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Friends in high places

BOTH sides of the Carlton/ United News & Media merger boast formidable political firepower, writes Sonia Purnell.

Lord (Waheed) Alli, the rising young star who is managing director of Carlton Prod- uctions, was just 34 when Tony Blair made him a life peer last year. Not only did he win much praise for his behind-the-scenes work during the general election on how Labour could appeal to young people, but he has earned more gratitude since with his no-fee input to the party's political broadcasts.

Lord Alli, who joined Carlton when he sold the group his Planet 24 TV company, wields further influence through his membership of government taskforces advising ministers on all matters cultural. Labour politicians regularly flock to his mansion in Kent, renowned for its swinging parties.

Lord Hollick, United's chief executive, has long been both a Labour supporter and donor. He was close to Neil Kinnock and has many friends in the current administration. He resigned last year for "personal reasons" as special adviser to the then Trade & Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson, but continues to be an influential figure and staunch backer.

Proof that he is still in favour with Mr Blair came with a much-prized invitation to the No 10 banquet for the President of China. He was also invited to take a lead in the "Britain in Europe" campaign.

Carlton is well connected with the Tories too, not least via its corporate affairs director David Cameron, previously an adviser to ex-Chancellor, Norman Lamont, and cited as a hopeful for last week's Kensington & Chelsea by-election.