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Evan Harris

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Evan Harris
Harris in 2010
Member of Parliament
for Oxford West and Abingdon
In office
2 May 1997 – 12 April 2010
Preceded byJohn Patten
Succeeded byNicola Blackwood
Personal details
Born (1965-10-21) 21 October 1965 (age 58)
Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Political partyLiberal Democrat
Alma materWadham College, Oxford

Evan Leslie Harris (born 21 October 1965) is a British Liberal Democrat politician. He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Oxford West and Abingdon from 1997 to 2010, losing his seat in the 2010 general election by 176 votes to Conservative Nicola Blackwood.[1]

Since 2011 he has been the joint executive director of Hacked Off, the campaign for an accountable press.

Early life and career[edit]

Evan Harris was born on 21 October 1965 in Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, the son of South African Jewish parents (his father was a medical professor). He was brought up in Liverpool, where he had a state education at the Liverpool Blue Coat School.[2] In 1984 he won a scholarship to the independent Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, California, and later won a scholarship to attend Wadham College, Oxford, where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in physiology and a diploma in medical sociology. He completed his education at the Oxford Medical School, where he graduated BM BCh and qualified as a physician in 1991.[3]

Harris began his career at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital in 1991 as a Pre-Registration House Officer (junior doctor). A year later, he moved to the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, specialising in acute medicine and surgery.[3] In 1994 Harris moved to Oxfordshire Health Authority, becoming an honorary specialist registrar in public health and working on issues to do with NHS staffing and training.[3] Harris held the position of local British Medical Association representative and negotiator from 1992 to 1994, following which he was elected to the BMA's National Council.[3]

Harris is a humanist, and a patron of Humanists UK.[4] He was also a vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, before being unseated at the 2010 general election.[5] In addition, he is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society,[6] and the Patron of the Oxford Secular Society.[2][7]

Harris lists his interests as football, bridge and chess.[8]

Political career[edit]

Election to Parliament[edit]

He was first elected to the House of Commons at the 1997 General Election for Oxford West and Abingdon. The seat had previously been held by Conservative John Patten, a former Cabinet minister. Harris gained the seat for the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 6,285, making his maiden speech on 21 May 1997,[9] and remained the MP there until 2010.

Promotion to the frontbench[edit]

In parliament, he was made a frontbench spokesman on Health in 1997 by Paddy Ashdown. Following the election of Charles Kennedy as party leader in 1999, Harris became spokesman on Higher Education and Women's issues. He was promoted to the Liberal Democrat shadow cabinet following the 2001 general election as Shadow Secretary of State for Health, but stood down in 2003 to care for his girlfriend Liz O'Hara who had been diagnosed with terminal glioblastoma multiforme.[10] Following the 2005 general election, Harris returned to the frontbench team as spokesman on Science, a position he held until his defeat in the 2010 general election.

Harris was a member of the education and employment select committee between 1999 and 2001.[11] He was then a member of the select committees for science and technology between 2003 and 2010, and for human rights between 2005 and 2010.[7]

Evan Harris is a member of the centre-left Beveridge Group within the Liberal Democrats,[12] and was Honorary President of the Liberal Democrats Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality organisation (LGBT+ Liberal Democrats) from 2000 to 2012.[8]

In parliament, he served on many party groups, including the kidney group (as chairman); mental health; science; refugees; equality; and AIDS group.[7]


Harris was initially alleged to have profited from the sale of his second home by The Daily Telegraph during the expenses scandal.[13] However, following Harris's response, the Telegraph withdrew its allegations. Sir Thomas Legg, the auditor brought in by the House of Commons, wrote to Harris to say that there were no problems with his expenses.[14]


Harris is pro-choice on abortion, and supports the right of mentally competent, terminally ill people to take their own lives under certain circumstances. This has led to criticism from pro-life and Church leaders, such as George Pitcher.[15]

Harris has also spoken in support of medical research involving animals, including that carried out at Oxford University. Notably, he joined Pro-Test's Oxford march in February 2008. This led animal rights activist Keith Mann to stand against Harris in the 2010 general election, during which he referred to Harris as "Dr Death".[16]

Harris is a vocal backer of reform of defamation laws in the United Kingdom. He notably supported Simon Singh in his libel case against the British Chiropractic Association, saying "For every Simon Singh who wins there are hundreds of writers who never dare publish or who give up their legal battle because they cannot risk the cost of losing. That is why all the political parties must be held to their promises take action [to reform defamation law]".[17] In 2009, Evan Harris was awarded (with Lord Avebury) the National Secular Society's Secularist of the Year Award in recognition of his role in the abolition of the common law offence of blasphemous libel.

