt to change the rules on parliamentary standards highlighted the contorted ethics of scores of MPs. But there are other reasons, too – one of which is a huge change that is only just starting to be understood.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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‘Annoying snobs was part of the fun’: Paul McCartney and more on the Beatles’ rooftop farewell

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

As Peter Jackson’s TV series Get Back recasts the Fab Four’s final days in a more positive light, the ex-Beatle remembers the responses to their historic gig above the streets of London

It’s lunchtime on a cold Thursday in January 1969. After weeks of sometimes difficult rehearsals and recordings, the Beatles and their new songs finally – and spectacularly – collide with the outside world. The occasion is now fixed in their iconography. On 30 January on the roof of 3 Savile Row, the London HQ of their company Apple, the four – joined by the US keyboard player Billy Preston – performed five songs: Get Back (three times), Don’t Let Me Down (twice), I’ve Got a Feeling (ditto), Dig a Pony and One After 909. They played with a tightness and confidence that belied the last-minute nature of events, while a sense of urgency and drama was provided by two police officers, determined to shut everything down.

This magical performance forms the finale of Get Back, Peter Jackson’s new three-part documentary series about the Beatles. Neither the band nor the people watching on the rooftop and down below are aware that this will be their last ever live performance. But for the viewer, that knowledge makes everything more compelling.

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The Beatles, Get Back and London: on the trail of a timeless story – video

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

In early 1969, John, Paul, George and Ringo worked on a project in London that would result in an amazing performance on a West End rooftop, and some of their most-loved songs. The story is captured in the new documentary series Get Back. In a film specially commissioned by Apple Corps, John Harris and John Domokos follow the Beatles’ steps, get immersed in their archive, and do what the Fab Four’s film-makers did – talk to the public

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The Lords is a scandal in plain sight. If we won’t abolish it now, then when? | John Harris

Monday, November 15th, 2021

At a time when the validity of institutions is being questioned, parliament’s upper house should not escape unscathed

In the summer of 2020, Boris Johnson’s understanding of probity and public ethics was highlighted by his government’s nomination of 36 new members of the House of Lords. It remains one of the defining acts of his premiership: there were peerages for such Brexit supporters as the former cricketer Ian Botham, the Johnson friend and former Telegraph editor Charles Moore and the erstwhile Revolutionary Communist Claire Fox, as well as the prime minister’s brother Jo, and the Evening Standard proprietor and social gadabout Evgeny Lebedev.

Eighteen months later, one name from that list has renewed significance. Johnson’s first tranche of new peers included Michael Spencer, also known as Baron Spencer of Alresford (it’s in Hampshire), who finally made it to the Lords after David Cameron’s past efforts to make him a peer had been repeatedly frustrated. Spencer made his fortune through electronic trading on the financial markets, spent three years as the treasurer of the Conservative party, and has donated an estimated £6m to Tory funds. Thanks to work by the Sunday Times and Open Democracy, we now know that he is at the centre of a very vivid political story: the fact that 15 of the last 16 Tory treasurers have been appointed to the Lords, all of whom have donated at least £3m to their party.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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