Lord Harris Of High Cross

Founding father of the Institute of Economic Affairs


Ralph Harris, economist: born London 10 December 1924; Lecturer in Political Economy, St Andrews University 1949-56; leader-writer, Glasgow Herald 1956; general director, Institute of Economic Affairs 1957-87, chairman 1987-89, founder president 1990-2006; created 1979 Baron Harris of High Cross; married 1949 Jose Jeffery (one daughter, and two sons deceased); died London 19 October 2006.

Ralph Harris was the most friendly and least lordly of peers. His easy manner, however, concealed his stature as one of the most influential figures of our age. Along with his fellow director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Arthur Seldon, he was a key figure in the revival of the doctrines of classical liberal economics which inspired the Thatcher revolution.

Harris was born in a working-class part of north London in 1924, and read Economics at Queens' College, Cambridge, where he was influenced by the liberal ideas of his teacher Stanley Dennison, who introduced him to the works of Friedrich von Hayek. After Cambridge, Harris worked for a time in Conservative Central Office for R.A. Butler's Conservative Political Centre (CPC). It was after a speech he gave at a CPC meeting in Sussex in 1949 that a member of the audience came up to congratulate him. This was Antony Fisher, a businessman and admirer of Hayek, who persuaded him that the best way to combat socialism was to found an institute to spread free- market ideas.

Fisher immediately decided that Harris was the man to run it and said he would contact him as soon as he obtained the money. This he did very successfully through his chicken-farming company, Buxted Chicken, which eventually made him millions. However, he had to wait until 1956, during which time Harris had been lecturing at St Andrews University and then working as a leader-writer on The Glasgow Herald. Fisher, true to his word, then offered Harris the post of director of the recently formed Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). Harris took it, even though, to start with, the part-time salary was only £10 per week.

He was joined the following year by another man of working-class background, Arthur Seldon, who became editorial director. Seldon was a graduate of the London School of Economics where he had imbibed free market economics from Hayek, Lionel Robbins and Arnold Plant. It was a perfect partnership. Harris was a most persuasive and witty speaker and had a wonderful way with people. Seldon had high academic standards combined with exceptional gifts of popular exposition. From the first, he insisted that they should recommend policies which were principled and sound, regardless of whether they were politically acceptable.

This was not easy, because it meant arguing against the collectivist political correctness of the time, which was summed up by The Economist in the word "Butskellism" - the ideas on which Butler and Hugh Gaitskell agreed. Undaunted, Harris and Seldon issued a series of "Hobart" papers and other publications challenging the consensus on taxation, financing pensions, education, health and housing, on transport, exchange rates and much else. One of the early successes was embodied in Ted Heath's abolition of resale price maintenance. Some of the most controversial IEA writings were those opposing the Keynesian theory of unemployment, coming from authors like Alan Walters and Enoch Powell.

All this activity had to be paid for. Fisher provided most of the launching money and then acted as a backstop to be called on when needed. It was Harris's task to raise more and act as salesman and projector of IEA ideas to the public. In all these roles he was superb. He was indefatigable in phoning newspapers to remind them of the next IEA pamphlet coming off the press.

He ran informal luncheons, which mixed up patrons with journalists and academic writers. These always featured a discussion on some current topic or a new publication, all conducted by Harris, good-naturedly encouraging all the company to have their say. He would finish by gently reminding those present that the Institute needed support in its mission of letting markets operate effectively. There were economic conferences too, which featured the big names, such as Gottfried Haberler, Harry Johnson, James Buchanan, Milton Friedman and Hayek, to mention but a few.

Although, under Harris, the IEA strenuously avoided involvement in politics, it became a magnet for many leading Conservatives who were looking for market solutions for problems, especially after the fall of Edward Heath in 1975. These included notably Geoffrey Howe, Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. Other visitors were John Biffen, John Hoskyns, who would be head of the Downing Street Policy Unit after Margaret Thatcher came to power, and Dr Rhodes Boyson (who at one stage seemed to be there more often than not).

All these connections of course bore fruit in the Thatcher years in the policies of privatisation, trade-union reform, liberalisation of shopping hours, abolition of exchange, hire purchase, rent and price controls. It is hard to believe that what we now call the Thatcher revolution would have been so extensive or so complete without Harris. I say "complete" because, although Labour returned to power, it was only because Blair essentially accepted the Thatcher legacy.

Harris had prodigious energy. That is how he found time for a whole range of other activities. He was a director of The Times under Rupert Murdoch. He founded the Bruges Group, to oppose the federalising tendencies of the Brussels bureaucracy. He was chairman and, in 2003, president of Forest - the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco.

He was no mere frontman for Forest either. In 2005 he wrote a well-researched refutation of the Chief Medical Officer's pronouncements on passive smoking entitled "Smoking out the Truth". In this he declared: "The imposition of a ban on smoking in so-called public places represents a triumph of prejudice and propaganda masquerading as science." He added, ". . . hatred of cancer is no excuse for hatred of smokers nor for stirring up the wholly phantom fear of passive smoking especially by cynical politicians to whip up support for illiberal, intolerant policies of prohibition."

Ralph Harris was extremely kind-hearted and ready to help any friend in need. For instance, in 1999 he organised a large fund to provide the legal costs of the former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton in his libel action against Mohamed al-Fayed, at no small potential risk, as it turned out, to himself. He helped another friend by finding an industrialist to sponsor his son's concert at the Wigmore Hall.

In my mind's eye I can still see Ralph with his pipe, his blazer and his fancy waistcoat (his one sartorial extravagance), meerschaum pipe and deerstalker hat, always full of good humour and sense of fun. Few would have known that he suffered the terrible grief of the deaths of two grown-up sons. In all this he was sustained by his Christian faith and the support of his charming and devoted wife Jose.

Ralph Harris was a contributor to the richness of British public life. Yet those who knew him personally will remember him also as a wonderful companion, an inspiration and a staunch and generous friend.

Russell Lewis

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone