The Ukip peer and veteran newspaper owner Lord Stevens of Ludgate will take a senior role at Express Newspapers, prompting expectation that the media group will now throw its weight behind Nigel Farage’s party in the General Election.
Richard Desmond, founder of the Northern & Shell publishing stable and owner of Express Newspapers, has recruited the 78-year-old peer seven months before Britain goes to the polls. Lord Stevens has long associations with the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Daily Star, having run the papers until 1999 as chairman of former owners United Newspapers. Senior executives at Express Newspapers have been told Lord Stevens will become deputy chairman,
Lord Stevens was made a life peer in 1987 and backed the Conservatives in the upper house until 2004, when he was expelled by the party for signing a letter in support of Ukip. He spoke at the Ukip conference in 2012, where Mr Farage introduced him as “a giant of Fleet Street”. He reminded Ukip delegates that David Cameron had called them “fruitcakes, gadflies and closet racists” and told the audience: “Well I’m glad to join you!”
Mr Desmond has been politically fickle during his time as a newspaper proprietor. The Daily Express backed Tony Blair’s New Labour at the 2001 election and Mr Desmond donated £100,000 to the party. But the paper then returned to its Tory Party roots.
In recent weeks it has been increasingly enthusiastic about Ukip, and has speculated that the party could hold the balance of power in British politics following May’s election.
In a leader this month it said: “Nigel Farage’s message is hugely popular across Britain. Huge numbers of people are sick of the EU, sick of mass immigration and sick of a political elite that refuses to listen to the electorate.”
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Of the appointment, Mr Desmond, said: “Lord Stevens comes with a vast experience of the newspaper business. In challenging times for the media to have him working with us in this pivotal role is a huge asset.”
Lord Stevens said: “I’ve known Richard for many years and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to work with Express Newspapers and help shape their business over the coming years”
Mr Desmond is a prominent member of London’s Jewish community, and it is not known what he thinks of Ukip’s recent alliance with far-right Polish politician Robert Iwaszkiewicz, who has been denounced as a Holocaust denier by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Mr Farage visited the Northern & Shell building in London for lunch earlier this month with Mr Desmond and Lord Stevens and was shown the newsroom by editor Hugh Whittow.
Having made his name as a City financier, during his time as chairman of United Newspapers, Lord Stevens was described as “quick as a ferret”. He had a bronze bust in the foyer and was chauffeur-driven in a grey Rolls Royce with the personalised number plate DRS20. He was known for throwing swanky parties at London’s Savoy Hotel.
During the period he ran the Express, the title remained staunchly loyal to the Conservatives. But although educated at Stowe and Cambridge, Lord Stevens shares some maverick traits with Mr Desmond, who delights in challenging the establishment.
The Northern & Shell boss recently made an enormous profit from the £450m sale of Channel 5 to American media company Viacom, having bought the broadcaster for £104m in 2010.
But after the sale he angered staff at his newspapers in July with proposals to save £10m a year by cutting 200 posts. The National Union of Journalists dubbed him “Britain’s greediest billionaire”.