‘King of Carpet’ Tory donor Lord Harris switches to support ‘individual MPs’ as he slams the 'state of the country'

2 March 2024, 08:19

Tory donor Lord Harris has switched to support ‘individual MPs’
Tory donor Lord Harris has switched to support ‘individual MPs’. Picture: Supplied
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

At 81 years old you might think that Lord Harris of Peckham is considering a quieter life – given his long and distinguished career in business and the fact he is older than the average member of the House of Lords (71).

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But speaking with the man once dubbed The King of Carpet it’s apparent that the opposite is true.

The Conservative peer has had a long and distinguished career in education and politics, as well as football and carpets.

The success of the Harris Federation – with a mix of 54 primary and secondary schools – is astounding.

“We put strong teachers in, discipline is strong but fair and we motivate pupils”, Lord Harris tells me about one of their schools in Battersea which went from a “failing” school, to “outstanding” – and is now considered “world class”.

The motto for the philanthropist is “about making sure the children get the best education possible” – and it’s not just confined to merely Battersea where the collection of academies has seen successes. Indeed, Harris Westminster recently beat Eton in getting students to Oxford and Cambridge – and around 85% of Harris Federation schools are “outstanding”.

And the field of education is personal for Lord Harris. He tells me “I was dyslexic and so not good at English or languages, but I was good at sport – I was captain of the football, cricket and tennis teams at Streatham Grammar”.

This helped motivate and spur Harris towards a career in business, who explained that he was forced to leave school prematurely after the death of his mother and father within 2 years.

The hugely successful venture now means that 1 in 40 children in London attend a Harris school.

Not content with merely being a supine football supporter, Lord Harris eventually rose to become a director at one of his big loves, Arsenal Football Club – and still serves on the board, a position he has held since 2005.

Asked about the recent success of the club under Mikel Arteta, Lord Harris told LBC the formula was the same as in education - “he’s brought motivation and a team spirit”.

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Lord Harris
Lord Harris. Picture: Supplied

Harris, who has been on the board for 19 years, tells me “the spirit has never been higher” ranking Arteta as “one of the best managers in the country, with one of the best young team in the country – I think we have the best manager for Arsenal”.

The Arsenal veteran tells me “they’re playing for each other”, adding that the club has a positive atmosphere with “sponsorship very high now” – adding that home games are regularly selling out and that Arsenal women are attracting record crowds.

He adds that he is most at ease when he sees French centre back William Saliba’s name on the team sheet.

The businessman – who founded Carpetright in 1988 is still hungry for business success and is now a shareholder in carpet company Tapi, which currently boasts over 170 shops.

But despite his longstanding affiliation and loyalty to the Conservative party, in recent months Lord Harris has been very critical of the government saying that they do not “deserve” to win the next election – and has even donated to Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves.

However, speaking with LBC, it is clear he is ready and waiting to be won back over.

He told me “I am a Conservative, I will always be a Conservative”, but pointed out that some of the successes he has had with running hospitals and schools has been under both Labour and Conservative governments”.

For that reason, Lord Harris is calling for “education and health to come out of politics”.Far from glowing about the present government, Lord Harris said that “the state of the country is not as good as it should be, I think the Conservatives should stick to policies” – but added that he hoped Rishi Sunak can turn it around.

It looks unlikely that the party will receive one lump sum from the donor, though. Lord Harris said he now preferred to support individuals.

“I want the Conservatives to win the next election, and I will be supporting individual seats – I was a Treasurer under Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major – and I raised a lot of money for the party… But it’s different now. I want to give money to the individual seats to make sure it goes straight to them”.

No conversation with such a successful businessman is complete without asking about the upcoming March Budget.

Pressed for his personal priorities he explained “I do think we should help the elderly in this country a lot more than we are doing”, adding that there are “pensioners who have worked for this country and are 80 years old and now have no money”.“We also need to support the poorest in this country”.

The interview ends on a lighter note – returning to Lord Harris’ love of Arsenal Football Club – where the devout supporter confidently predicted that the club would definitely win either the Premier League or Champions League… watch this space.