Defeat in 2010 general election[edit]

In the 2010 general election, Harris was defeated by the Conservative candidate Nicola Blackwood. Harris received 23,730 votes to Blackwood's 23,906 – a margin of 176 votes.[18] This equated to a 6.9% swing from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives. Several political commentators commented that this was one of the most surprising results of the general election – given Harris' high-profile position as a shadow minister and the size of his existing majority.[19]

Pre-election campaign[edit]

For a number of years before the 2010 general election Harris' views on various social and theological matters had led to criticism within certain parts of the media. Christian conservatives criticised Harris, including Damian Thompson[20] and Cristina Odone.[21]

In the final weeks of the 2010 campaign, leaflets were distributed by Keith Mann, a candidate for the Animal Protection Party, attacking Harris as 'Dr Death', and criticising him for his support for animal testing, abortion, secularisation, and other issues.[22] Further leaflets were distributed by the unaffiliated Reverend Lynda Rose, also referring to Harris as 'Dr Death', and criticising him for his secularism, support for abortion, embryo research and assisted suicide.[23]

In contrast to these criticisms, Harris received support from a number of humanist and atheist figures, including Ben Goldacre,[24] Simon Singh and Dave Gorman. Stephen Fry added his support, saying of Harris: "[Harris is] by far and away the most persuasive and impressive parliamentarian in the cause of good and open science and enquiry that we have had in the past decade. He has been central to mould-breaking and inspirational multiparty cooperation in issues of scientific concern since 1997."[25]

Boundary changes[edit]

Before the 2010 general election, Harris's seat of Oxford West and Abingdon had its boundaries changed, moving the central Oxford wards of Carfax and Holywell, composed primarily of students of the University of Oxford, to the Oxford East constituency. In return the constituency gained a ward each from Wantage and Witney. These changes reduced Harris' notional majority from 7683 to 5525 votes, or 11.3%.[26]

Reactions to election defeat[edit]

Responses to the election result varied. Harris' defeat was lamented by a number of commentators as a 'loss for science'.[27][28][29] However, Harris' defeat was also celebrated by some conservative Christians, including Christian Concern For Our Nation,[30] and George Pitcher who described it as "the best result of the election".[15]

Richard Dawkins, posting on his site,[31] wondered whether the religious criticisms of Harris had "caused Evan Harris to lose votes" or "gain them", noting that the answer to this would reflect the true extent of secular thought in Britain. Post-election analysis in the Oxford Mail suggested that Harris' strident secular opinions appeared to have "alienated a sufficiently large percentage of the electorate to lose what was considered a relatively safe seat for the Liberal Democrats".[32] It detailed that while the Liberal Democrats had nationally gained a 1% swing in their favour, in the Oxford West constituency there had been a 6.9% swing away from the party to the Conservatives. Although 2001 census figures show that Oxford had the 10th highest proportion of people in England and Wales who listed themselves as having no religion, the census also showed that 76.1% of those surveyed did not class themselves as having no religion.[33]

Career after 2010 general election defeat[edit]

From August 2010 Harris has been writing a blog on science policy for The Guardian.[34] On 18 September 2010, Harris had an article published on The Guardian website called 'A secularist manifesto'.[35] This was in turn critiqued by Jonathan Chaplin, who wrote that 'the manifesto contains troubling elements, which serve to undermine his professed support for the right to manifest religious belief.'[36]

On 17 November 2010, Harris was elected as one of the three vice-chairs on the Liberal Democrats' Federal Policy Committee.[37]


