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Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Liberal Democrat peer dies
Lord Harris of Greenwich
Lord Harris was a Labour defector to the SDP
Lord Harris of Greenwich, a former Labour home office minister who was part of the mass defection to the new-born SDP in the early 1980s, has died at the age of 71.

In the House of Lords, he became Liberal Democrat chief whip and was consistently outspoken on home affairs, notably all aspects of the prison service.

John Henry Harris's first entry into Westminster politics was as personal assistant to Hugh Gaitskell, then leader of the opposition in the early 1960s.

Although he wanted to become an MP he never managed to make it to the House of Commons.

Political commentator

But he became Labour's director of publicity while the party was still in opposition.

After Harold Wilson won the 1964 general election, Lord Harris worked as special assistant to two foreign secretaries, Patrick Gordon Walker and Michael Stewart over the following two years.

After that he developed a long association with Roy Jenkins during his terms as home secretary and chancellor of the exchequer.

Lord Jenkins said on Thursday: "He gave invaluable service in a variety of ways right up to and including his distinguished tenure as chief whip."

After Labour's defeat in 1970, Lord Harris returned to journalism, as a political commentator with the Economist magazine.

Resignation

When Labour returned to power in 1974, he was given his peerage and a job as minister of state at the Home Office in the House of Lords.

In January 1979, he resigned as a minister to become chairman of the Parole Board.

Some months later he joined the board of Westward Television.

After his defection to the SDP, Lord Harris became the party's spokesman on home affairs in the upper house between 1983 to 1988.

He retained the same responsibilities later on for the newly-created Liberal Democrats, before eventually becoming the party's business manager, or chief whip.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy paid tribute to his work.

"John Harris was an exceptionally gifted all-rounder whose experience and insights dating back to Gaitskell were invaluable. He was also serious fun."

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See also:

02 Mar 98 | Special Report
Lib Dems look back on a troubled history
25 Jan 01 | Talking Politics
SDP: Breaking the mould
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