A red rose blooms in Blackfriars

Under it's new proprietor, the prominent Labour peer Lord Hollick, 'The Express' is gradually moving towards the centre. Editor Richard Addis explains why
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The Independent Online
Forty days to the day after The Landslide, could The Express - the paper of the tough little crusader, the paper of empire and free trade, the paper more recently of the Iron Lady and the Union Jack, the paper of six generations of passionately felt middle-brow conservatism - come out and say that it now felt comfortable with the New Labour government of Tony Blair?

Wouldn't it be ridiculous, in the worst disco-dancing-grandmother kind of way, to do it now, when it is no longer fashionable or exciting to declare for any party, and when, in short, it makes no earthly difference now that the battle is convincingly over quite possibly for at least a decade? Wouldn't it be ridiculous to do it only six weeks after having recommended a Tory vote in the election, albeit with a less than ringing confidence?

On a purely tactical note, isn't this precisely the wrong time to start talking about the attractions of the Blair government, just when its popularity ratings are as stratospherically unchallenged as they are ever likely to be and as yet notably unpricked by a concussed and introverted Opposition? In Labour's case, it is no insult to say things can only get worse. They can scarcely get better. Surely the clever thing to do now would be to link arms with the radical right.

Well, yes - maybe. Bad timing, probably. Ridiculous? I don't think so. It is not as silly and pinched as perpetually slinking along in the shadows snarling at the carnival would be. As far as stock-taking goes, 40 days has an honourable tradition. It behoves us well to make a careful judgement.

Before the election campaign began, we attempted an idealistic thing. We tried to scrape our hull clean of the barnacles of old allegiances and look at key issues facing Middle Britain. We tried to make up our minds about these issues without regard to political parties but by analysing the arguments a week at a time. At the end of each week, we gave a view of our own - before inviting readers to agree or disagree.

We declared ourselves extremely rigorous on economic management and traditional on constitutional matters. We came out for a strong, free-market and reforming position within the European partnership. We supported tough measures in social policy, mainly to support the creative possibilities of work. We were anti-welfare, waste and bureaucracy. On social engineering and public morality, we took a view strongly in favour of individual choice and against political interference.

The values we would champion were work, home, country, loyalty and tolerance. Our trademark would be humour. Our tone would be strong-minded but not hectoring. Our style would be campaigning - in recent months, we have run crusades against handguns and alcopops. We would not spin the news.

The final position represented a form of modern conservatism that was, with one or two exceptions, strongly supported by our readers. We felt that there were many others, a lost tribe, to whom this position would appear extremely attractive.

The long campaign then began. It was not fruitful. We kept in mind the territory we had staked out in the preceding weeks. We looked hard, and frequently in vain, for the differences in the Labour and Conservative philosophies. Unlike some, we refrained from making policy towards Brussels the chief issue of a British election.

We watched with the rest of the nation the daily shadow-dance of the spin doctors and the nice-guy party leaders. At the end, little the wiser and lacking the necessary faith in New Labour, we advised our readers to vote for the devil they already knew, whiskers, warts and all.

They did. At least just under half of them did - the others either didn't vote or chose another party. But many millions of people outnumbered them, and that was, for some, the end of the story.

Except, of course, that it was not - and to think otherwise is to miss the most fascinating aspect of this millennial election. Gallup suggests that 15 per cent more voters would now back Labour than did so on 1 May.

Newspapers have advantages in reading public opinion - with the daily response they provoke, their bands of letter-writers and hundreds of daily phone callers - and by this evidence I also believe far more people have changed their minds about British politics in the past 40 days than they did in the 40 days before 1 May. The big problem with New Labour was never what they said - it was whether they could be believed.

Here at The Express, we did not forget our original plan to stick to our pre-election ground and to judge politics accordingly. For 40 days, we have been watching how matters have developed closely.

Thinking back over the opinions we have delivered during this first action- fest of New Labour government, around three-quarters of them have been supportive. On water policy, children's numeracy, young offenders, health service red tape, the single currency, welfare on taxes, teachers' unions and green taxes - among other subjects - we have written approvingly. On landmines, handguns and the Bank of England, we are supportive. In Scotland, we were the first newspaper of the traditional right to support devolution (since then, most have). We have had qualms about banning tobacco sponsorship in sport, scrapping assisted places and the minimum wage. In some areas, notably welfare, we believe Labour could push through much of what the Tories talked about but never did.

But it is not just about policy. There is, in this English summer, even for those who don't care about cricket, something irresistible about the powerful current of change. All around us, there is zest, flamboyance, vitality and variety. It would take the hides of 20 elephants to resist it.

The new faces on the television and radio are good for us. The almost miraculous equanimity of their voices is good for us. The fact that I am sure I've heard two politicians say they don't know the answer to something (was I dreaming?) is good for us.

Even though we know there will be much blood and thunder to come, and there will be times when the old Labour dragon rises from its sleep (one sniffs something of its dank breath in the attack on the Camelot directors) and times when we need to sharpen the point of our crusader's spear, it is a good time for our newspaper to surf confidently on that current of change.

So the answer to the galvanising question at the beginning is that from this perspective, 40 days on, yes - it is possible for The Express to say that it approves of Tony Blair's government.

One of the never-written headlines of the election was "Vote conservative - vote Blair". For many people, the words and deeds of this young government are reminders of a longer-lived form of conservatism than that produced by the lightning storms of Margaret Thatcher's 1980s. That is probably why so many of our readers are comfortable with themn