  1. ^ "Election 2010 | Constituency | Oxford West & Abingdon". BBC News. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Dr Evan Harris MP". Humanism.org.uk. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "About Evan (Oxford West and Abingdon Liberal Democrats)". Evanharris.org.uk. Archived from the original on 3 May 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
  4. ^ "Patrons of the British Humanist Association". BHA. Retrieved 15 February 2016.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "Register of All-Party Groups". Archived from the original on 3 August 2009. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  6. ^ "Honorary Associates". www.secularism.org.uk. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "Dr Evan Harris, MP Authorised Biography – Debrett's People of Today, Dr Evan Harris, MP Profile". Debretts.com. 21 October 1965. Archived from the original on 12 May 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Evan Harris – Shadow Science Minister | The Liberal Democrats — Our MPs in Detail". Libdems.org.uk. Archived from the original on 23 September 2012. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
  9. ^ Debate Text for 21 May 1997Hansard
  10. ^ "MP quits to care for partner". BBC News Online. 13 October 2003. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  11. ^ "House of Commons — UK Parliament". Parliament.uk. 28 November 2000. Retrieved 10 May 2010. [dead link]
  12. ^ About us Archived 5 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine – The Beveridge Group 28 October 2007
  13. ^ Prince, Rosa (1 June 2009). "MPs' expenses: You help pay for flat, then parents buy it". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Legg letter to Evan Harris MP: "Dr Harris has no issues." (Oxford West and Abingdon Liberal Democrats)". Evanharris.libdems.org.uk. Retrieved 24 May 2010.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ a b Pitcher, George (7 May 2010). "The best result of the election: Let's rejoice that Lib Dem Evan Harris has lost his seat". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Lib Dem MP Evan Harris loses Oxford West and Abingdon". BBC News. 16 April 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  17. ^ Boseley, Sarah (15 April 2010). "Simon Singh libel case dropped". The Guardian. London. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  18. ^ "UKPollingReport Election Guide 2010 » Oxford West and Abingdon". ukpollingreport.co.uk. Archived from the original on 19 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  19. ^ Cockcroft, Lucy (7 May 2010). "General Election 2010: the surprises". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Evan Harris, let me tell you where you can shove your attempt to reform the Act of Settlement". The Daily Telegraph. London. 21 January 2009. Archived from the original on 29 September 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  21. ^ "The Lib Dems are a Jekyll and Hyde party. Forget nice Mr Clegg. What about 'Dr Death'?". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 April 2010. Archived from the original on 21 April 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  22. ^ [1] Archived 6 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Barratt, Luke (2 May 2015). "Tory outrage at Lib Dem claims". Cherwell. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  24. ^ "Keep Evan Harris in parliament, Oxford West and Abingdon – Bad Science". badscience.net. 5 May 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  25. ^ Stephen Fry (4 May 2010). "How I will vote... « The New Adventures of Stephen Fry". Stephenfry.com. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  26. ^ "Oxford West and Abingdon". ukpollingreport.co.uk. 5 May 2010. Archived from the original on 19 November 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  27. ^ Connor, Steve (8 May 2010). "Time for a rethink for science lobby". The Independent. London. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  28. ^ "A good man defeated by poisonous christians". dcscience.net.
  29. ^ "Election 2010: a terrible night for science". The Times blogs. 7 May 2010. Archived from the original on 13 July 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2010.
  30. ^ "Anti-life and anti-Christian campaigner Dr Evan Harris loses seat to Christian candidate in Oxford West and Abingdon". Christian Concern For Our Nation. 7 May 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  31. ^ Dawkins, Richard (13 May 2010). "Evan Harris: Is this why he lost his seat?". Archived from the original on 25 June 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2010.
  32. ^ Oxford Mail 7 May 2010
  33. ^ "2011 Census - Office for National Statistics". www.statistics.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 20 August 2009.
  34. ^ "Political science". The Guardian. 3 September 2018. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  35. ^ Harris, Evan (18 September 2010). "A secularist manifesto – Evan Harris". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  36. ^ Chaplin, Jonathan (24 September 2010). "A response to the 'secularist manifesto' – Jonathan Chaplin". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  37. ^ Pack, Mark (18 November 2010). "Federal Policy Committee elects its three Vice-Chairs". Liberal Democrat Voice. Retrieved 12 November 2018.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon
1997 – 2010
Succeeded by