Bunhill: News lord out to lunch with Labour

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The Independent Online
LAST MAY, Lord Stevens, the chairman of United Newspapers, owner of the Daily and Sunday Express and Daily Star, gave a grim warning to all of those minded to vote Labour at the next election.

At his annual Savoy lunch, he warned that if a Labour government was elected it would not be for an experimental period. Indeed, he said that if it happened then, there could easily be 15 years of socialism, particularly if there was some sort of coalition.

This was said in front of most of the Cabinet and the good and the great from the world of commerce. And how they cheered.

Now, however, he seems to have had a change of heart along the lines of the recent Murdoch admission that 'I could see myself supporting a Labour government'.

Bunhill understands that last Tuesday Stevens had Tony Blair in for lunch. And a convivial affair it was, too, by all accounts.

Of course, this is worrying stuff for John Major. It has always been assumed that the Express titles, particularly the Daily Express, would stick by him to the bitter end. After all the editor, Sir Nicholas Lloyd (he was also at the lunch, by the way), is a chum of the premier, and the paper has been slavish in its support of him.

But think back to the days when the Daily Star was launched. It was vociferous in its support of the Labour Party and, by and large, the then- chairman of the Express Group, Lord Matthews, let them get on with it, even though he was a Thatcher peer. Although the paper changed its colours, the former editor, Brian Hitchen, has now left to edit the Sunday Express and it is by no means certain that the paper will follow in the 'hang 'em, flog 'em' tradition that Hitchen stamped on it. Hitchen, however, is no great fan of Major. So with Lloyd's own wife, Eve Pollard, deposed from the editorship at the Sunday Express, how long will Lloyd last at the helm of the daily paper?

This leaves the intriguing possibility of at least one of the Stevens titles coming out in favour of Blair at the next election.

What does Stevens say himself? Well, he wasn't keen to talk about the lunch at all, but he did say of Blair: 'He was very nice. I was very impressed. Maybe I'm becoming a socialist.' Maybe.

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