Sir Christopher Harris Foresaw Culture Wars

Sir Christopher Harris Foresaw Culture Wars

Sir Christopher Harris Foresaw Culture Wars

Sir Christopher Harris who has died was for many years a stalwart of the National Press Club. He will be remembered for his constant cautioning of practitioners in their political coverage on emphasising what sounded good instead of what actually worked.

Christopher John Ashford Harris third baronet of the Harris Baronetcy of Bethnal Green, County of London foresaw the way in which journalists were increasingly being drawn to the ideological in place of the practical.

A member of the club under the newsmaker category Sir Christopher for many years ran the family importing and merchandising business Bing, Harris & Co and was also a main board director of the Todd Corporation.

He was to the fore when New Zealand abruptly sought new markets in Asia and he constantly iterated Singapore as a nation with valuable pointers for New Zealand. He was a man of action and put his various skills at the disposal of the political parties that echoed his point of view especially in the Wellington electorates.

He was worried about the effect on Wellington of the evaporation of its manufacturing and productive sector and a pet project was to restore to Wellington its floating dry dock in order to boost heavy engineering.

His platform skills were applied to the National Press Club notably in the vote-of-thanks summing up of guest speakers.

He was a lay expert on Captain Cook. He delighted in publicly presenting the explorer as the personification of kindly yet determined informed endeavour that became reflected as Sir Christopher saw it in New Zealand’s own pioneering history of method and order.

An orderly approach that he increasingly saw as being eroded by doctrinal rather than disciplined priorities and in many ways he foresaw the onset of today’s culture wars.

Always affable he successfully disguised any irritation he might have felt at any of the more extreme doctrinal points of view put forward by guest speakers or indeed by any of the club members themselves.

In many ways Sir Christopher was redolent of a distant age, and of an elite class. One that paradoxically installed in the Westminster realm the foundations of the extreme political liberalism that he found himself so severely at odds with.

The baronetcy had been established by his grandfather Sir Percy Harris a British House of Commons Liberal MP who did much to introduce the welfare reforms of Britain’s immediate post war era.

His father Sir Jack Harris and his mother Lady Patricia Harris became in New Zealand public intellectuals of an ultra-liberal persuasion.

Sir Jack was at the helm of the Save Manapouri campaign which paved the way for the Green Party. Lady Harris was a constant figure in the early days of New Zealand television. She was the author of Dining In and Dining Out in New Zealand, a book which remains a minor classic.

The family’s globe-girdling influence stemmed from the Bing, Harris & Co business fortuitously begun in Dunedin just in time to catch the Otago gold fields discoveries.

The family returned to Britain and then repatriated itself back to New Zealand to take control of a business which because of its diversification into so many mercantile sectors continued to prosper in 1934, the year of Christopher’s birth.

He was a pupil of Wanganui Collegiate and it was here that he notched up national school records in the 22O and 44O yards. In later years he was to establish a sporting reputation as a deep sea yachtsman based at Wellington’s Royal Port Nicholson club.

It was indeed as a collegiate figure and club man that Sir Christopher will be recalled. He tended to discard small talk and pleasantries in favour of discussing hard edge topical issues.

He was as genially at home with the grandees of the Wellington Club as with the more diversified and more sceptical devotees of the National Press Club.

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