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Brexit - Stay up to date

We asked Guardian journalist, John Harris ahead of the 'Guardian and Headlong presents Brexit Shorts' event, to see where he gets his information from to stay informed about the Brexit negotiations.

Who are the best commentators on Brexit that we should be listening to? 

I'm not really a fan of commentary: in a world like the one we live in, the most enlightening thing is proper journalism and reporting. On that score, beyond Brexit, my favourite writers are my Guardian colleague Gary Younge (check out his recent work about how people think and vote in Muncie, Indiana), and the US writer Thomas Frank. If you want a relentless focus on Brexit and its twists and turns, follow the brilliant Ian Dunt from politics.co.uk.

One thing: in this country, the problem with the way the referendum and its aftermath has been covered is that it's all still far too Westminster centred, as if we're all hanging on David Davis's every word. That's not the way the politics of Brexit will work.  Upcoming is a new series on Stoke On Trent by my Anywhere But Westminster colleague John Domokos. As a glimpse of where we are, that will really be worth seeing.

 


What are your personal experiences of our current political moment? What do you see changing around you where you live?

I live in Frome, in Somerset. I would say the town was split 50/50 by the Brexit vote. We also have a Tory MP who was elected this year with an increased majority. But the town was an early adopter of what you might think of as the New Politics. In 2011, voters began to kick Tories and Lib Dems off our town council and replace them with a new coalition of radical independents, who now hold every seat. They're called Independents For Frome, and they've totally changed the way things work here, democratising council meetings, borrowing money to improve the place in the face of austerity, and giving local politics a completely different voice. We have an active local Labour Party, too, very taken with Jeremy Corbyn. So the sense of things changing has been pretty evident here. 


What stories were you most surprised to discover whilst making Anywhere But Westminster?

We've been making the series for nearly eight years now, and given how fast and unexpectedly politics now moves, I've long since reached the point where very little surprises me. Having said that, a few things stick out. Around 2014, I was amazed by the way that in some parts of the country, Ukip and their agenda were seen by lots of people as the merchants of a new kind of class politics, despite the fact that they were - obviously - a party largely run by unrepentant Thatcherites. "They're the party of the working man," people would say, and when I suggested this wasn't quite the case, I'd be met with looks of anger and incredulity. Something similar happened when we went to the States to follow the Trump campaign - people in broken-down midwestern towns telling us he was their champion, and he was going to put everything right. Not that I necessarily blame them: in the 1990s and 2000s, people were seriously let down or ignored by mainstream politics, so new forces claiming to represent their interests were always going to get a hearing.

 

 

What gives you hope?

It's sometimes hard to find at the moment: Brexit is threatening to be a disaster which will have very real consequences for the economy and society - more austerity is the thing that worries me most. The single best example of an open, forward-looking radical political movement I've seen in recent years was the 'Yes' movement in Scotland: for the six months I spent regularly reporting from there, I was full of a sense of possibility and fascination. I miss it.

More generally, it's always great to see grassroots work to change places, very often outside party politics. Bristol is full of that kind of thing: not that long ago, I recall going to a new community centre (in Easton, I think), set up by people who had been involved in Occupy Bristol, and had renovated a burned-out old church hall, without any official permission. Ideally, that's a small sign of the future. 

 

What role do you believe art and culture can play in relation to politics in Britain today?

We desperately need more culture that tells us who we are, and where we've got to. I've seen two outstanding examples of that recently: Carol Ann Duffy's play My Country: A Work In Progress,  which sees the Brexit moment in terms of the people and places who voted for and against; and Fatherland, a brilliant production about modern masculinity by the same theatre company who did The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time - I saw it at the Manchester International Festival, and it's coming to London next year.

I'll close by giving the obligatory mention to Sleaford Mods, who soundtrack modern England in a way no-one else does.  

 

Headlong and The Guardian presents Brexit Shorts, Thursday 9 November, £6 / £4 Concs. 

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